ROGERSVILLE — Only a few short years ago it seemed like nearly every other storefront in downtown Rogersville was vacant.
But, with the opening of several new shops, restaurants and other businesses over the past year, downtown Rogersville is more vibrant now than it's been in decades.
Rogersville Chamber of Commerce director Nancy Barker told the Times News recently that 2019 was one of the best years for business growth that she's experienced in more than 20 years in that position.
Barker sat down with the Times News last week to talk about the business outlook and Rogersville's recent downtown renaissance.
KTN: Summarize for me some of the new business activity that has been taking place in Rogersville over the past year.
Barker: “The Red Dog on Main has opened up on Main Street and they're doing very well. Olde Towne Emporium opened up downtown where Pink Dogwood used to be, right beside Citizens Bank. It's a retro antique shop. Hollywood Hillbilly is going to open up at the end of this month, finally, which is going to give us another destination restaurant downtown. Sweet Tooth Cafe moved into the Hale Springs Inn. The restaurant at the Hale Springs Inn had been kind of down. Sweet Tooth, being an established restaurant that a lot of people love, is exactly what the Inn needed, and they're doing really well. They're doing the Sweet Tooth lunch menu, and then the regular Hale Springs Inn/ McKinney Tavern menu at night.”
KTN: Everybody loves Sweet Tooth Cafe, so moving into the Hale Springs Inn seems like a marriage made in heaven.
Barker: ’(Sweet Tooth owner) Jo (Anderson) is managing the day shift and the second shift, so that makes it a lot more consistent. It seems to be doing really well. I know in their annual report in November the Heritage Association (which owns the Inn) reported that they had been in the black for the past four months.”
KTN: I hear that the building previously occupied by the Sweet Tooth Cafe has been leased out to a new restaurant as well.
Barker: ’Yes, that building is going to be called something like ‘A Taste of Chicago.’. I'm not sure if that's going to be the exact name, but it will be a new restaurant offering Chicago style pizzas, hot dogs, and a different variety of food associated with Chicago. They're projected to open by the end of March. When they’re open we’re going to have three really good places to eat side by side by side with each other downtown.
KTN: A lot of focus is placed on downtown Rogersville because that where a lot of the historical buildings and festivals take place, but there's been some new business activity away from downtown as well.
Barker: “As you know we lost Sagebrush (steakhouse on Park Boulevard), but we've got a restaurant up there already doing renovations, getting ready to go in. It's going to be like a family dinner style restaurant.’
KTN: The Amis Mill Eatery had been closed briefly, but I understand they've reopened.
Barker: “Pam Charles leased it out. Her former restaurant was Tennessee Jack's. There was one in Rogersville, and then she opened one in Mosheim and one in Morristown. Then she closed the one in Mosheim and took over Amis Mill. It's called Amis Mill by the Creek now, and it's very good. It's a little different menu. There's probably not as much Cajun stuff on there. But it's still really good.”
KTN: Has there been any new retail development?
Barker: “As I mentioned, Olde Towne Emporium really compliments our downtown. It’s a place where you can go in and start browsing, and just lose track of all time. You can go in there and get lost for an hour and you still haven’t seen everything. Our Goody's (clothing retail on Rt. 66) changed hands and it’s Gorman's now. So we lost one, but then we gained one right back, which is the good news. Gorman's is an upscale clothing retail store based in the Midwest, but it's also got a lot of household items too, so we’ve got high hopes that they’re going to do a really good business.”
KTN: The biggest vacant retail building I see these days is the old United Grocery on W. Main Street. Any prospects for that location?
Barker: “We've been trying to get another grocery store in there, and thought we had one, but it didn't work out. The Medicine Shoppe, which was located I the same building, was bought out by Walgreens, so that's another vacant space in there. So, we've got some opportunities to bring some new businesses in there.”
KTN: A couple of years ago downtown Rogersville had a lot of vacant storefronts. Today not so many. What happened?
Barker: “I think this is a culmination of a lot of things. Down Church Street we had a big improvement project, cleaned up the street, put in a new sidewalk and new lighting. When we started we had seven vacant buildings down there, and now we've just got one.”
KTN: Why is Main Street so vibrant all of a sudden?
Barker: “With the new restaurants coming in they're actually staying open at night, instead of just doing lunch, so we're seeing more people coming downtown in the evening. I guess we're kind of putting the nightlife back into downtown. After 5 p.m. most people didn't come downtown because there was nothing to do. Now all of a sudden you've got a nice restaurant down here, and the Hale Springs Inn is open for dinner again. When Hollywood Hillbilly opens we're going to have another different type of restaurant. Then when Taste of Chicago opens, that's going to give us another dining option.”
KTN: Is there any concern that too many restaurants downtown will cancel each other out.
Barker: “Not at all. They're complimenting each other. Now we've got variety because none of the restaurants' food is the same. They're all unique, and when that new restaurant opens on Park Boulevard, that will be a completely different type of dining in itself.”
KTN: Is this the dawn of a renaissance in downtown Rogersville?
Barker: “I think as the restaurants prosper, the rest of downtown will prosper. If people have a nice place to eat, what else do they like to do? Shop, either before they eat or after they eat. We're looking at some opportunities with some of the buildings we have available. We're encouraging upstairs living, and we've got several of those downtown. We're trying to get a younger group of people interested in some of the entrepreneurial opportunities we have downtown. We’ve got a lot of renovation going on where folks who own vacant properties are fixing them up and making them more rentable. We've got some plans in the works to hopefully build on our recent success.”