Archived Opinion

Mixed drinks won’t be good for Sylva

By Jason Kimenker • Guest Columnist

What makes Sylva great? The people of rural Sylva, North Carolina are as unique as this area is beautiful. This small mountain town is so loved by tens of thousands of visitors year-round. With a population of just over 2,500, the incorporated town of Sylva and her residents share an incredibly rich history with their surrounding mountain communities.

Serving as county seat to a population of more than 33,000 residents, and hosting Jackson County’s commercial and economic center, residents and tourists alike swell Sylva’s historic Main Street and crowded little roads with a busy hustle and bustle of commerce, education and recreation. There is a wonderful diversity of locally owned businesses located along the corridor between historic Dillsboro and Cullowhee, home to Western Carolina University.

As an example, Sylva and the surrounding community boast an amazing array of local restaurants offering delicious fare of almost every kind, and of various price ranges. Some big box stores and fast food restaurants are here with more on the way, but more and more independent, locally owned businesses are cropping up and thriving. They have a community of local support encouraging their growth and proud of their independence and uniqueness. This community of local support is one of Sylva’s strongest qualities.

Sylva’s small town rural atmosphere, her uniqueness, dedicated community, relatively central location and pristine natural environment make Sylva a wonderful town to live, play and work in. Sylva is close to two of our nation’s most visited national parks: the Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sylva is also very close to Western Carolina University, seasonal home to an additional 10,000 residents, a newly constructed Performing Arts Center, and a new Millennium campus initiative that essentially doubled the footprint of the University. Because of WCU, many consider Sylva to be a “college town.”

Perhaps unfortunately, Sylva appears to be a developer’s dream. Ripe for development, out of state corporations that own big box developments have their eyes set on Sylva, no doubt. “If only liquor by the drink was available”, they hope. This would allow the big box restaurants like “Applebee’s”, “Bennigan’s”, “Chili’s”, “TGI Friday’s”, “Outback Steakhouse”, “Olive Garden”, “Ruby Tuesday’s” etc.

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These chains all develop their food service based around a central liquor bar and rely on liquor sales as a requirement for their development. Without liquor by the drink available in a town, these big box restaruants will not even consider building a new location. This is one reason why they are not already here.

Maybe Sylva is ready for such entities along her already busy commercial highway N.C. 107. Perhaps local businesses would benefit from the out of state competition. Maybe they would not. Please share with me this different perspective of looking at economic development and growth in Sylva that may, if nothing else, provoke conversation in our community about this issue.

What Sylva is not, thank goodness, is Gatlinburg, Tenn., just over the other side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I do not believe Sylva will become such an example of excess, we do have our potential to look like something completely different in a short time span. Sylva has not yet been overwhelmed with big box development, such as nationally available restaurants, retail stores and hotels. That could all change with just one vote in favor of Liquor on the upcoming town of Sylva ballot, May 2.

Should “Liquor By The Drink” allow out of state interests to decide the fate of our local community? This decision belongs to every registered voter in the town of Sylva. Beer and wine are currently available at most Sylva restaurants. Residents desiring liquor currently may purchase bottles at the local A.B.C. liquor store. Some local restaurants have a “brown bag” license, allowing customers to bring their own liquor. A vote for “Yes” on Liquor By The Drink would allow for liquor to be served within Sylva, bringing with it a potential influx of commercial big box development including national chain restaurants and retail stores.

This commercial development would raise property values (and result in larger tax bills). If this happens, Sylva would lose even more of what makes our town unique. What little affordable housing now remains would be eliminated by increased property values. Certainly many local business owners would be elbowed out of the commercial real estate market by the out of state competition. What locally owned business would be able to afford the rent on a location that could be sold or leased to a large corporation with a much deeper wallet? Think about the unique restaurants and retail stores in Sylva that you currenty patronize and then try to imagine what would happen when their rent increases exponentially to match what the competition is capable of paying for the same commercial location, or one right next door.

Vote “NO” to help locally owned businesses thrive and local residents continue to enjoy what makes our small mountain town so unique to live in.

We can grow and develop with local values, local people, local ideas, and local businesses. The people of our community are being given an incredible opportunity to decide how our community will grow in the near future. The decision we make today will change how we see our tomorrow.

(Jason and his wife Karin are proprietors of Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro in Sylva. He welcomes your comments and suggestions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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