RBC Bank is looking to offload the building that once housed O’Malley’s On Main Pub and Grill in Waynesville from its list of assets.

A ‘for-sale’ sign has been posted in the window of the vacant building following a bank foreclosure last fall. The once-popular downtown bar had changed management at least four times in six years, leading to a slow but steady decline in business and opening the door for new competition in Waynesville’s bar scene to gain a toehold. O’Malley’s was ultimately forced to close after the building owner failed to make mortgage payments and fell into foreclosure, ending a 20-year run.

At least five people have viewed the more than 5,000-square-foot property, said Jason Burke, a Realtor with Whitney Commercial Real Estate in Asheville.

“I’ve had a lot of interest,” Burke said. “I think it will sell soon.”

He added that two offers have already been made. The asking price is $428,000 for the three-story building, which includes an upstairs apartment and basement. The building and business together sold for $875,000 in 2005, but O’Malley’s was still a thriving business at that time.

Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said the business is a more difficult sale because a new owner must commit to purchasing the while building rather than leasing it.

“I think the financial end of it is holding it up,” Phillips said.

Phillips said she would like to see a restaurant occupy the space and believes it could be profitable. “If there is something unusual, if there is a different idea, if there is different food choices than we already have, then sure,” she said, adding that she has approached several people about the vacancy.

Waynesville already has “a couple of really good bars that have excellent food,” Phillips said about the idea of opening the business as a bar once again.

Tourism officials hope the anchor storefront doesn’t remain vacant but instead is put to work creating jobs and generating additional revenue in the county.

“O’Malley’s is a great space for a new business on Main Street,” said Cece Hipps, president of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, in an email. “The space will require that the business have both financial resources to purchase and time to up fit the space to their needs.”


Cumbersome baggage

Before the building landed in foreclosure, it was home to O’Malley’s On Main for 20 years.

During its early years, the bar filled a niche. It was the one and only bar on Main Street, a community gathering spot with a genuine Cheer’s atmosphere. A spate of management changes set off a decline in customer service, however. Meanwhile, what was once the only game in town began facing competition scene from a burgeoning downtown bar scene with establishments like Tipping Point Tavern, The Wineseller, The Sweet Onion, The Gateway Club and Frog’s Leap.

By the time Lisa Bessent leased the business in 2008, it was already on the way out.

“It had a lot of bad reputation to overcome,” Bessent said. “It was just a struggle the whole time.”

During her tenure as owner of O’Malley’s, Bessent said she never once wrote herself a paycheck but would bartend or wait tables if she needed petty cash. Everything else went back into the business, she said.

“I was not making any money at O’Malley’s,” Bessent said. “I’d never ran a business in my life.”

Bessent attributed part of the bar’s poor bottom line to competition from Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar, which captured customers from the nearby ski resort in Maggie Valley who previously traveled to Waynesville in search of a bar.

Regardless of the actual business, the then-building owners Eric and Jon Mostrom of Minnesota defaulted on their loan to RBC Bank, which had lent them $510,000 in late 2005. The vast majority of that loan — more than $420,000 — had still not been repaid by March of last year. So, the bank started the foreclosure process and later purchased the building at a discount on the courthouse steps.

When the bank announced that it was foreclosing on the building, Bessent decided to take what money she had left and move on rather than continue to sink everything she had into the business while waiting for the final foreclosure date.

The foreclosure was Bessent’s lifeboat off of a sinking ship. It was the “perfect out,” she said.

Despite her luck the first time around, Bessent, currently a bartender at The Gateway Club, would like to run a bar again in the future.

“I would really like the opportunity to run another business like that,” she said. “Now, I have experience under my belt.”

However, she said the name O’Malley’s is stained and brings with it cumbersome baggage.

“I don’t know if putting O’Malley’s back in there would be a good idea at all,” Bessent said.

The things she enjoyed most, Bessent said, was being able to socialize with people and escaping the regular 9-to-5 day.

“It was like my living room,” she said. “I really miss that part of it.”

Cherokee is on a mission to remodel the look of its business district, in the hope that an infusion of native-themed architecture can give new life to its outdated commercial appearance.

“We want it to be pleasing to the eye of the visitor,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director. “We want it to be an area that is a point of pride for the local community and reflects who we are.”

A plan to makeover its tourist appeal has been in the works for 10 years. While some businesses have embraced the idea and jumped on board with Cherokee’s new look, challenges remain. Cherokee is struggling to persuade some building owners and businesses to take on the expense of remodeling because of complex landownership issues and difficulties quantifying the changes’ effects. As a result, pockets of out-dated, run-down facades can still be found along the downtown strip.

The tribe hoped that business owners would see the appearance changes and think, “‘If I don’t improve, then I’m not keeping up,’” said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Hicks admitted to being “frustrated with some of the downtown.”

“We don’t keep updated enough when it comes to businesses,” he said.


Leaving a legacy

Nonetheless, steady progress has been made to improve the appeal of downtown since the tribe first adopted a master plan dating to 2001, which laid out a uniform appearance for buildings throughout the central business district. The guidelines focused on drawing attention to the town’s natural surroundings and Cherokee architecture by incorporating river walks, heavy timbers, native stone work, earth tones and green, metal roofing and Cherokee lettering.

The development of river walks and greenways particularly are aimed at getting visitors to linger in the area.

“We’re a fast moving society; we’re a fast food society. And so, if we can slow people down and get them out, then that’s accomplished our aim,” Lambert said. “The thought process there is of course that the longer people stay the more likely they are to engage in commerce and spend money.”

Although the recommendations were not mandatory, Cherokee tribal leaders hoped business owners would make the appearance changes on their own.

However, from 2001 to 2006, “Not much was done,” Lambert said. “So the tribe tried to put the first foot forward.”

As a model of Cherokee’s “new look,” the tribe decided to renovate a few buildings of its own in the downtown district that are leased to businesses. The tribe spent $4 million revamping the collection of storefronts known as the horseshoe, a price tag that included the river walk behind the buildings among other improvements.

Meanwhile, the tribe also set up a fund to offer loans with 1 percent interest rates to businesses interested in refurbishing their look.

“The tribe said we will do ours and make low-interest loans available to the other business owners,” Lambert said.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has also paid for other, less-apparent appearance alterations. The utility lines through the main thoroughfare in Cherokee were moved underground, new streetlights were added and more than 20 painted bear statues decorate the town.

“I think actually we’ve made a lot of progress,” Hicks said.

However, he would like to see more changes during the next three or four years.

“We definitely have a lot more work to do, especially with our signage,” said Hicks, who views the improvements as part of his legacy as chief.

After redoing the downtown area, Cherokee leaders decided to extend the new look beyond the central business district to other commercial areas.

The focus is now on the business strip just past the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on U.S. 441, which will soon see culturally themed streetlights, underground utilities, new and wider sidewalks, crosswalks stamped with cultural symbols, improved landscaping and signage, and the addition of benches, bike racks and recycling bins.

The tribe has received money from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to fund its downtown improvements over the years.

Last fall, the tribe got a $1.8 million grant from the foundation to fund appearance improvements on the new stretch of U.S. 441.

Previously, the foundation gave $2.5 million for downtown improvements — about $1.3 million to remodel buildings in the horseshoe and the $1 million for the low-interest business loans.

The preservation foundation has been “a very integral part” of completing phases of the project, Hicks said. The foundation makes annual grants using a cut of casino proceeds.


Embracing cultural themes

Tribal Grounds coffee shop is one of about eight businesses that moved into the remodeled horseshoe in Cherokee’s downtown.

The coffee shop moved from its old location across from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and began leasing one of the storefronts that were remodeled by the tribe.

“It also works perfect for our purpose,” said Emily Gisler, a manager at Tribal Grounds.

“People seem to like it,” added Jennifer Welch, also a manager at Tribal Grounds.

The push for a more uniform storefront appearance is part of the tribe’s effort to make the Cherokee reservation a destination rather than a one-day excursion.

However, some would rather keep their “unique fronts,” Gisler said. And although the newer look gels more with the Cherokee culture, “a lot of tourists like to see things they are familiar with,” she said.

Some businesses are already housed in buildings that fall in line with the tribe’s appearance recommendations, including the use of wood, earth tones and metal roofing.

“I take care of my own store just to keep my customers,” said Tim Marks, owner of Ravenhawk Gifts and Collectibles.

“It’s worth it to us to hear people come in and tell us the store looks nice,” chimed in his wife, Lorie Marks.

Other Cherokee business owners chose not to change or felt the help came too late.

“We just chose not to,” said Maureen Denman, who has run Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee with her husband for 35 years. “I don’t have extra money to do that.”

The couple already has a loan on its business and didn’t need another. They would have considered taking such a deal if it had come sooner.

The tribe is about “20 years too late,” Denman said.

Only 10 businesses accepted low-interest loans from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for building and façade improvements.

The tribe set aside $1 million for the loan program — equaling out to about $100,000 per business. The $1 million pool of funds is now dried up, Lambert said.

“Difference of opinion or lack of interest” has caused some businesses or landowners to forego the redesign, he said. But, the biggest challenge is landownership.

“A lot of the struggle comes from the complicated landownership issues,” Lambert said.

Some building owners do not want to renovate and the business owners who rent their store space do not want to sink money into a place they do not own.

The tribe is currently looking into ways it could quantify the effects of the appearance improvements and show that business has increased at stores with the more culturally focused façades. One option is to look at the tribal levy, Cherokee’s version of a sales tax.

Cherokee has seen a “slight increase” in levy revenue during the past few years, Hicks said.

Although the tribe can’t show a direct correlation between the appearance changes and the number of visitors to Cherokee, the tribe can at least say whether it is seeing more or fewer visitors each year.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact,” Lambert said.


Tribe hopes to diversify attractions

Along with remaking Cherokee’s downtown image, the tribe has launched an aggressive campaign to bring new amenities and attractions in hopes of increasing tourism traffic.

The tribe has already built a new movie theater, skate park and greenway system, and is looking for more ways to sell the reservation as a family vacation destination, such as a water park.

“The water park idea is not off the table,” Chief Michell Hicks said. “It’s the price tag.”

Constructing such a park would be a multi-million dollar project. The casino is a big draw for the 21 and up crowd, but the reservation wants make Cherokee more appealing to families.

Another idea is to build a children’s discovery center where kids could learn about the Cherokee culture and Western North Carolina, Hicks said.

There is also a push to recruit new retail offerings.

“It’s time to start looking at boutique shops,” said Hicks, citing Mast General Store as a prime example of the type of shops he would like to see in Cherokee.

The changes have all been aimed at reminding visitors that there is more to the reservation than the casino.

“We know that the casino is our main attraction, but we want people to know that there is still Cherokee here,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director.

A few business owners said that the casino actually hurts their stores.

Harrah’s Casino pulls visitors’ money away from local businesses, said Maureen Denman, who runs Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee. Some people gamble their funds away and have no money to spare at Cherokee’s other establishments.

Part of the future improvements will include drawing events to the downtown area, reconfiguring its parking and generating foot traffic. However, creating foot traffic is pretty much impossible without sidewalks.

Currently, the main business district considered “downtown Cherokee” doesn’t have cohesive sidewalks for strolling. The tribe must decide whether to sacrifice a single row of parking in front of stores to build a continuous sidewalk that runs through downtown Cherokee.

Lambert said the tribe has not decided yet, but will have to address the topic of downtown parking first. There is not enough parking in downtown Cherokee, he said, and the tribe will consider alternative parking solutions such as a park-and-ride depot or a parking garage.

Just because the tribe has shifted its focus does not mean that it will still pushing for renovations to store facades and may offer another round of financial incentives to help.

“We still want to revitalize the downtown,” he said.

It doesn’t take much of an artist’s eye to appreciate the newest piece of public art planned for the streets of downtown Waynesville.

By this time next year, a replica of a historic arch — boasting Waynesville as the “Eastern Entrance” to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — will once again crown Main Street.

The original arch spanning Main Street dates to the mid-1930s and remained up for four decades. Mention the arch to locals, and nostalgia is quick to set in. The arch was larger than life, omnipresent in old memories of downtown.

For Buffy Phillips, it was marching under it during parades, banging away on a snare drum with the high school marching band.

“It was just part of Main Street,” said Phillips, now the director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “It would have been great if we could have brought that back.”

Indeed, the town tried to resurrect the actual arch in all its glory, soaring over the street once more. But Main Street doubles as a state highway, and erecting an overhead arch didn’t pass muster with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“We’d have to go through an act of Congress to do it,” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “It just wasn’t going to work.”

Instead, a replica of the arch will grace the entrance to a mini-park at the intersection of Main and Depot streets near the historic courthouse.

The arch will hopefully draw attention to the mini-park, which gets little use now. It is easily missed, or mistaken as a private space for the adjacent office building. The arch over its entrance will change that.

“I feel like it will be inviting people to make use of that park and chill out for a little bit,” said Ed Kelley, a member of the Waynesville Public Art Commission spearheading the effort.

Bringing back the arch will also rekindle Waynesville’s connection to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has slipped since those early decades after the park’s creation.

“I want Waynesville and North Carolina to have a better tie to the national park. I think we have let an asset go to waste over the years,” Brown said.

When the original arch went up, newfangled national parks were all the rage, and the region was beside itself over having one to call its own. The Smokies was the first national park in the East, joining the ranks of Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon — and Waynesville was quick to hitch its wagon to that train.

After all, you couldn’t get to the Smokies without coming through Waynesville back then, so why not declare itself the “Eastern Entrance?”

There is some debate, albeit mild in nature, over how many different signs there were over the years.

“The consensus is there were three,” Brown said.

But not according to local historian Bruce Briggs, who counts only two. Briggs has an unfair advantage when it comes to arch trivia: his father built the original one back in 1936.

Briggs said the actual arch — bearing the words “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” — never changed. But a smaller sign beneath it did. Originally, an arrow-shaped sign hung from the arch baring the words “Eastern Entrance” and pointing down Depot Street, out of town, through Maggie Valley and eventually to the park, albeit 30 miles away.

The arrow was replaced at some point with a plaque listing the mileage to certain place names, like Black Camp Gap.

“The one giving the distances was put up later when Waynesville couldn’t exactly claim to be the eastern entrance anymore,” Briggs said.

New roads through the region meant traffic bound for the Smokies no longer had to pass through Waynesville’s doorstep.

Briggs was only 10 when his father built the arch while serving as superintendent of lights and water for the town. Oscar Briggs made the sign at the town maintenance garage, but Briggs believes the materials were paid for by the chamber of commerce.

Business leaders were a driving force behind the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hoping to boost the tourism economy of the region. So it makes sense the chamber of commerce would commission the arch to draw attention to Waynesville’s proximity to the new destination.   

The arch finally started to show its age, however, and was taken down sometime around 1970.

“It was getting in bad shape,” said long-time former mayor Henry Foy, who grew up on Main Street in the 1930s.

No one knows for sure where that old arch is today, but Foy has little doubt it ended up on the scrap heap somewhere.

Foy remembers it laying in the yard outside the town’s maintenance shed after being taken down, getting more and more corroded.


Tribute to the Smokies

The arch replica is just one piece of art that will commemorate the Great Smoky Mountains. There will eventually be a trifecta of public art pieces in the mini-park to represent the Smokies.

One is already in place: a hand-forged metal railing with subtle references to the Smokies, including mountain peaks and salamanders.

The final art piece for the mini-park will be a series of metal panels mounted on the wall of the office building beside the park. In an odd bit of real estate lore, the wall of the office building is town property. While the rest of the building is owned by Jeff Norris’ law firm, the town-owned wall is fair game for sporting town-sanctioned art.

“The mini park is a strategic part of our Main Street,” said Jan Griffin, chair of the public art commission. “It will be a great place for people to sit and relax.”

The art commission still has to raise money for the piece, which Kelley estimates could be around $6,000. But he thinks fundraising will come easily.

“It is a commemorative piece. So many people remember the arch and will support bringing back that element of Waynesville that has been missing for a long time,” Kelley said.

As for what words to put on the replica? The public art commission has gone with an approximation. Instead of “Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Eastern Entrance” the arch will say “Gateway to the Smokies: Waynesville, North Carolina.”

“History and art and commercial endeavors all come into play,” Brown said. “A lot of people want to see the name Waynesville in the sign.”

Brown figures the arch will become the most photographed spot downtown, and there’s no better publicity than tourists posing under it and posting photos of themselves to Facebook with the town’s name in them.

The Waynesville Gallery Association will present Art After Dark from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, in downtown Waynesville.

Art After Dark takes place the first Friday of each month, May through December. Patrons can stroll through working studios and galleries on Main Street, Depot Street and in Historic Frog Level. Art After Dark flags denote participating galleries. Steve Whiddon will provide music on the street.

Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86 is hosting its newest exhibition, “Donna Rhodes: All Over The Map” celebrating the wide artistic range and whimsy of artist and Tuscola High art teacher, Donna Rhodes.

Twigs and Leaves Gallery will be featuring clay jewelry artist, Jody Funk. Funk will be demonstrating her work in clay.

Gallery 262 is showing the works of Jere Smith and Dan Wright. Smith is a woodworker and furniture maker and Wright is a stained glass artist.

828.452.9284 or www.waynesvillegalleryassociation.com.


Artist draws on lifetime of experience for new show

An exhibition of artist Donna Rhodes’ work called All Over the Map will run through Sept. 17 at the Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86 in downtown Waynesville. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 2.

The show is a visual journey that criss-crosses the multi-media landscape Rhodes’ unique view of the world.

She holds a degree in music in addition to being a professional artist and art instructor at Tuscola High School, a writer and photographer and a staff writer for The Laurel Magazine in Highlands. She is currently working on three children’s books.

For more information, call 828.452.0593 or visit www.haywoodarts.org.

Hampered by a leash law that keeps their canine friends at heel, an ad hoc group of Sylva residents hope to find a place — a puppy park — where dogs can just be dogs, enjoying various doggie things.

In an informal, grassroots sort of get-together that took place one evening last week at City Lights Café, seven Sylva dog owners envisioned a fenced dog park where Rover could run unfettered, chasing a Frisbee or tennis ball, playing nicely with all the other dogs. No cats, of course, would be allowed. Rowdy dogs would be banned.

This field of dreams looks a lot like the dog parks found in Haywood County. Waynesville leaders set aside two fenced areas along the Richland Creek Greenway for dogs and their owners. The parks come complete with baggie dispensers so people can more easily cleanup after their dogs.

“We need an off-leash dog area,” said Stacy Knotts, a Sylva dog owner and town commissioner who emphasized that this, however, was not a town project.

And for good reason: A couple of years ago, Sylva’s town council erupted in fierce debate over whether dogs should be allowed in the then new Bridge Park, a small green space adjacent to downtown with a covered pavilion for holding concerts and community events. The fur flew as council members accused each other of voting to suit various canine agendas.

With that bitter history serving as a backdrop, Knotts said that the group’s hope is to convince county commissioners to let dog owners use one of Jackson County’s parks, with private money, perhaps, paying for needed fencing. Mark Watson Park, located near town, emerged as a clear favorite of the group, but any county park where they’d find an official welcome would be fine, they agreed.

Keith DeLancey, a local therapist with three dogs of his own, agreed to serve as point person on the project. The united effort to develop a dog park grew out of an email exchange between DeLancey and Knotts. DeLancey and his dogs have visited and played in Waynesville’s dog parks, and he proclaimed them “very nice” indeed.

There was discussion about the possibility of having an agility area at this fantasy future Sylva dog-park. Pat Thomas suggested keeping costs down by using bamboo, an idea gleaned from the Internet. She has some on her property that might serve such a purpose.

DeLancey said rough estimates show building 6-foot tall fencing for a half-acre area would cost just more than $600.

The first step will be to discuss the possibilities with the county’s recreation department, Knotts said, and then, later, ask for county commissioners’ support.

“We have a lot to do before we get to that point,” Knotts said.  

A Facebook site for the group, to garner more support from local dog owners, will be built. The group also plans to start a petition drive — a “would you use a dog park” type questionnaire — too.

Business owners in Bryson City’s downtown are following in the footsteps of neighboring towns, attempting to put together their own downtown merchants’ association.

The infant group has been meeting for three months, but hasn’t yet gotten around to structure or membership, two issues that will be instrumental to the group’s future.

Currently, the only group serving merchants is the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. Several downtown business owners surveyed last week for this article said they chamber adequately serves downtown interests and they weren’t interested in a second organization.

Chamber Executive Director Karen Wilmot said that the idea of a downtown association has been tossed around town for years, although she expected it to come to from within the chamber.

“We’ve always hoped that when someone chose to start a downtown merchants’ association that they would choose to umbrella it under the chamber so everyone could stay in the same loop,” said Wilmot. By that she means making the association something like a chamber committee.

But that’s not how they want to do it, said Tim Hall, who runs the Storytelling Center of the Appalachians and is heading the effort.

“I want to be able to work beside the chamber, hand-in-hand with the chamber, but the chamber again is — even though they’ve done a good job on promoting Bryson City as the major city of Swain County — they are still a Swain County organization,” said Hall. “It might not be a bad idea to have two organizations that would work in conjunction with one another, in splitting out some of the responsibilities. The chamber could communicate with the county and then the merchants’ association for downtown Bryson City.”

Several towns in the region have their own downtown organizations, including Sylva, Waynesville and Franklin, that operate in addition to a chamber of commerce.

The challenge of maintaining both a chamber of commerce and a downtown group could prove straining for a town Bryson’s size, however.

Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said that active involvement from members and a committed point person are key to actually bringing benefits to downtown businesses.

“Someone has to be in charge,” said Phillips. “There has to be a voice and a committee of others in charge, but there still has to be that one person that makes sure that something is going to happen.”

No officers have yet been elected in Bryson City, but Hall said that’s what he hopes the group will become.

A lot of people have ideas for downtown, but no way to get them off the ground.

“Everybody has their ideas, but what we’re wanting to do is take those ideas and have a clearinghouse for them, to work in conjunction with the other organizations in and around Bryson City to develop a cohesive plan,” said Hall. “(We want) to take the input of the merchants, the input of the visitors, the input of the residents and combine them all together.”

A clear mission with clear goals will be key to raise funds or soliciting members, according to Linda Schlott, director of Franklin’s Main Street program, which is run by the town.

“I think when you ask for that money, you really have to have something, a really good plan,” said Schlott.

In Bryson City, there has been no talk of a town-run program, and since Hall and his associates want to stay separate from the chamber, a dues system is one of the remaining options.

They haven’t yet convinced downtown businesses that banding together would be mutually beneficial — they’re touting things like standardized late opening hours, to combat the view that the sidewalks roll up at five o’clock — but some are just waiting for the group to mature before climbing aboard.

Ron Larocque, owner of the Cork and Bean on Everett Street and the president of the chamber, said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Wilmot said the chamber isn’t against the idea, especially if it’s what the town’s merchants want.

“The chamber certainly is not threatened or does not feel antagonistic in any way towards the creation of a downtown merchants’ association,” said Wilmot. “If this is something that our members feel a need for, then we want to be able to fill that gap.”

Anyone headed to Canton will need to book a little more drive time starting this fall, when a key downtown bridge is razed and replaced. A dog-legged detour around the construction is expected to seriously slow traffic on the town’s two busiest downtown streets, Park and Main.

The aging bridge was built in 1924. The total cost to replace it is about $3.5 million, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government and the remaining 20 percent from state funds. The bridge has been on the DOT’s to-do list since 2000, said Brian Burch, division construction engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

For businesses perched on the edges of the bridge, the 16-month project could be quite a change.

“Apparently, the whole front of our parking lot is going to be taken up,” said Jason Siske, general manager at Napa Auto Parts, which sits just past the bridge on Park Street in downtown. His store is looking for a new home anyway, so the lack of road leading to their current location might not affect them for long.

Next door, however, Tom Wilson at American Cleaners has no plans to move.

“When they close one artery, it’s going to affect everybody,” said Wilson, who owns the store. “We just have to bear through it though. We’ve known this has been coming for years.”

Traffic moves through downtown Canton on parallel, one-way streets — Main Street and Park Street. Both have bridges spanning the Pigeon River.

With the Park Street bridge out of commission, traffic will jog over to Main Street where the bridge there will be pressed into service to carry traffic in both directions.

“People can expect some delays,” said Burch. “I’m sure we’ll have some delays during our rush hours in the morning and also when schools are dismissing.”

At the other end of downtown, Charles Rathbone of Sign World WNC isn’t anticipating too much hassle.

“I might look at changing my signage if it [Main Street] does go to a two-way, but I don’t really see it affecting us at all,” said Rathbone. “We’re going to be here with or without the bridge.”

But when the hassle, such as it is, finally subsides, contractors Taylor and Murphy say that the town will be left with a better, wider bridge. The firm won a $2.9 million contract, beating out six other bidders.

The bridge is now two-lane, but when construction closes in December 2012, there will be three lanes and a turning lane as well as wider sidewalks on both sides.

As part of the deal, the town will also come away with a greenway running under the east side of the bridge, which will connect to the town’s current greenway and provide safe passage for pedestrians under the bridge and into what will be Sorrells Creek Park.

“The bridge itself is obsolete to the traffic flow and the plans are to bring it up to date,” said Chris Britton, vice president of Taylor and Murphy. “It’ll be a lot safer, it’ll allow traffic to flow a lot better.”

Taylor and Murphy isn’t new to bridge building in Canton. The firm was behind the revamp of Bridge Street’s namesake in downtown earlier this year, has just completed work on the structure passing over Interstate 40 on Newfound Road and has a bridge in Cruso underway.

For the most part, said Britton, this bridge will be demolished and replaced by local laborers. He expects to have around 30 workers on the project, and all but the most specialized will be from the region.

Around half of the rubble from the soon-to-be-destroyed bridge will be recycled or sold as scrap metal. The new version, said Project Manager John Herrin, will also hopefully prove healthier for the river running beneath it.

“We’ll be making the river wider and cleaner, because right now you have three piers in the river and when we’re finished you’ll only have two,” said Herrin.

Contractors will start pulling up utilities and getting the bridge ready to come down by the end of August. The transportation department has a traffic flow plan in place, but they’re unlikely to need it until November, when Britton expects the bridge to close.

The town expects some upheaval during the process, but like Wilson, has long been ready for the replacement.

“We’re excited,” said Town Manager Al Matthews. “It’s going to be an inconvenience, but it’ll be good when it’s completed.”

It’s unsurprising that in the mountain town of Sylva, the music scene is a pretty vibrant place to be. With a long and strong heritage of Appalachian music, it’s only natural that a community would grow up around that scene.

But alongside that long-standing bluegrass tradition is a lively music scene that is less public but still growing, offering the area’s younger crowd an alternative musical outlet that they can help create.

Jeremy Rose has spent years doing just that. As the guitarist and vocalist for Sylva indie band Total War, Rose is a strong member of the alternative, pseudo-underground music scene that has grown from the ground up in Sylva and the university community in Cullowhee.

Though he’s quick to point out that the grassroots groundswell is essentially leaderless —“it really is just a community of people just contributing in their own way” — Rose said he’s been actively cultivating it since coming to the town as a shy college student.

“I guess I just happened to run into a bunch of people that were determined to make something to do,” said Rose, explaining how he fell into the town’s musical world.

While Rose said the cultural experiences offered up by Western Carolina University and the town’s fairly active arts groups are excellent, there has always been plethora of people who are looking for something they can be more involved in. Without a venue springing up, they’ve started doing it themselves.

It’s hard, really, to get a concrete picture of how the whole thing started, nebulous as it is, or even a solid definition of what, exactly, constitutes an “underground music scene.”

But by most estimates, young musicians and music lovers of all kinds, from metal to folk to prog-rock to traditional bluegrass, were looking for a place to practice and enjoy the craft they love. From basements to skate parks to old storefronts, bands and their fans started getting together for performances. When one show was shut down, another sprung up in any place willing to hold it, spurred by online forums and homemade ‘zines produced by Rose, et al.

These days, it’s social networking that gets the word out, and when old supporters fade or move away, new ones always seem to spring up to take their place.

Rose thinks this is one of the endearing things about Sylva’s musical life — thanks to the high turnover provided mostly by WCU students, the town is a perpetual blank canvas, with a pretty steady stream of artists willing to paint it.

“One of the nice things about around here is that people tend to be really supportive because they’re just happy that somebody’s doing something,” said Rose. “If you’re doing anything, everyone will at least come check it out.”

Unlike other, larger markets like Asheville or Knoxville, there’s a multitude of engaged and interested potential fans, which can be hard to come by in a place where live music of all genres is abundant. The problem is usually space, and finding places to play can be difficult.

Recently, businesses like Guadalupe Cafe, Soul Infusion Tea House and Signature Brew Coffee have been offering musicians and their fans a place to perform, which helps keep the shows legal. But not having official hosting places hasn’t been a problem, said Rose.

“It’s really independent of venue,” he said. “Even if there’s nothing there, we’ve always found way — you know basements or somebody’s parents house — if people wanted to do it.”

For bands like Gamenight, a Knoxville-based group, that’s what makes Sylva such an enticing place to play.

The group’s drummer Brandon Manis said they’ve been coming to the town for years because it’s just such a welcoming atmosphere. Their first show there was back in 2003, and they’ve played eight to 10 shows there since, always eeking out time for the tiny mountain locale in their regional touring schedule.

“We love that place,” said Manis. “We’ve played in a lot of places and to a lot of people we didn’t really know and people [in Sylva] are just so receptive. People just really appreciate live music there and it’s not so much just a social event. People actually like seeing live music.”

Rose said he hopes that love of live music and desire to be a part of it will continue. He and his band intend to be in it as long as they’re around. Though he doesn’t know if the town is big enough to support a dedicated venue — over the years several have popped up and withered — his hope is that the town’s young people will always care enough to make art and music a part of their lives and their community, in all manner of genres and media.

“Everybody’s into their own thing in the Internet age — you can live in Cherokee or Sylva and still follow Norwegian metal or New York hipster music — and around here people will be open about things that normally wouldn’t be their thing,” said Rose, and the continued growth of that mindset is what he and others hope for the scene they love and have made.

“It would be great if I left for 20 years and came back and there was still a sign in a window that said ‘basement sale this Saturday,’” said Rose. “Because we want people to support us, so we know that we need to be there to support other people, too.”

A new tavern is set to make its debut this week in downtown Waynesville, featuring barbecue, beer, and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere in the Main Street space that was formerly Headlights Bar and Grill.

Tipping Point Tavern is a joint venture between Sweet Onion owners Dan Elliot and Doug and Jenny Weaver, along with now former manager Jon Bowman. He has left the restaurant to run Tipping Point full time.

The location is somewhat of a homecoming. Prior to Headlights occupying the space, it was Wildfire Restaurant. Wildfire was the first restaurant opened by Doug and Jenny Weaver in Waynesville, prior to the opening of the Sweet Onion.

The idea for the new restaurant has been taking shape for around three years, when Bowman came on at the Sweet Onion. The concept, he explained somewhat cryptically, “started with three men on a boat in Lake Santeetlah,” and has grown into an operation that will include house-made sausage, pastrami and, one day, their own beer-brewing operation.

At least that’s what Bowman said he’s looking towards.

“The word artisan is the way I like to describe it,” said Bowman of the menu, drink selection and overall atmosphere. “We felt like there was a need for it, that it would be hugely successful and that it was the right place at the right time.”

The tavern takes its name from the term popularized by writer and journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name, the concept being the moment when an idea or trend becomes unstoppable.

Bowman said that he hopes the new restaurant will be just that, a tipping point for more family-friendly artisanal drinking and dining in the downtown area.

This venture will follow in the heels of the Weavers’ successful venture in Sweet Onion, which they opened after bidding farewell to Wildfire.

The menu will feature typical pub fare – fish and chips, wings, nachos and the like – as well as barbecue that they think will rival any in the area.

Bowman said the hope is to offer a diverse range of beer on tap, as well, with a mix of domestic, local and European brews up for sale that will be constantly tweaked and updated.

They’ve planned to open the doors on Wednesday, Dec. 22, and will be open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until. Sundays, Bowman said, are still up in the air.

“We want people to come here and know that it’s going to be a relaxed, comfortable, friendly, just good-times place,” he said. “Families can come in here, we’ll have good beer and we’ll have the best barbecue in Western North Carolina.”

Three years ago, Holly Hooper and sister Heather Menacof had saved enough money to invest in new windows for the lower part of their popular outfitter store in Sylva, Blackrock Outdoor Company.

Then the economy tanked. The sisters were forced to put the money back into the business. They scrimped and saved once more, however, and are moving forward again with dressing up the part of the building that faces Mill Street, better known as back street.

Hooper hopes Black Rock’s individual attempts to aid this part of the downtown gets a significant boost in the form of a state grant being submitted by the Downtown Sylva Association. The grant application is due by Feb. 10. Meetings are being held, ideas have been solicited, and a number of Sylva businesses have expressed keen interest in participating in a general cleanup and refashioning of back street.

After years of neglect, back street actually has received some attention fairly recently in the form of landscaping and upkeep. Currently, there are few vacancies along the street, and the businesses located there generally seem to be holding their own.

But Julie Sylvester, head of the Downtown Sylva Association, decided more could be done. About 40 people turned out for a meeting a few months ago about fixing up back street.

The Downtown Sylva Association is a membership organization dedicated to bettering the business environment in downtown Sylva. It is tasked with helping businesses thrive and prosper.

“We had a good mix of people all wanting to see this project move forward,” Sylvester said.

Grant money is available through the state’s Main Street program. The grants are intended to provide direct financial benefit to towns, retain and create jobs and spur private investment.

Sylvester said an initial phase for back street renovation includes painting, pressure washing, disguising unsightly but necessary items using paint or other means of hiding them (air conditioning units, for example).

“The idea is we try to do something that will make a big difference without a lot of money,” Sylvester said.

Hooper said she hopes to see street lighting installed. And awnings, she added, to protect customers from rain. Eventually, Black Rock would like to open an entrance into the store on back street instead of just having one on Main Street.

That would mean hiring an additional employee, however, and the store needs to see more traffic and business via back street before doing that, Hooper said.

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