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Making Progress

Madison Mathews • Sep 11, 2012 at 9:26 AM

After months of announcements and several new and existing businesses setting up storefronts or expanding their space, it’s fair to say downtown Johnson City is on the verge of change.

At least, that’s what business owners are hoping for.

Downtown’s latest acquisition in seeing Asheville, N.C.-based Tupelo Honey Cafe announce its plans to open up its fourth location in the historic CC&O Railroad Depot seems to already be driving more business toward what was once the heart of Johnson City.

The Tupelo Honey acquisition pretty much sealed the deal for Teresa Smith, who owns Bernina In Stitches with her husband, Steven. The sewing studio just moved from north Johnson City to 408 S. Roan St., Suite 100.

“When we first had decided to do this, it was before the buzz had started in downtown. Last winter, when we were looking at downtown, we were wondering if it would be the right move for us, but after we had talked to the landlord of this building, the thing that really sealed it for us was hearing about the changes that were coming our way and seeing the businesses from outside the area coming in. It was really exciting,” Teresa said.

In Stitches is the only authorized Bernina dealership in Northeast Tennessee. The shop offers speciality quilting fabrics, a variety of classes and other sewing needs.

The Smiths operated In Stitches for a little more than three years on Oakland Avenue before making the move downtown.

Initially, they wanted to open the specialty shop in the downtown area.

“It’s so much more affordable for a business like us — a specialty business — to be downtown. Economics is really important, and it’s just important for us to be down here,” Teresa said. “Our goal is to eventually buy this building or buy a building in downtown. This is where we want to be.”

Although Atlantis isn’t new to the downtown area — it’s spent about 15 years in the community — the shop has just doubled its size by opening a spiritual center in the space next door that used to be occupied by Cross Stitch & Crafts, which moved to the upper portion of the building.

“It’s more of an outgrowth of the store. They’ll have a little merchandise over there, but it’s mainly going to be our spiritual center,” said Atlantis owner Kay McClain.

The specialty shop, located at 242 E. Main St., known for its eclectic selection of jewelry, books and essential oils has seen its fair share of ups and downs during its stay in downtown, but McClain said she has seen more positive activity in the last few months than ever before.

That’s one of the reasons she expanded the operation next door.

Atlantis’ new space has dedicated spaces for meditation, spiritual readings and enough space for speaking events and book signings.

McClain is excited by the flurry of activity in downtown Johnson City, and she believes it will only grow as more businesses set up shop and Northeast State opens its teaching site at the Downtown Centre.

“I think it’s the heart of the city, and I think that’s where you go to normally to find more small businesses and just more interesting shopping experiences than just going to the mall or big box stores,” she said.

Another sign of change in downtown comes in the form of the opening of Holy Taco Cantina, 211 E. Main St. — the former home of Halo.

Chef Timothy Swinehart, who runs Holy Taco with Jesse Scott, said they wanted to bring something positive to the downtown area and step away from the bar business.

“When you’re in the bar business, you take so much physical damage to the property. It’s a huge expense and it doesn’t help beautify downtown,” he said.

With no shortage of bars downtown, the former Halo team decided to go in the opposite direction and open a restaurant that would cater to everyone.

The cantina features signature dishes of tacos, burritos, nachos and salsas — all made fresh daily.

And there’s nothing on the menu over $6.

“We want to appeal to a group of people who want to have a nice place to go sit down, eat, not spend a whole bunch of money, have a good craft draft beer. What we’re really trying to do is bring some new variety,” Swinehart said.

In opening the restaurant, Swinehart said the demographics downtown appear to be changing.

With The Battery now open and Tupelo Honey Cafe set to bring in even more variety to downtown, Swinehart said it’s not only a good time to be in the restaurant business in downtown but it’s also a good time to be a part of the downtown community.

“It seems like there’s so much pride coming into all the buildings. You have to look at that and say, ‘This is positive.’ We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re not seeing businesses closing and moving out. We’re seeing spots getting rented and getting taken care of.

“Everyone enjoys the food, and everyone seems to enjoy the change that we’ve brought. The response has been very positive, especially from the downtown community.”

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