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Four new businesses add to growing downtown Johnson City retail offerings

Madison Mathews • May 17, 2013 at 11:39 AM

As the city continues its efforts to revitalize downtown through streetscaping and flood mitigation projects and the arrival of more and more restaurant options, progress in downtown Johnson City is growing.

And that couldn’t be more true for another area in downtown: retail businesses.

Four new specialty shops have either opened or are in the midst of opening in the next few months, and all of the new business owners agree on one thing — they believe in the continued revitalization of the downtown area.

Lucy Hull, co-owner of The White Picket Fence, 236 E. Main St., said she and her business partner, Tanya Freeman, opened the consignment store earlier this month after watching all the progress in downtown over the last several months.

“I thought it would be neat to have something like this downtown here and now it’s starting to pick up. We thought this would be great. We liked the foot traffic and you can see that people are out with their boyfriend, girlfriend, family and it’s just a neat atmosphere,” she said.

The White Picket Fence carries a variety of products, including antiques, local artwork and gift baskets.

Hull said she hopes to begin serving tea, coffee and light lunches within the next several weeks.

“We wanted to do something different and we wanted to have different things,” she said of the new shop. “I’m hoping to bring more people downtown, bring more traffic through here.”

Just a few doors down inside the King Centre at 300 E. Main St., Suite 100, is the Tri-Cities’ only certified fair trade store, Artisans’ Village.

“Everything that you buy ensures that people are getting a better life. They’re able to support their family,” said Leah Short, who runs the shop with her husband, Michael.

Fair trade simply means the goods in the store come from developing countries and the people who make the various products receive a fair wage, have good working conditions and are made without using forced labor of any kind.

After testing the market during the holiday shopping season with a kiosk in The Mall at Johnson City, the Shorts decided there was enough interest in fair trade products to open a full store in the area.

When it came to picking a place to set up shop, Short said downtown just seemed like the logical place to go.

“We are just really excited about the progress that’s going on down here. The revitalization that’s going on. The different businesses that are starting to come in downtown that are starting to attract the type of people that will shop fair trade. We really wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

Short said she’s excited to be a part of the new slew of boutique-type shops that are opening downtown, including The White Picket Fence and The Uncommon Gallery, which is opening in the former home of Venus & Fur at 257 E. Main St.

Michele and Alice Peterson will run the art gallery, which is tentatively scheduled to open in May.

In addition to a number of new Main Street shops is Downtown Farming, which is opening in the former Honey-Krust Bakery building along Cherry Street.

Yancy Grimmett and his wife, Valda, will run the store, which is focusing on selling organic gardening supplies.

“The closest to get the product we sell is Asheville, N.C., and our community is going closer to what theirs is anyway with the downtown and they’re trying to promote buying local and restaurants serving local food,” he said.

As the downtown area moves away from the bar scene to a more diverse place, Grimmett said it was the perfect time to open the specialty gardening store.

Downtown Farming’s proximity to the Farmers Market and the future home of Tupelo Honey Cafe couldn’t be any better, Grimmett said.

“I don’t think I could’ve picked a better place. In fact, Tupelo Honey will be right across the street from me, so you can’t beat that really,” he said.

Grimmett said Downtown Farming will likely open in mid-May.

All of the new shops reinforce the revitalization efforts that have been going on over the past year, according to Washington County Economic Development Council Director of Redevelopment Shannon Castillo.

“I think we’re on the upswing now that we get to look at these brand new retailers that are investing their money, time in downtown. I think that’s just another integral part of downtown revitalization,” she said.

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