Ben King, owner of Bryson City Outdoors, has only had his retail business open on Main Street for three weeks, but he’s ready to jump in and be a part of the community. He plans on serving on the board and hopes others will step up as well.
“I want to help transform our downtown and start to work together,” he said.
Chamber Director Karen Wilmot said two merchants meetings have been held so far to try to garner support — only six merchants attended the first meeting, but the number grew to more than 20 at the second.
“I think it will lead to better communication,” Wilmot said.
Brad Walker, chamber board member and chairman of the Swain County Tourism Development Authority, hopes bringing all the merchants together to work toward common goals will further help move the town in a positive direction.
The association’s mission will be to plan downtown events, collectively advertise the businesses, beautify the town and address downtown parking concerns. The merchants association can also have a unified voice when discussing downtown issues before the town government.
“We need another voice in the town for them,” Walker said. “The merchants are one of the most important things in this town.”
Wilmot said the association wouldn’t be restricted to businesses right downtown — she said any business in the area could become a member and participate. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
King said there are several improvements that could be made in Bryson City if the merchants all worked together to make it happen.
“One of my biggest goals is I would like to see some of the buildings downtown refurbished to make shops more welcoming to guests,” he said.
King would also like for the merchants to think about what other types of businesses would draw people into town and how to get them here. As a business owner offering kayak rentals and outdoor equipment, King thinks the Tuckasegee River should be better utilized in the downtown area. Having a point of entry into the river downtown would be a tourist draw.
“The river is a great asset we don’t utilize enough,” King said.
The merchants are currently meeting at 8 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month at the chamber office. Walker said the group would cast ballots at the next meeting May 7 to appoint a chairman and officers so the group can officially get started. As for funding, he said the TDA and chamber could hopefully help them get grants for beautification and special events.
Jennifer Simon with Charles Heath Art Studio and Gallery on Everett Street said she also planned to be an active member with the association. She would like to see the merchants plan special events to get more people downtown and to coordinate more consistent operating hours.
“I think everyone can be on the same page and work together,” she said. “There’s strength in numbers — as a group we really could help Bryson City evolve even further.”