“I’m a big smooth jazz fan,” says Wells Greeley, owner of both establishments.
Greeley’s daughter points out that the place is wired with Pandora and the music selection can be easily switched.
“If they have a birthday party for someone that loves ‘70s rock, we can change it,” assures Jennifer Wells Greeley Jacobson, who works in the family business with her dad.
The new Wells Event and Reception Center in downtown Waynesville will serve as a flexible and versatile gathering place, hosting meetings, conferences, parties, receptions, programs, company get-togethers and weddings.
There will, of course, be receptions associated with funerals next door, but it offers an alternative to the traditional funeral setting.
From the lighting to the furniture, “It takes on a little more of a feel of a hotel lobby, which is what we want,” Greely explains. The interior is the handiwork of his wife, Kathy Greeley of Greely Interior designs.
The building formerly housed the giant newspaper presses of The Mountaineer Publishing Company. But the newspaper retired its presses and instead outsources its printing to a larger press.
Greely was looking to expand his business, both the footprint and the services offered, so the empty building next door seemed like a natural choice when the Mountaineer put it up for sale.
“This building was 11 feet away,” says Jacobson. “It just made sense.”
Greeley purchased the property about two-and-half years ago. Renovations were a lengthy process. He gets a kick out of showing off before and after photos of the work.
“It took a lot of vision,” Greeley says.
“Creativity,” adds Jacobson.
Greeley and his daughter take a seat on one of the swanky couches spaced about the parlor. Off to the side is a room with a piano and the potential to serve as a lecture hall. Down the hall is a dining area, kitchen and conference room.
Each of the rooms is named after a member of Greeley’s family, a family with deep local roots. Greeley’s family started offering funeral services in Haywood County in 1888. About a hundred years later, the Wells Funeral Home opened up in its current Main Street location.
Over the years, the funeral business has changed. Funerals themselves have changed. That’s one reason Greeley decided to open up an event center.
“With the way things are changing with funeral services, this represented a building we could serve families out of,” Greeley says.
While death is a guarantee — “Ultimately, you do have to die, that’s a given” — the ways in which we observe a person’s passing are changing. A growing number of people are not affiliated with a church, and thus do not have a go-to location to hold a funeral service or reception in.
And more people are shying away from mournful affairs and choosing a celebration-of-life gathering instead.
“People are doing things so different,” Greeley says.
The event center caters to this evolution. The atmosphere is relaxing. There are flat screens posted throughout to play videos or photos celebrating a person’s life. A large dining area and kitchen can facilitate feeding a gathering.
“Food is a common denominator,” Greeley says. “Any time deaths occur, people want to gather and they find comfort in that.”
But Greeley envisions funeral-related services as being only a portion of the event center’s potential. He knows that concept can cause raised eyebrows at first blush.
“‘You’re going to have my birthday party at a funeral home?’” Greeley laughs.
But Greeley feels that the standalone event center will be easily recognized as the multi-purpose facility he envisions. And, that’s not an arbitrary assumption.
“We researched this pretty strong,” Greeley said, explaining that the concept of funeral service providers evolving their businesses is not foreign in the industry. “More and more are definitely going to the reception side.”
After researching such a shift, and visiting like facilities in Kentucky, Greeley decided the expansion made sense. He’s pretty sure he’s breaking new ground in North Carolina.
“If we’re not the first, we’re one of the first,” Greeley said.
The Wells Event and Reception Center will have an open house in downtown Waynesville from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7.
Showing off a Main Street turnaround
After completing a two-plus year renovation of a historic downtown Waynesville property, J. Wells Greeley appears happy to show it off. He points out where the old newspaper printing press use to live and how some original flooring and beams have been retained in the renovation.
“We really wanted to make an investment back into the building,” Greeley said.
The renovated property now serves as the Wells Event and Reception Center. It neighbors Wells Funeral Home but facilitates functions beyond funeral-related services.
Aside from operating his business, Greeley also serves as a Waynesville town alderman. He said he is particularly pleased to be able to expand his business in a way that improves the downtown landscape.
“We like to say we just made a pretty significant investment in downtown,” Greeley said.
This month, Greeley will get to show off his event center to a group of guests he knows will appreciate how a renovated property can help improve a downtown area. On Aug. 20 managers from associations in the N.C. Main Street program will come to Waynesville for their annual conference, including a reception at the event center.
“We’re going to be able to showcase how we took a piece of property and turned it around,” Greeley said.
Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said she is “happy” and “thrilled” to be able to show off the new Wells event center during the Main Street conference. She called the concept “smart.”
“I can’t wait for them to see it. It’s a beautiful building,” Phillips said.