New brand for old town

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 4, 2012 at 11:02 PM

There are 50 “oldest” towns spread out across the United States of America but only one Storytelling Capital of the World. Such is the thinking behind a new marketing brand in development for the town of Jonesborough, which is considering swapping its “Historic Jonesborough” logo for the more unique “Storytelling Capital of World.”

Town Administrator Bob Browning said the idea for the new marketing brand and a corresponding new logo for the highway and pedestrian signs that lead visitors to Jonesborough’s historic district originated a couple of years ago with a couple of professional marketing and development plans that ultimately led to the new street-scape coming soon to the town’s historic district.

Preliminary drawings for several possible new logos were presented in last week’s meeting of the town’s Tree and Appearance Board, which sent the drawings back to the artists for refinement and will take up the issue again at its next meeting later this month. Browning said the logo will likely be taken up by a couple of other boards and committees for recommendations before eventually making its way to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for consideration.

The idea for the branding switch recommended by experts, he said, is that Jonesborough’s tourist marketing efforts and “way-finding signage” should emphasize the town’s uniqueness to visitors who travel to the town from all over the country.

While most downtown merchants and residents contacted by the Johnson City Press this week were not at last week’s Tree and Appearance Board meeting and did not recall many specifics of earlier discussions of the branding switch, almost everyone had an opinion.

Jimmy Neal Smith, founder and president emeritus of the International Storytelling in Jonesborough, is among those most pleased. “Jonesborough is the one community in the country, and perhaps the world, that claim storytelling as their brand,” Smith said. “While history is important to the town, storytelling sets Jonesborough apart. Almost every town has a historic district but there is only one town that watched the international revival of storytelling.”

At the other end of the pendulum are the history buffs like town resident Gerald Price, a resident of the historic district and a direct descendant of the Bean family of Boones Creek who played host to Daniel Boone on his trailblazing excursion through the region. “History is Jonesborough’s story,” Price said. “The genealogy section at the library is one of the best in the region and a lot of people travel to Jonesborough to use it.”

In between are merchants like Debora Locher, owner of the Artisans Studio and Gallery on Main Street, who believe history and storytelling should be combined in the town’s marketing. “Yes, we have storytelling but we have a lot of other things too,” she said. “Storytelling capital of the world is a phrase that’s been used in different things to market Jonesborough for the past three to five years.

“But I don’t think historic Jonesborough or Tennessee’s oldest town should be completely removed. I think the history and storytelling should be combined in marketing and the motorist signs and the history expanded on with more living history re-enactments and costumed storytellers that tell stories about Jonesborough’s history.”

Marcy Hawley, owner of the Hawley House, Jonesborough’s oldest bed and breakfast, falls on the side of storytelling. “It’s time for change,” she said. “If we don’t change, we die. It is the storytelling capital. It all started here. There are hundreds of storytellers and storytelling events that would not have been if not for Jimmy Neal Smith hosting that first event with 60 people sitting on the courthouse steps. Before that, there wasn’t anyone who made a living telling stories. This will take us to the next level.”

Alex Bomba, president of Jonesborough’s Downtown Merchants Association, believes there is a compromise to be found in the town’s new marketing efforts. “My wife and I just moved here a couple of years ago, so I plead ignorance,” he said. “I haven’t seen the new logo but my first response would be, in driving all over the country, there is a historic town every 100 miles. Storytelling is unique to Jonesborough, so long as it’s done thoughtfully.”

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