It’s no surprise that downtown Asheville was the birthplace of Mountain Xpress. In the 1990s, downtown was an incubator for alternative media and independent voices. I moved to an office on Battery Park Avenue in the spring of 1991 to launch a nonprofit called Citizens for Media Literacy, thanks to a grant from Julian Price, […]
In the 1980s, Asheville was a sleepy little town with not much going on — parking was free, there weren’t coffee shops on every corner, and few people were to be seen on the streets after dark. Not much going on culturally either, especially when it came to writing.
The early ’90s was an interesting time. So much work had been done in the ’80s, particularly by the city, trying to bring downtown back, but it was still pretty much a ghost town, particularly after 5 o’clock. The buildings on the corner where Malaprop’s and Mobilia are now had stood empty and boarded up for years.
Almost 25 years ago, I rode a Greyhound bus from Jackson, Miss., to Asheville with nothing but two suitcases of clothes and a plastic pink flamingo.
I moved to Asheville in 1973. Here’s some of what I remember: Most of downtown was boarded up.
Haywood Street was virtually empty two decades ago. In 1990, we (the members of Earth Guild) bought the old Bon Marché building. We renovated the Haywood Street level for Earth Guild, which we moved from its original location on Tingle Alley. We made our home on the top floor. In the mid-’90s, the second floor and basement level were renovated into office suites and, in 2002, the basement was redeveloped for the N.C. Stage Company. The building became a model for mixed use in downtown and spurred the redevelopment of many other buildings in its block and on adjacent blocks.
Downtown Asheville was largely boarded up in 1994 but starting to show signs of life. I had purchased my law office building on Church Street eight years earlier and was starting to see a decrease in uninvited overnight guests who “rested” in my parking lot or occasionally on the office front porch. Thankfully, my office staff witnessed fewer instances of drug dealing, and less evidence of prostitution and other criminal activity in the Church Street area by then.
I’ve always thought that the turning point for Asheville, especially downtown, was when the downtown Strouse-Greenberg mall project was voted down in November 1981.