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Johnson City's ties with Coca Cola trace back more than 100 years

David Floyd • Sep 12, 2019 at 7:25 PM

Walking around downtown, it’s readily apparent that Johnson City has a long-standing connection to Coca-Cola.

There are two prominent advertisements visible in the downtown area — one in the vacant lot at 104 Tipton St. and another on a building in the White Duck Taco parking lot, 126 Buffalo St. Similar vintage ads also exist in Morristown, Knoxville and Hendersonville, North Carolina.

According to the blog tazewell-orange.com, which provides a comprehensive history of the soda bottling industry in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Johnson City’s Coca-Cola Bottling Works was first incorporated in February 1906, starting out on West Main Street. About 20 years later, the blog says, the site was remodeled into two storefronts.

In March and July 1925, the blog reports, the bottling works bought land on East Market Street for a new plant. A.W. Griffin, who was also manager of a plant in Jellico, Tennessee, had taken the reins of the Johnson City facility by 1925. He officially moved to the city about 10 years later.

By purchasing more property on East Market Street in 1936 and 1937, reports tazewell-orange.com, the business was able to expand its operations in Johnson City.

Barbara Taylor, Griffin’s granddaughter, told the Press in 2015 that she had fond memories of visiting her grandfather’s bottling plant on East Market Street when she was young.

Her family also owned a variety of branded products, including ping-pong paddles, pencils, playing cards and other household objects emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo.

“You lived the business,” Taylor said at the time. “It was an everyday thing. Lord, I drank Coca-Cola for breakfast. I remember begging my parents for coffee, and they would say, ‘Oh you're not old enough.’ By the time they let me have some I thought, ‘Oh gag, I'll never have that again.’ ”

At the time, she showed off a number of Coke-related artifacts, including a couple miniaturized Coke bottles and a trio of glass bottles representing designs from different time periods.

One of Taylor’s most prized possessions was a gold Coca-Cola bottle her grandfather received during a conference. A gold tag laced around the neck of the bottle said the artifact commemorates the production of 1.5 billion gallons of syrup by 1949.

When Griffin passed away in 1950, his son Lawrence, Taylor’s father, took over management of the Jellico and Johnson City bottling plants. Tazewell-orange.com reports that Kingsport soon had a bottling plant of its own, which opened in May 1951.

In December 1969, the Coca-Cola Bottling Works purchased land on Wesley Street, beginning what the blog calls an “exodus” of bottling plants from the city’s downtown area. The construction of the new plant on Wesley Street led to the closure of the Kingsport plant.

The company, the blog reports, sold its East Market Street location in September 1972. Almost 15 years later, in 1986, the Johnson City’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company stopped operations, according to tazewell-orange.com. Coca-Cola Enterprises purchased the business in 1993.

Coca-Cola Consolidated, the country’s largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola, now owns the distribution infrastructure in Johnson City. 

In 2014, the company signed an agreement with the global soft drink maker to expand its franchise territory into East Tennessee. As part of the deal, Coca-Cola Consolidated bought Coca-Cola’s distribution assets in the area, becoming the exclusive distributor of Coke products.

In 2018, the company combined its Bristol facilities with its infrastructure in Johnson City at Wesley Street.

News Editor Nathan Baker contributed to this report.

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