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Luke's Pizza in Johnson City changes owners, but keeps its heart

On their wedding day, Nick and Jennifer Kelly took time to visit a place near and dear to their heart: Luke’s Pizza at 3111 W. Market St.

Nick has worked at Luke’s Pizza for about eight years and was most recently the pizzeria’s manager. The restaurant was closed that Sunday, so the couple had a quiet moment to themselves before returning to the crowd at their celebration.

“We just snuck in here and had a couple beers by ourselves and enjoyed each other’s company,” Jennifer said.

Luke’s Pizza has been an important part of the couple’s lives. Nick was working there when he and Jennifer got married, when they bought their house and when they had their first child. And on Wednesday, Nick and Jennifer officially became the restaurant’s new owners.

The Kellys said Luke Siele, the original owner, had been considering selling the business. Nick left Luke’s Pizza two years ago to pursue another career, but Luke approached the couple recently to see if they were interested in taking over the restaurant.

“We decided to go for it,” Nick said.

Nick and Jennifer aren’t planning any significant changes. They’re going to keep the name, the recipes and the menu the same, but they may add some rotating menu items, which would involve collaborations with other local businesses. The restaurant’s menu offers New York style pizza, chicken wings, subs, cheesecake, cannoli and more.

The Kellys add that the business has a rotating assortment of regular customers who have developed a deep fondness for the restaurant.

“It’s not just family-oriented,” Jennifer said. “It very much feels like family.”

Nick jokes that the restaurant is a lot like the fictional bar from “Cheers,” a place where everybody knows your name.

“That’s kind of the core of the business is the group of regulars,” Nick said, “and it’s a large group.”

The restaurant means a lot to Nick.

When he first started at Luke’s Pizza, Nick said he was just looking for a job. He had previously worked with Luke for a few years at Simm’s Pizzeria and offered to help out at his new place.

Jennifer said the restaurant feels like home not only to customers, but to the people who work there.

“We’re here to keep that alive,” she said.

Johnson City businesses: Remember to shop local this holiday season

For every $100 you spend at locally owned businesses, $68 stays in the community. At a national chain, a $100 trip results in a return of only $43.

“That money goes to our schools, our roads, the quality of life that we’re able to offer in our community,” said Dianna Cantler, the interim executive director of the Johnson City Development Authority.

That difference doesn’t just account for local sales tax dollars, Cantler said. It also includes the fact that money isn’t flowing up the chain of command at a corporate headquarters outside Tennessee. That money stays in Johnson City and can be reinvested in the community.

“You’re not going to go to a major, big box chain and ask them to support your local (baseball) team,” Cantler said. “You’re going to go to your local businesses here.”

With the holidays swiftly approaching, businesses are encouraging customers to shop local. The four-week period between Small Business Saturday, which is on Nov. 27 this year, and Dec. 23 are especially impactful for retailers, Cantler said.

The Johnson City Chamber of Commerce is also maintaining a list on its website, johnsoncitytnchamber.com, of the businesses that are providing deals this holiday season. Those offers will be removed as they expire.

This year, Cantler said, supply chain issues caused by the pandemic mean shoppers need to think ahead. Gifts ordered online may not arrive in time for Christmas, she said, but visiting a local store is all but a guarantee that you’ll have presents to share during the holidays.

“There may be that convenience from clicking,” Cantler said, “but if you take a couple hours, go visit local retailers, get to know them, see they have, you’re able to take your product with you.”


A poster from the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce details why it's important to shop local.

Michael Short, the owner of Artisans’ Village in downtown Johnson City, said the holiday season brings a lot of attention and foot traffic to his store, but he urges people to remember to support small businesses throughout the year — not just during the holidays.

Artisans’ Village is a fair trade retail store, meaning it works with groups in the developing world to ensure they have sustainable economic opportunities. The shop sells women’s accessories, home decor, coffee, tea, chocolate and other items.

Shopping exclusively online or in a superstore means people lose out on the potential to develop personal relationships. Artisans’ Village has been downtown for almost 10 years.

“The number of relationships we have built with people over the course of those years is amazing,” Short said. “When you walk into our store you’re going to see the same people every time. You’re going to have genuine interactions with real people.”

Major Margaret Eggers lights the Elizabethton Christmas tree

ELIZABETHTON — The Christmas season officially reached downtown Elizabethton at 6 p.m. Saturday.

That was when Maj. Margaret Eggers fulfilled her official duties as the official Christmas tree lighter for 2021 and turned on the lights on the giant Fraser fir that stands on the front lawn of the University of Tennessee Extension Office.

A large crowd had gathered underneath the 88-foot tree and cheered when the lights finally came on and the Bowers Family continued to sing Christmas songs from the big stage beside the tree.

Other groups who performed on the stage before the tree was lit included the Harold McCormick Elementary School Choir. The national anthem was performed by the Happy Valley High School Trumpeters. A short talk about the tree was presented by Lily and Greta Anglim.

Eggers was selected to be this year’s lighter for her 29-year service as a nurse with the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves. She was especially selected because of her work during the final evacuation from Afghanistan, where she served as a senior nurse with the 936th Forward Surgical Team.

After the lighting of the Fraser fir, families took the short walk to Covered Bridge Park, where children participated in a winter version of an Easter egg hunt. This time, it was the Kid’s Candy Cane Quest, with children searching for scattered candy canes in the park and the chance to win prizes.

This weekend’s events mark the first of five Saturdays with pre-Christmas events.

Next Saturday, Nov. 27, at Covered Bridge Park will be the opening of the much-anticipated ice skating rink. Just downstream, Edwards Island will be converted into an outdoor movie theater for a showing of “The Polar Express.”

On Dec. 4, Christmas at Oz will be presented at the Covered Bridge Park, featuring the characters of Oz celebrating Christmas.

The annual Downtown Christmas Parade takes place on Dec. 11, with a pre-parade “Christmas at Covered Bridge Park” taking place from 2-5 p.m., complete with music and a Christmas village.

The final weekend before Christmas will include “Grinchmas in the Park” on Dec. 18.

Bucs go down to the wire to win SoCon championship

East Tennessee State’s football team made history on Saturday, and it came down to the last second.

The Bucs won their first outright Southern Conference championship with a 38-35 victory over Mercer, a result that wasn’t secured until Mercer missed a field goal on the game’s final play.

When Devin Folser’s kick sailed wide left, it set off a wild celebration on the ETSU sideline. Players stormed the field. The student section went crazy and the Greene Stadium-record crowd of 10,594 roared its appreciation.

Tears were flowing and emotions were running high as the players ran around the field, high-fiving each other, hugging family members and celebrating like champions.

“I’m happy for the guys, happy for the coaches, happy for (Athletic Director) Scott Carter and (ETSU President) Dr. Noland, for the 10,000-plus fans that showed up,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said.

It was the fourth time the stadium’s attendance record has been broken this season. ETSU has won all six of its home games.

“How often does that happen?” Sanders said. “The fans have been unbelievable. The students have been unbelievable. Just to win, hold that trophy, you feel selfish doing it yourself, but you’re doing it for the team and everyone around the program.”

The win gave ETSU the Southern Conference’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The playoff bracket will be announced Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

“I have no control over where they send us, who we play, when, or anything else,” Sanders said. “All I know is once we find out we’ll start trying to get ready for it.”

The Bucs finished the regular season 10-1, tying the school record for most wins in a single season. They went 7-1 in the SoCon.

ETSU offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Rader, who grew up in Johnson City and played at ETSU, was among those getting emotional afterward.

“To be from here, to play here, to help start a program and to get to this point to be on this field is special,” Rader said. “It’s special for everybody involved and I’m just glad to be a small part of it. For the city, and coming off of COVID where people couldn’t be in stadiums, to be able to come out here and have the season that we’ve had and everybody get excited was something. And to win it the way we did at the last second, it’s kind of like a script from Hollywood.”

ETSU running back Quay Holmes broke two school records Saturday, becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher and its single-season rushing leader.

“We still had to put the punctuation on the season and I feel like we put some punctuation on the season,” Sanders said. “And now we’re getting ready to write another sentence.”