Sylva may be stuck with cell tower

The Sylva Town Board opposes the construction of a 195-foot-high cellular communications tower on the main commercial drag of N.C. 107, but a state law passed in August may allow the tower to go up anyway.

The cell tower, planned by Pegasus Tower Company of Cedar Bluff, Va., would dominate the ridgeline next to the unfinished Comfort Inn adjacent to Andy Shaw Ford.

Pegasus originally received a building permit for the tower in June 2008, but because construction did not begin within six months, the permit expired.

Sylva amended its cell tower ordinance in November 2008 to conform to Jackson County’s ordinance. The ordinance stipulates a maximum height of 120 feet, which would rule out the tower Pegasus plans to build.

The Sylva board met in closed session last month to discuss legal matters concerning the issue and determined they had grounds to deny Pegasus a new permit.

“We think we’re on firm legal ground to deny it,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said.

Moody said the board considered the tower a safety issue because a “fall zone” had not been included in its design plans.

But Pegasus believes the North Carolina Permit Extension Act of 2009, a state law intended to offset onerous permitting requirements during the down economy, applies to cell tower construction. The company plans to build the tower without a new permit from the town of Sylva.

David Owens, professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government, said Pegasus’ permit is likely still valid.

“If that permit was valid at any time during that last three years, then it’s still valid,” Owens said.

Companies forced to put construction projects on hold during the recession would typically see their permits lapse. The state bill was intended to save developers from having to go through the permit process over again when they were finally ready to proceed.

Owens said the Permit Extension Act defines development so broadly that the construction of cell towers is included. The statute essentially delays the mandatory start period for development projects initiated between January 2008 and December 2010.

Following the logic of the bill, Pegasus would have six months from December 2010 to start work on the tower under the terms of its current permit.

Sylva board member Chris Matheson said she and her fellow board members felt strongly that the tower shouldn’t be constructed in the proposed location.

“I don’t know how much there is to say other than that the town is vehemently opposed to it,” Matheson said.

Matheson also said the town is working with Pegasus to see if both parties can agree on an alternative site for the tower.

“We’re working with Pegasus to see if we could provide a location that would be attractive to them but more in line with that the community needs,” Matheson said.

Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed that the town’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, has engaged in discussions with lawyers from Pegasus to resolve the issue.

If Pegasus and the town cannot come to an amicable resolution on the issue, Owens believes Sylva must have grounds other than an expired permit to prevent the project from going forward.

Sylva market changes local foodscape

Armed with an e-newsletter and an indefatigable entrepreneurial spirit, Eric Hendrix is determined to bring the fruits of the ocean to the mountains of Western North Carolina.

“The goal is to consistently provide fresh fish in the mountains, because you just can’t get it,” Hendrix said, who runs the aptly named Eric’s Fresh Fish Market on Back Street in Sylva.

But the real magic of Hendrix’s business is the way he has grown the project from an idea into an icon on a shoestring budget.

“The idea came to me when I was walking one day, and it was a full year and a half before anything happened,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix started the fish market in 2008 as a side venture to complement his salary teaching composition at Western Carolina University. When his contract wasn’t renewed last year, he decided to go all in selling fish.

“Necessity is a great motivator,” Hendrix said, laughing.

These days, Eric’s Fresh Fish Market is open Wednesday through Saturday. Hendrix gets deliveries from Inland Seafood in Atlanta twice a week.

His mission may be simple, but the reward it provides is varied. On a Wednesday afternoon Hendrix may have Scottish Salmon, Rain Forest Tilapia, Dover Sole, Costa Rican Mahi Mahi, Gulf shrimp, Virginia select oysters, and Maine Mussels.

Hendrix constantly preaches a mantra of freshness, quality and variety.

“You can eat beef, pork, chicken. Or chicken, pork, and beef, and there’s only three possibilities,” Hendrix said. “When you go into the ocean there’s thousands of possibilities.”

Inland Seafood has been a key to his ability to supply restaurant quality fish in a variety you don’t get at the grocery store. Once he identified a niche market for fresh seafood in the mountains, Hendrix hounded Inland to let him serve as a local distributor. Inland is a gigantic wholesale distributor that covers 12 states by truck. It serves the region’s best restaurants and specialty markets 90,000 pounds of fresh fish each week.

Mike Hulsey, Inland Seafood’s retail division sales manager in Atlanta, is a huge fan of Eric’s.

“I can’t even remember how he found us,” Hulsey said. “But he’s an enterprising individual, and I love the guy. He’s just interested in doing a better job than what the grocery stores are doing in providing fresh seafood with the real information customers need.”

Hulsey, who describes himself as a fish lover, said Inland sells to Hendrix because they believe in what he’s doing.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Hulsey said. “If a consumer calls from that area –– and this happens all the time –– and says, ‘Where can I get fresh fish?,’ I like having someone I’m confident sending them where I know I would buy the fish.”

For Hendrix, the distribution model is simple. Get the freshest fish you can and get rid of it as soon as you can.

“The fish you get from me is delivered to Inland the day before it’s delivered to me,” Hendrix said. “There is no middle man, and without the middle man the freshness is guaranteed.”

But Hendrix didn’t have the luxury of buying a fancy new space and filling it chock full of fresh seafood on giant beds of ice. He has employed a pay-as-you-go business model and grown the business slowly.

His greatest tool in that regard has been his weekly e-newsletter, which contains information about what’s fresh as well as the community business news of other downtown Sylva merchants. Hendrix has harnessed his skills as a networker and communicator to become a reliable source of what’s happening about town, and he’s growing his business at the same time.

“Networking is really crucial in any economy and in today’s economy particularly,” Hendrix said. “One of the goals with the newsletter is to market downtown Sylva as a real destination.”

With over 1,000 registered subscribers, Hendrix’ e-mail has turned into a marketing tool that drives the business forward. Sure, Gmail made him upgrade to a bulk account, but that’s good news, right?

Customers read his “Catch of the Week” email and reply with their orders. Hendrix knows how much to order from Inland and what people really want to buy, so seafood doesn’t languish in his shop.

David Liberman, a regular customer who reserves fish via email, raves about the market.

“I lived in Miami for years and used to eat fish there all the time, but fish in the mountains is a problem,” Liberman said. “I think of him as a blessing to the community.”

Liberman says he now eats fish once a week and looks forward to his stops at the market. Having grown up in Brooklyn, he likens the experience at Eric’s to the experience of grocery shopping in his youth –– a meet-and-greet transaction with food.

When you visit Eric’s Fresh Fish Market, Hendrix’s energy is evident. He greets all the customers by name. In the space of 30 minutes, you’ll see him cut up a salmon, tap notes on his newsletter, and sell a handful of Dover sole filets all while carrying on a conversation.

Hendrix isn’t an easy person to categorize. Raised as a military brat, he later spent four years in the U.S. Army. In the mid-‘80s he moved to Franklin from Kansas City, Mo., and started the first Mexican restaurant west of Waynesville.

After a divorce, Hendrix used his GI Bill credit to go back to school at Western Carolina University. A writer and songwriter, Hendrix got a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing from WCU in 2006 and looked forward to a long run as an assistant professor until his life took yet another new turn.

Sue Lipton is a vegetarian but she visits the market every week to shop for her husband, who favors its sea scallops and Scottish salmon.

Lipton said her loyalty to Eric’s is based as much on the business’s vibe as its product.

“I really, really appreciate the way he interacts with everyone,” Lipton said. “He always has time for everyone. The community is so important to him.”

A book about beer, food, and Gnometown cooking

Cooking with wine is familiar. Cajun chef Justin Wilson, one of television’s first real food celebrities, liberally tipped Chablis into his etouffe (who-wee), and Julia Child introduced America to the French style of cooking, deglazing and saucing with wine in the late 1960s.

But if beer is the new wine in Western North Carolina, then Heinzelmannchen’s beer-focused cookbook is set to open up a new conversation about the way the region’s signature beverage pairs with food.

“One of the en vogue things in the craft brewing circuit is to brew a beer that goes along with the food you eat,” said Heinzelmannchen’s brewmeister Dieter Kuhn. “And that’s been the style of beer we’ve brewed all along. It goes back to early times in Germany when you didn’t drink the water, you made beer out of it. And it was always on the table.”

Dieter and Sheryl Rudd are married and they run Heinzelmannchen together as business partners. Naturally their beer found its way from the brewery into the kitchen. Sheryl explained the genesis of their cookbook.

“We found ourselves pouring a little beer in everything, and my mother saw it and said,‘You really ought to start writing this down,’” Sheryl said.

Sheryl’s mother, Elizabeth Rudd, may not have known what she was getting into when she offered a word of advice in her daughter’s kitchen, but the task of organizing and editing the Heinzelmannchen cookbook eventually fell to her.

An experienced editor, it was Elizabeth who took on the challenge of turning Dieter and Sheryl’s collective effort into a published product. Along the way, the three of them found out there is a lot more to making a cookbook than cooking with a pen and an index card on the counter.

“One of the things we wanted to do is to make it more than just a cookbook,” Elizabeth said.

The result of Dieter, Sheryl, and Elizabeth’s work is a book that incorporates cooking techniques, recipes, and anecdotes into a kind of beer and food field guide. For example, the qualities of beer are dealt with in a succinct section called “Cooking with beer.”

“Hops add bitterness and acidity. Malt adds a subtle sweetness. Yeast produces a light fluffy texture, especially in batters. Yeast can also help to tenderize tougher cuts of meat,” one part reads.

That type of matter of fact, practical information helps you think about the possibilities of cooking with beer. But the cookbook also includes recipes that are tried and true, and the book is spiral bound so it can lie flat next to your stove as you try them out.

I tried the simplest recipe first, one for Mexican Cheese Dip, and I ate it during the Super Bowl and thought about all the delicious beer-infused “queso” that runs like a river through Austin, Tex. The Heinzelmannchen recipe yielded the perfect consistency. I tipped in a little more hot sauce and used the Ancient Days Blonde ale to my taste.

The stories that punctuate the book are fun and disarming, like the one about Dieter using the myth of the Henizelmannchen (German house gnomes) to defraud his little sister of her allowance for two years when he was growing up in Heidelsheim.

But the focus of the book is the recipes, which were generated around a nexus of popular favorites that Dieter and Sheryl cooked for their friends and family over the years. Naturally bratwurst and sauerkraut are on the list, and Dieter’s favorite birthday cake, Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte — a mouthful that turns into Black Forest Cherry Torte in English.

This is comfort food, which is really what beer is great for, and much of it has a distinctly German flavor.

“It’s not that it’s a German cookbook. It’s just stuff that we like to eat, cooked with the beer that we like to drink,” Dieter said.

Not all of the food is German-inspired. For example Dieter’s favorite dish — and the last to go in the cookbook — is the paella. The story behind the recipe exemplifies what Dieter and Sheryl are all about. They are community-focused, small business owners who love what they do.

Eric Hendrix of Eric’s Fish Market, their neighbor on Back Street, had a pile of beautiful shellfish for Dieter’s birthday meal and recommended they turn it into paella. Ross Lorenz, chef/owner of 553 West Main restaurant, said he’d help put it together. So the whole lot of them crowded into Dieter and Sheryl’s kitchen and produced the best paella this side of Valencia.

“They kept saying this has got to go in the cookbook,” Elizabeth said. “And I said it won’t make the deadline. And they said well just write it down now.”

Needless to say, it made the book. Dieter and Sheryl were anxious that the book be produced responsibly, and it was. Using 100 percent recycled materials, Rich Kilby of the Barefoot Press in Raleigh worked hand-in-hand with Elizabeth to design and produce a locally made product that’s friendly to the environment and chefs both.

The cookbook is available at Heinzelmannchen Brewery and City Lights Books in Sylva and may be available at Osondu/Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and Malaprops Books in Asheville in the near future.

Sylva teen club closes quietly

A Sylva teen club that sparked controversy two months ago by disseminating a flyer inviting high school students to “come as wasted as you want” has closed its doors.

In December, concerned parents brought 500 signatures to a town board meeting demanding that it shut down Club Offspring –– a private club for teens that held dances on the weekends. The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, defended his operation as an alternative ministry aimed at attracting “at-risk” youth.

The town board determined that it had no cause to shut the club down in spite of the petitions, but Mayor Maurice Moody admonished Lang about the wording of his flyer.

Last week, Sylva town manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed the club had closed of its own accord.

“It wasn’t because of anything initiated by the town,” Isenhower said. “I guess the business was failing, and they couldn’t pay the rent.”

Isenhower said she learned the club had closed because Sylva police had stopped noticing any activity during the club’s hours of operation.

The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, used high-minded language to defend the club in the face of criticism from concerned parents.

“We see ourselves in the community not as a nuisance but as a place where teenagers can be who they are,” Lang said. “If anything, it’s a new doctrine attempt aimed at teenagers.”

Now the club has shut its doors, and Lang cannot be reached for comment.

Small-time theft by travel agent a big-time violation of trust

William Maney, owner of Fantasy Travel in Sylva, allegedly defrauded an elderly woman from Franklin out of $7,000 last year by stealing her credit card and using it to purchase airline tickets for other clients, according to charges filed by the Sylva Police Department. Maney will appear in court on Feb. 2 to answer the charges, but it seems Mollie Miller was not his only victim.

For Miller, an 81-year-old Michigan transplant who is legally blind, the episode has been a lesson she’d rather not learn from.

“I’ve always been a very trusting person, and I’ve had no reason not to be,” Miller said.

The story began last July, when Miller showed up at Fantasy Travel to make arrangements for her son and daughter-in-law to come visit. She had never been there before, but Miller said she had always gone through travel agents in the past and didn’t know how to make online ticket reservations.

“He was so pleasant and what not, and I guess I just walked out of there without my credit card,” Miller said.

That was only the beginning of the story. Because of Miller’s poor eyesight, a neighbor helps her with bills each month.

“She says, ‘You’ve got $8,000 on your credit card’ and I said, ‘What a nice limit,’” Miller said. “And she said, ‘No, Mollie. You spent $8,000 on your credit card.’”

Miller didn’t suspect Maney until she got a piece of mail addressed to him at her address. Her daughter-in-law opened it and it confirmed their suspicions.

Miller took the information to the Franklin Police who took it the Macon County Sheriff’s Department who took it to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department who took it to the Sylva Police, which ultimately was the agency with jurisdiction since Fantasy Travel is located within Sylva town limits.

Det. John Buchanan took the case over and gathered enough evidence to charge Maney with 13 counts of obtaining property under false pretenses and one count of financial card theft.

The doors of Maney’s business have remained open with the lights on, but no one is there. Builder Greg Jenkins, who leases office space from Maney, said his jacket is on his desk chair and one of his cell phones on the desk.

“It’s just like he dropped off the face of the earth,” Jenkins said.

Sylva Police released information related to the case in the hopes of finding out if Maney had taken advantage of any other clients. So far, two more people have come forward, according to Buchanan. One resident has said he purchased a $500 gift certificate but it was never reimbursed, and paid $250 for an airline ticket that wasn’t received.

In the case of Miller, Maney used her card to buy over $7,000 worth of merchandise for nine Fantasy Travel clients between June 30 and July 18 of last year, according to court records. Det. Buchanan said Maney has cooperated with the investigation.

It’s a gloomy chapter for a downtown business that had been around for over 25 years. Maney purchased it in 2005 and renovated the space with help from a loan from the Sequoyah Fund, a small business incubator funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Maney appeared in court on Dec. 22 and was released on $22,000 bond.

Miller just wants her money back and some sense of peace of mind.

“I felt ridiculous afterwards when I realized he’d gotten away with it,” Miller said. “As long as I don’t wind up paying for the airline tickets, I guess I’ll be happy.”

Maney could not be reached for comment.

Lawyer’s actions aroused suspicion among clients, law enforcement community

An attorney that forged judges’ signatures was caught thanks to the sharp eyes of a law enforcement officer, a fellow attorney and a court clerk who noticed red flags.

But for at least a year, fraudulent driving privileges provided to clients by Attorney John Lewis remained under the radar. The scam began unraveling last fall, leading to a state investigation and culminating with guilty pleas by Lewis in court this week.

The first sign of the fraud arose after one of the drivers sporting a fake document from Lewis was stopped by a law enforcement officer in Swain County. When asked for his license, the driver pulled out the limited driving privileges he’d gotten from Lewis.

“The officer found it was suspicious in nature just by looking at it,” said Grayson Edwards, a State Bureau of Investigation agent who investigated the case.

The biggest red flag was that Lewis had signed his own name on the line where a clerk of court is supposed to sign. A signature of Judge Richie Holt also appeared on the document. But the officer was skeptical that Judge Holt would have granted limited driving privileges to this particular driver. So the officer called Holt, who confirmed he’d never signed such a document for that person.

The confused driver called Lewis to find out what was going on. Lewis owned up to the fraud, but asked the driver to keep it under wraps. Lewis told the driver to call the clerk of court and say that he’d gotten the document in the mail.

“After (the driver) hung up the phone, he changed his mind and decided he didn’t want to lie for something that he had not done. So he called the Swain County Clerk’s office back and told them where he’d gotten it,” Edwards recounted in court.

In a second case, a Swain County driver bearing one of Lewis’ forged documents was stopped by a police officer, this time outside the region. The driver whipped out his limited driving privileges, but when the officer pulled the driver’s record, it didn’t show up in the computer and the driver got a ticket.

Confused why his limited driving privileges weren’t valid, the driver called Lewis. Lewis asked for the document back without saying why. The driver got suspicious and photocopied it first.

The driver took the photocopy to another attorney to figure out what was going on, all the while hoping he could get the limited driving privileges back. But the attorney instead referred it to the district attorney’s office.

In yet another bizarre incident, Lewis forged the name of Judge Monica Leslie in a custody case terminating parental rights. No sooner had he filed the fraudulent court order with the Jackson County Clerk of Court than he apparently thought better of it and asked for it back. The clerk wouldn’t give it back, since a signed order submitted as part of the court record can’t be removed from the file. An agitated Lewis came back twice over the course of the day trying to retrieve the document.

“At one point he even went around the partition in the clerk’s office with a sticky note that said the order was void and put it on the file,” said Reid Taylor, assistant district attorney. “The clerk had some serious issues with Mr. Lewis and the way he was conducting himself over that document and was raising all kind of red flags.”

Lewis grew up in Jackson County and came from a low-income family, according to Lewis’ attorney. He excelled in basketball, playing at Smoky Mountain High School then at Western Carolina University and finally Mars Hill. From Mars Hill, he went to law school at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island before returning to Jackson County to practice law. Lewis and his wife live in Glenville.

District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said Lewis’ actions are puzzling for a person who worked so hard to go to law school.

“To come back home where he grew up and throw it all away? For who? People who weren’t entitled to drive?” Bonfoey asked. “Enabling people who shouldn’t be on the road to drive is appalling to all of us. It is appalling to my office, and it is appalling to all of us as attorneys.”

Investigators did not determine what payment if any Lewis got from his clients in exchange for purportedly landing them limited driving privileges, Bonfoey said.

There may be more people out there who think they have a valid document from Lewis. If you are one of those people, contact the sheriff’s office in your county.

New generation takes over at City Lights Books

What is a bookstore?

The question was unimaginable when Joyce Moore bought City Lights Books in Sylva from Gary Carden in 1986. But as Moore calls time on her career, e-books and online booksellers have challenged bricks and mortar bookstores to re-justify their existence. Moore announced just before Christmas that she would sell her business to long-time employee Chris Wilcox. The transaction took place last Friday, and now Wilcox has the task of taking City Lights Books forward in a difficult climate for independent booksellers.

Moore has left him with a recipe for success that has nothing to do with technology.

“If you don’t have community support it’s impossible to succeed,” Moore said. “Sometimes you have to build that support and nurture it and keep letting people know why it’s important.”

It’s important because Sylva’s downtown and City Lights have grown together and, in many ways, their futures are intertwined. Moore can look back on a successful career running the store, during which time she was one of the leaders of the downtown’s revitalization movement.

Wilcox meanwhile looks forward to a new challenge in an atmosphere he has known intimately since he was a child.


The other City Lights

Sylva didn’t have a bookstore when Gary Carden opened up City Lights in the vacant front of the old Carolina Hotel on Main Street. Carden had operated a bookstore in an abandoned barbershop in Cullowhee before, and he saw the chance to start something the town needed without a lot of upfront investment.

“I stocked the shelves from my own books (mostly paperbacks), rented a coffee-maker and bought a stock of New Age cassettes, which turned out to sell better than the books,” Carden said. “I added a video section which was mostly foreign films and early American classics and hung a poster of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’ over the door.”

The name City Lights, then, didn’t come from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s iconic bookshop in San Francisco, but from Carden’s eclectic decorating style. Carden only ran the shop for a little over a year before he realized he didn’t have the money to make it what he wanted. Joyce Moore, a mother of two with a degree in library science, had just received a lump sum of money as compensation for her childhood home being re-located for an interstate right of way.

Moore bought the store, kept the name, and began making incremental improvements.

“The world was really a lot smaller in 1986,” Moore said. “The idea that anyone could ever confuse City Lights in San Francisco and City Lights in Sylva was inconceivable. It has happened though.”

Downtown Sylva was smaller then, too. Virtually nothing was open after 5 p.m. Running a business on Main Street allowed Moore to imagine what Sylva might look like with a vibrant downtown.

“As it grew, it just sort of began to fit into a bigger picture of what Sylva might possibly be,” said Moore. “At that time Meatballs was the only restaurant in town.”

Moore realized that if her shop was to succeed, it would do so as part of a new business district.

“You sort of realize there needs to be a few businesses that say, ‘I make a commitment to the community and if you join us we’ll have success,’ and I think that’s still true now,” Moore said.

Sylva got its Main Street designation from Raleigh and Moore became a pillar of Sylva Partners for Renewal, the precursor to today’s Downtown Sylva Association, which enjoyed the support of Mayor Brenda Oliver and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Moore credits that nexus of support for giving the business owners the support they needed to survive and, ultimately, to thrive.

“I think one of the important things in any economic development effort is that you can’t do it yourself,” Moore said. “We were fortunate in the early 90s that we had all the right players on board.”

The business grew, in part because of its connections with Western Carolina University, which not only meant that high-quality used books were available, but also that there were people around to read them, and, more importantly, people around who wrote them. Alan Moore, Joyce’s husband, was a biology professor at WCU and many of the store’s supporters, patrons, and personalities over the years have had some connection with the university.

Moore scheduled readings and discussions and City Lights really became the intellectual fountainhead of Sylva.

“Often times bookstores are a focus in a community,” Moore said. “We aren’t the only small town in which the bookstore is a kind of nucleus.”

After a few years on Main Street, Moore saw an opportunity to move City Lights into Dr. Ralph Morgan’s office on the corner of Schuman and Jackson Streets. The move meant that Moore could eventually run a business out of a building she owned, but it also gave the store a homey feeling, a sense of place.

With the advent of bigbox book retailers and then on-line booksellers, small bookstores around the country began closing their doors. But City Lights didn’t. Moore is clear about the reason. The community, she said, chose to keep her store alive.

“In many respects I think we weathered the big box stores and I think those were battles we fought and didn’t lose,” Moore said. “ You can’t win, but the reality is the community has been behind us and helped keep us alive.”

Now Moore is a grandmother and she doesn’t want to pour her heart and soul into making sure City Lights stays above water.

“Change is a part of life. I don’t know if I have the energy at this point in my life to take on those changes. I think it really does come down to energy,” Moore said.


A community of readers

Gary Carden looks at the store he created with amazement, wonder, and a humble sense of a amusement.

“I see very little in the store that has survived from my ownership,” Carden said. “The movable shelves are still in the stores ‘used paperback’ section, but the music, the videos, the underground comics and the girlie magazines are gone. What has happened to the store is marvelous. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision what City Lights has become.”

Carden is just one of the many “regulars” that makes the store tick. Visit City Lights on a Friday afternoon and you’ll find readers of all ages and purposes perusing one of the stores sections.

Susannah Patty, who works for a local non-profit and helps manage the Sylva farmer’s market, was there visiting with friends.

“City Lights is more than an indie bookstore –– it serves as a vibrant meeting place that makes our community in Sylva both unique and cohesive,” Patty said.

Dan Schaeffer, Sylva’s public works director, had come to exchange mystery novels. Schaeffer, who just bought an e-reader, doesn’t like to waste paper, so he visits the store regularly and swaps out the novels he steams through at the rate of four per month.

“I mainly just exchange books here. I think it’s a great service because it kind of recycles the books,” Schaeffer said.

Blaine Eldridge, a retired professor who taught at WCU and SCC, has been patronizing the store since Gary Carden started it. Blaine was at City Lights with his wife Fitzallen, poring over the non-fiction rack.

“For an independent store they have a wide selection, and if they don’t have it they’ll order it for you,” he said. “The used books are really good. There are always some surprises back there.”

Fitzallen summed up the store’s charm.

“It’s friendly. The staff is fun. There’s always someone who knows what’s going on in the bookworld and they know what you like,” she said.

Lisa Lefler, a professor of medical anthropology at WCU, said City Light’s online ordering feature brings together the staff’s knowledge and the personal service that characterizes small businesses.

“It’s the attention to personal service. All of the people who work here have a useful and intense knowledge of various subject matter,” Lefler said.

If Lefler is looking for a book, any book, she can order it through the store after she has vetted it with the staff to make sure she’s not getting hoodwinked by a flowery review.

In the end, though, Lefler said her connection to the store is personal.

“You know that you’re going to be seeing the same people. There’s not a lot of turnover here. And you know that they will know your name and to me that’s really valuable,” Lefler said.


Raised in a bookstore

Chris Wilcox knows what he has, both in terms of City Lights’ reading community and in terms of Sylva’s place as an intellectual hub in the region.

“Sylva is a special town in that it’s just about the right size and it’s situated as a hub in a rural region,” Wilcox said. “We’re small enough that we’re not currently fighting off a big box retailer and we’ve got a community that values local business and backs it up with their pocketbooks.”

Wilcox was born and raised in Jackson County and remembers being in Joyce’s store from an early age.

“I really started hanging out at the bookstore before she bought it and a lot after it,” Wilcox said. “I just about grew up in the store.”

After a stint as a paramedic, Wilcox was considering going back to school for a master’s degree in library science. Moore needed extra help at the store and the rest is history. Wilcox has helped manage the store for years but he doesn’t take the transition in front of him for granted.

“I’m going to be in a new job. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing as an assistant manager for a lot of years, but there a lot of things that Joyce has done on her own,” Wilcox said. “My focus initially is to keep my nose above water and then I’ll look to improve the business incrementally as I see the opportunities.”

Wilcox, whose mother Margot has also worked with Moore for years, doesn’t see himself as a child of the Web generation as much as he sees himself a child of City Lights.

“My growing up parallels the store, so my reference isn’t that different from Joyce and my parents. Maybe I take for granted a little bit the community of letters that City Lights is responsible for, but I certainly try not to,” Wilcox said.

At the same time, he understands the realities of the business climate. At a time when the vast majority of book sales take place on the Web, even the name City Lights, which began with Carden’s Charlie Chaplin poster, presents challenges. People who search for City Lights San Francisco can end up in virtual Appalachia, which can be confusing for everyone involved.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I don’t have any immediate plans to change it. It’s a great institution Ferlinghetti built, and if we get some resonance off of it that’s OK with me,” Wilcox said.

Ultimately, though, Wilcox believes City Lights has what it takes to survive. Having grown up in the store, he understands that the bookstore isn’t about the building or even the books, it’s about a community that shares stories.

“It’s conceivable that this is the last stand of the printed book as an object,” Wilcox said. “But people are still going to be telling stories and we want to be a part of that in whatever form it takes. We’ve always been a place for sharing stories. That’s what Joyce has always emphasized.”

Outrage erupts over Sylva teen club

A little-known teen club shook the Town of Sylva out of a slumber last week and shone a bright light on the private lives of young adults.

Concerned parents brought 500 signatures to a town board meeting demanding that it shut down Club Offspring –– a private club for teens that holds dances on the weekends. But the club’s owner, Nathan Lang, defended his operation as an alternative youth ministry aimed at attracting “at-risk” youth.

Is Club Offspring a safe haven or a den of iniquity? The club remains open for now in the absence of proof that it has broken the law, but Lang’s past, coupled with lurid images on the business’s MySpace page, were enough to convince many people that it’s the wrong kind of ministry for their kids.

Outraged father

When his son came home with a flyer advertising a teen dance party and inviting them to come “as wasted as you want,” Brian Bartel was incensed.

“The thing that bothered me was that it was handed out at the high school to teens by teens,” Bartel said. “This gentleman who runs the club knows what he’s doing.”

Bartel followed a link on the flyer to the club’s MySpace page and his outrage turned to concern. The page included a photo album (that has since been removed) containing images of young women in lingerie dancing at a stripper’s pole.

“If this had been an adult club, right or wrong, I’d have nothing to say about it,” Bartel said. “But for him to create this environment for teens is wrong. If it’s going to be a teen club, let it be a teen club. There’s too many red flags.”

Bartel marched down to the club that Saturday night, bent on confronting the club’s owner. He was met at the door and refused entry on the grounds that the club was for teens and no one over the age of 24 was allowed inside.

Lang, who received Bartel at the door, said he denied him entry because he was combative and never identified himself as a concerned parent.

“I feel Mr. Bartel came looking for a witch hunt,” Lang said. “He barged in and didn’t introduce himself.”

In the wake of that confrontation, Bartel took the story to the media and began circulating a petition to shut down the club.

He also continued to research Lang and Club Offspring and found even more disturbing news. Nathan Lang previously ran a similar club in Waynesville with his son Russell, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for statutory rape. Russell Lang was convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 19, and his father was present in the apartment at the time police served a search warrant that led to the arrest.

“Did his failure to shape what teens do in a constructive way contribute to his son being in prison?” said Bartel.

In defense of Offspring

In the frenzy immediately following the revelation that Sylva housed a secret teen club that hosted “raves” in a building whose windows were covered in black plastic, Club Offspring was in danger of a media lynching.

Sylva police and town officials took a measured path and met with both Bartel and Nathan Lang, and Lang’s side of the story painted a picture diametrically opposed to the one that had aroused Bartel’s suspicions.

Calling himself an ordained minister with a psychology degree, Lang portrayed his club as a safe haven for youths who live in a world rife with addiction, alcohol and teen pregnancy. Lang stands by his relationship with his son, whom he says he meets with every week to discuss the club’s mission. He also contends that Russell was 19 and the girl was 15 and that law enforcement used misleading dates in an attempt to encourage a harsher sentence.

“My son and I are both in this ministry,” Lang said.

Lang also stands by the wording on the club’s flyer that provoked so much controversy.

“They want me to regret saying that because they think it means wasted people will come,” Lang said. “[Young adults] are getting wasted anyway. They’re getting pregnant anyway. We wanted them to know they could come here and be themselves.”

Lang said Club Offspring holds dances on Friday and Saturday nights and charges $10 admission, though no one is turned away and many young people volunteer their work in place of an entry fee. Drugs, alcohol and sex aren’t allowed.

Amanda Bowman, age 19, volunteers at the club and started a Web-based petition that resulted in nearly 400 voices of support for Club Offspring.

Bowman, who says she has never had a drink, urged local youth to support the club as a much-needed outlet for young adults.

“Sylva NEEDS THIS. If they have somewhere to go, then maybe the teenagers at the local high schools and colleges will stop having unplanned pregnancies!” she wrote. “Maybe we’ll see less newspaper announcements about underage possession of alcohol among the under 21 crowd... because they certainly aren’t going to drink in the club!”

Cody Sutton, also 19, volunteers as the club’s DJ. Sutton said he began using drugs as a 13-year-old. Now clean, he says there is no other place he feels he can express himself.

“All we’re looking for is to get that little bit of freedom,” Sutton said. “That eight hours a week.”

Steven Godfrey, 22, used to be a church youth group leader. Now he helps manage Club Offspring.

“We attract kids that don’t go to church,” Godfrey said. “Church people are a specific type of people, and they’re not going to come see us.”

Lang believes that young people today are torn by the contradictions inherent in the divide between the world they live in and the world adults seek to define for them.

“When they have problems –– and they will have problems,” Lang said. “There needs to be someone around who’s level-headed and who they can talk to.”

The light and the dark

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody summed up the community’s concern as he addressed Lang during the town board meeting that addressed the community petition to shut the club down.

“Your flyer does not convey the positive image that you want to,” Moody said.

Bartel used stronger language.

“If you’re motivated by scripture, then where is it?” Bartel said. “What does the darkness have to do with the light?”

Moody said the town has to look at the club’s existence from a legal standpoint. Until there is proof of illegal activity, it will remain open.

The question now is how the community will react to the establishment.

Patti Tiberi, substance abuse regional prevention coordinator for the Smoky Mountain Center, has concerns about the message Lang and his club convey to young people.

“I think what’s difficult is there are just some practices that Mr. Lang has employed that aren’t very clear and are sending a double message,” Tiberi said.

At the same time, Tiberi said the support for Lang’s club showed there is a dire need for positive outlets for young adults. Tiberi said partners in the Jackson County Substance Abuse Prevention Council are currently working on organizing youth dances in the community and have already established a group at Smoky Mountain High School called Students Against Negative Decisions.

She hopes Lang will become part of the initiative.

“If he is serious about it, then I’m hoping this can help him become a more transparent messenger in the community that we can partner with,” Tiberi said.

Tiberi commended Bartel’s willingness to stand up as a parent. She hopes the awareness the debate has sparked will force the community to deal with the lack of positive alternatives the county’s youth are facing.

“The blessing in this whole thing is the issue is on the table right now and we can’t dismiss it,” said Tiberi.

Lang contends that conventional efforts to reach teenagers –– like high school dances with strict supervision –– will just push at-risk youth away.

“Saying no to teenagers doesn’t work very well,” Lang said. “Saying no to adults doesn’t work very well... We need a ‘Yes’ and not a ‘No.’”

Lang sees his club as a way to reach young people who will otherwise be left to search for their identity in the adult world.

“We see ourselves in the community not as a nuisance but as a place where teenagers can be who they are,” Lang said. “If anything, it’s a new doctrine attempt aimed at teenagers.”

New Sylva board member could help bridge rift

Sylva’s incoming Mayor Maurice Moody said he wanted to start his career with a consensus vote and that’s exactly what he did.

In its first act, the newly seated Sylva town board unanimously voted to appoint Christine Matheson to the commissioner’s seat left vacant by Moody when he became mayor.

The unanimous appointment could bridge the voting divide that had emerged on the board over the past two years.

“I really did not want to start off this board with a 3 to 2 vote and I think we made a significant step tonight,” Moody said.

In Matheson, the board selected a Sylva native who worked for over a decade in the district attorney’s office and has participated with the Jackson County Economic Development Commission.

Matheson announced her intent to operate as an independent voice on the board.

“I’m fairly independent, and I vote my mind,” Matheson said. “I’ll take each issue as it comes. I don’t want to label myself or place myself in any category.”

Moody had made clear his desire to fill the seat he vacated with someone with broad support in Sylva all along. The board was facing the possibility of a contentious 3 to 2 vote that could have set up a long-standing divide between two commissioners with so-called “progressive” voting agendas –– Stacy Knotts and Sarah Graham –– and two commissioners expected to espouse more traditional platforms –– Ray Lewis and Danny Allen.

In the run-up to last week’s town board meeting, Moody was busy seeking a consensus-building candidate and talking individually with the commissioners.

“I kept looking,” Moody said. “I think Chris had the most to do with everybody coming together. She’s well-known in the community and she’s an independent thinker.”

Over the past two years Knotts, Graham and Moody have consistently voted together and espouse what can best be described as a “progressive” agenda that favors channeling resources to the downtown district and investing in parks and recreation amenities. Ray Lewis and Harold Hensley had embraced a fiscally conservative platform focused on the nuts and bolts of providing public safety and infrastructure. Hensley lost his seat in the fall election and was replaced by Danny Allen, a close ally of Lewis and Hensley with a similar philosophy.

Allen indicated after his election that he would push hard for the appointment of Hensley, who narrowly lost re-election by a 10-vote margin. But Knotts said she preferred a replacement who would more closely represent Moody’s viewpoint, setting up a potential showdown between the board factions.

Both sides hailed the appointment of Matheson.

“I don’t think we could have replaced Harold with anybody but Chris,” Lewis said.

Allen said it was important to him that Moody’s replacement had grown up in the community.

“From my standpoint, yes, that was important,” Allen said. “That will help with the transition.”

Moody downplayed Matheson’s Sylva upbringing, instead emphasizing her past participation in local government.

“I don’t put that much weight on where you come from,” said Moody. “All of our ancestors came from somewhere else at some point. I think you just need to have people who are interested in the community.”

Knotts, who moved to Sylva later in her life, showed she had won the confidence of her peers as the board unanimously voted her to serve as vice mayor. Knotts said she voted for Matheson because of her work with the EDC and her visibility in the community.

“I thought it was important for the person to be well-known in the community,” Knotts said.

The series of unanimous votes in the board’s first meeting may represent Moody’s crowning achievement as a first-term mayor –– building consensus in a board with two distinct ideologies.

Consensus unlikely in Sylva board appointment

The moment of truth arrives for Sylva’s new town board on the day it starts work.

When board members convene this week, the first item on their agenda will be pivotal in defining the town’s ideological direction for the next two years.

Newly-elected Mayor Maurice Moody will vacate his seat as alderman, and the task of naming his replacement will fall to the rest of the board.

While split 3 to 2 votes have characterized the board the past two years, Moody is hoping for a fresh start.

“You’ve got two different ideologies on the board,” Moody said. “Three of us are of one persuasion and two of us are of the other. I’m not sure that’s not healthy.”

Whoever fills the vacant seat is likely to tip the voting balance to one of the ideological sides that have emerged over the past two years.

Moody is keen to have the board come to consensus on naming his replacement, but he has indicated he is willing to cast a tie-breaking vote to preserve the progressive voting block that currently holds the majority on the board.

“Your majority normally does not vote to get rid of their majority. I believe that would be highly unusual,” said Moody.

Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham, and Moody have consistently voted together and espouse what can best be described as a “progressive” agenda that favors channeling resources to the downtown district and investing in parks and recreation amenities.

Ray Lewis and Harold Hensley have embraced a fiscally conservative platform focused on the nuts and bolts of providing public safety and infrastructure. Hensley lost his seat in the fall election, but will be replaced by Danny Allen, a close ally of Lewis and Hensley with a similar philosophy.

Allen said Hensley should be appointed to the vacancy since Hensley was the third highest vote-getter in the election — separated by a mere 10 votes.

Allen said unless Hensley gets the appointment, there is unlikely to be consensus — with him and Lewis on one side in support of Hensley and Graham and Knotts on the other. Moody would vote in the case of a tie.

“It’s going to be difficult for Maurice,” Allen said. “I think a lot of it’s going to come down to him.”

Knotts doesn’t accept the idea that Hensley’s third place position in the fall election — which saw just 14 percent turnout — has earned him his seat back.

“I think that oversimplifies the decision that has to be made. When the voters went out and selected the balance of the board, that was factored into their decision,” said Knotts.

Instead, Knotts thinks the board needs to replace Moody with someone Moody-like.

“I’ve going to think hard about a person who represents the ideas and the mindset he represented,” Knotts said.

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