“We have a strong restaurant dynamic, and so retail is really the one asset that we want to draw on,” said Dianna Cantler, downtown development director in Johnson City.
While there are plenty of places to eat and to live, the opportunity for shopping is somewhat limited. Cantler said the Johnson City Development Authority is actively recruiting business owners to open up shop downtown.
While there are some projects in the works that Cantler said she can’t talk about just yet, she said the development authority has a wish list of businesses they’d like to see, like a young women’s clothing boutique and a small grocery store or market.
“We’re really hoping to find someone to come in and develop more of a marketplace where we can have individual vendors in one of our larger buildings,” said Cantler.
This is not uncommon, as similar businesses have opened up downtown Kingsport and Bristol but not Johnson City.
Whether business owners are ready or not, the downtown area is. Anyone looking to start a business downtown have plenty of places to choose from.
According to Cantler, $10 million of development has gone into the downtown area in 2018, with building owners seeing the potential of the properties or selling them to others. Spaces anywhere from 300 square feet to 5,000 square feet that could be used for a number of things have opened up just in the past eight months. Buildings that were not up to code are now open and ready to house a business.
That’s not to say that downtown Johnson City doesn't have anywhere to shop. Some businesses have been downtown for a while, like Atlantis, which has been open for about 12 years. Newer retailers like the East Tennessee Hemp Company, Unshakable Nutrition and Tree Street Antiques have all recently opened.
Cantler also said that business owners see the area as a great place for walk-in customers.
“They would tell anyone that the downtown environment is very conducive to walking traffic and people stopping in, not just stopping specifically for their store, but while they're in downtown to dine or look at a bicycle,” said Cantler.
This is especially true for the small niche businesses that do well downtown. It’s a place where customers come for experiences over a variety of merchandise.
So, basically, for small-business retailers, downtown Johnson City is prime for the taking.