'Things have shifted': Downtown Jonesborough copes with a new reality

Jonathan Roberts • Mar 29, 2020 at 7:00 PM

JONESBOROUGH — With cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rising in Northeast Tennessee, downtown Jonesborough has started to look more like a ghost town than the bustling tourist-friendly small town it’s known as. 

On Friday morning, only a handful of people could be seen walking around the historic downtown, albeit on opposite sides of its Main Street. Angelika Polte, co-owner of Krazy Krepes in Jonesborough, was surprised at how empty downtown was March 21 — the last day she was in town, cleaning out her business after they decided to close indefinitely on March 20. 

“I just drove down the Main Street and I was like ‘holy moly,’” Polte said. “It was a Saturday and there was nothing.” 

Jonesborough’s Main Street and Tourism Director Cameo Waters said “the mood has shifted compared to a typical spring day downtown.” 

“Things have shifted and it’s been a different environment in Jonesborough,” Waters said. 

As of Friday, nearly all businesses had closed their storefronts to the public, while a majority of Jonesborough’s restaurants continued to offer take-out, curbside and delivery options. 

“The people of Jonesborough are certainly concerned and taking this seriously,” said Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest, “but honestly I see a determination and confidence in the faces I see, and I think that’s because we in Jonesborough have a history of sticking together.

“I felt such pride seeing success throughout our streets, so I might see less vehicles now but I still see our people and businesses fighting to protect that positive atmosphere,” he continued. 

Waters, meanwhile, said seeing the people of Jonesborough come together to support the town and its small businesses has kept her motivated and thinking positively. And though all town events in the near future have been canceled, Waters said she and her staff have been working hard to keep people updated on closing, cancelations and “creative ways to keep folks in touch with the Jonesborough community from home as well as continuing to inspire future trips.”

“This is when we need each other the most and the Jonesborough community has definitely not let us down,” Waters said. “I can’t walk down the street and accept a hug from the sweet shop owner like I could have a few weeks back, but I can jump on social media and show the support and love for our town is still very present.

“Yes, it looks different but the warm, quaint, and welcoming culture of Jonesborough is still present; for the time being we’ll just have to find it in different places,” she added. 

It’s uncertain what the future will hold for downtown Jonesborough once the threat of COVID-19 has passed, or how much things will change. Some downtown shops have tentative re-open dates, but most are closed indefinitely. Polte, for instance, said she hopes they’ll be able return to business in May, but ultimately, she’s unsure when they’ll re-open. 

“I would love to open in May again, if possible, but we really go by what the governor and what the president are going to advise us to do,” Polte said. 

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