Asheville, NC travel industry worries about HB2 impact

A Facebook advertisement for Hendersonville-based Outfitter Bicycle Tours seeks to lure travelers to visit the Biltmore Estate, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.

But comments from ad readers say a new feature of the North Carolina landscape will prevent them from taking the trip: House Bill 2, which prevents local governments from adopting rules against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or identity.

“As an open lesbian, I’ll be riding bikes in another state until you all elect a Governor and politicos who recognize that I am a human being too!” one says.

“Boycotting. We were planning the Trek ride in Asheville for our vacation but not now,” reads another comment.

People in the travel and tourism industry in the Asheville area and across the state are waiting nervously to see how many people avoid North Carolina because of their displeasure over HB2.

Some say they are already seeing negative impacts, a few say it may not affect the bottom line and others expect problems in the future, with the big question being how large the effects will be.

“In terms of real financial impact, that remains to be seen,” said Jim Muth, co-owner of Beaufort House Inn in North Asheville and vice chairman of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. “It’s just happened and there’s this incredulity: … (Legislators) really did that? What year is this?”

In the national eye

Indiana backtracked last year after a law that would have allowed businesses to cite religious beliefs to discriminate against gays and lesbians brought national condemnation and threats of boycotts. A report to an Indianapolis agency trying to lure tourists there found that the controversy cost the city as much as $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenue and other economic benefits when a dozen groups moved meetings elsewhere despite the fact that the state quickly altered the law to remove some of its most criticized effects.

Arkansas last year scaled back a similar measure due in part to economic concerns and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he would veto a bill there after many companies, particularly those in the film industry, said they would curtail operations in the state if it passed.

North Carolina’s new law is different in that it legislates which bathrooms people must use in government buildings, a particular concern for those who are transgender, and prevents local governments from outlawing discrimination against LGBT people. That means, as was the case before the law was passed, businesses and government can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or identity whether their concern is religious or not.

A Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance that would have gone into effect Friday prompted HB2, but the law applies statewide.

Effects on the travel and tourism industry and the state’s reputation will be statewide too.

National media outlets including ABC News, USA Today and MSNBC have covered the controversy and The Washington Post and The New York Times are among those also condemning the bill in editorials.

“Since facts and human decency seem to hold no sway with the state’s lawmakers, we can only hope that threatened boycotts of North Carolina by companies and others appalled by last week’s events open some eyes to the need to repeal this hateful law,” the Post editorial says.

Mayors of New York, San Francisco, Seattle and West Palm Beach, Florida, have cited the law in banning non-essential travel to North Carolina by their employees. So has the governor of New York state.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said that misinformation in the media and from advocates has furthered a backlash against the state and once he explains to business leaders that they can make whatever accommodations for LGBT customers and employees they want, they have been reassured. He said he is trying to get out accurate information about the bill.

However, it appears that no major companies that denounced the law after its passage March 23 have publicly changed their positions. Critics say McCrory is just trying to deflect blame for his own actions in signing the bill.

Changing plans

Stephanie Pace Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Monday she had fielded about a dozen emails from people saying they are cancelling plans to come to Asheville and that a couple of local companies have told her they have lost business because of HB2.

She says she does not know how much that relatively small number will grow: “I think we have to wait and see. I know it’s a big concern among the industry statewide.”

Brown and Outfitter Bicycle Tours head Jamie Gilpin said the impact will be hard to measure because most people who don’t come to North Carolina because of HB2 won’t bother to contact anyone to say why.

Gilpin said he has not heard directly from potential customers about HB2 after initial comments on his Facebook ad appeared.

But, he said, “Silence is a gauge. … I’m sure that there are fewer people reaching out” to consider trips.

Officials at two of Asheville’s biggest players in the tourism industry, The Biltmore Company and Omni Grove Park Inn, said they knew of no HB2-related cancellations.

“It’s just happened and there hasn’t been any impact and hopefully there won’t be,” said Julia Akers, director of marketing communications at Grove Park Inn.

Muth, the innkeeper, said gay and lesbian customers are a significant part of his business and problems are more likely to be visible later. Visitors will probably carry through with existing plans to come to Asheville but HB2 may be a factor when they choose destinations in the future, he said.

He hopes Asheville’s reputation for having a large LGBT community and being supportive of their rights will blunt negative impacts, but said it also means HB2 will be repugnant to many visitors.

“I’m hoping that if anything people realize that (HB2) is not consistent with who the people of this community are,” he said. “It gives North Carolina a bad name.”

Local bed and breakfast inns are working on a joint statement on the issue, Muth said, and some are already trying to reassure customers bothered by HB2.

“The Carolina Bed & Breakfast does not discriminate based on race, religion or sexual preference,” reads a statement on the Montford B and B’s website that cites HB2. “Good people of every type are welcome at our inn.  It’s not who you love it’s that you love at all that counts.”

Not just Asheville

Potential fallout from HB2 is receiving attention elsewhere in the state too.

Organizers of next month’s High Point furniture market said that the new law is causing “significant economic damage” to the market, which draws 75,000 people twice a year.

“Based on the reaction in just the last few days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April,” a statement released Monday said.

The Durham Tourism Development Authority board has called a special meeting for Wednesday to discuss how to respond to HB2, said Shelly Green, president and CEO of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Meeting planners worried some attendees won’t come to Durham because of HB2 have asked the board to come out with a statement on it, Green said.

Annual meetings make up a large portion of many associations’ annual revenue, so they view any threat to attendance at them very seriously, she said.

“There’s definitely going to be some fallout,” Green said. But total effects will “be somewhat hard to measure because I believe is going to happen is there’s going to be a lot of silent losses.”

When some groups or companies are deciding where to hold their next meeting, “We’re just not on the list any more and we won’t know it,” she said.

Steve Morse, director of the hospitality and tourism program at Western Carolina University, said the effects of boycotts or “economic activism” on travel and tourism destinations are hard to measure. Some groups may avoid the state because of HB2 while it might make others more likely to come, he said.

Durham County saw 9.3 million visitors in 2014 and their spending supported 13,856 jobs, Green said.

Durham has a gay and lesbian film festival, gay pride parade and several performers scheduled to appear at Moogfest in May are transgender, she said. The music and technology event formerly held in Asheville has issued a statement condemning HB2 and saying it will have space at the festival “dedicated to education and dialogue around these issues.”

Green said Asheville and Durham’s counter-culture feel makes HB2 reaction especially critical to their tourism industries.

“It makes us vulnerable,” she said. “We have more to lose because we attract more people for whom that is important.”


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Property sales up, foreclosures down in Onslow County

This house on Barn Street is among 80 active foreclosures on the market in Onslow County, which has seen foreclosures drop amid rising property sales overall the last two years, according to information from Jacksonville Board of Realtors.

In Onslow County the last two years, foreclosures dropped while overall sales rose and the trend is continuing in 2016, according to information from Jacksonville Board of Realtors

An improving housing economy nationwide has helped the area, which is affected by trends afield, Board President Alexis Pierson said.

“If we have people moving into the area and those areas are having housing issues, that inhibits people moving here from buying,” she added. “If they can’t sell elsewhere, that affects the market here. If things are improving elsewhere, that helps our market.

“Our market is improving.”

In 2014, Onslow County had 2,976 property sales and 30 percent of those — 898 — had been foreclosures. In 2015, the county had 821 foreclosures sold — or 26 percent of all 3,105 property sales that year, Pierson said.

So far this year, 619 properties have sold. Of those, 346 were resales, 145 were foreclosures and 128 were new construction.

“Resales are half of the market,” Pierson said. That means that so far this year, foreclosures sold amount to 23 percent of all sales.

Pierson attributed the trend to improved access to state resources and better education for homeowners enduring bad times.

The best way to avoid such hardship, she added, is to avoid getting too far behind before asking for help.

“It can be disheartening and discouraging,” she said. “It can be hard to get the motivation to get back on your feet. We want to help you. We want to keep you from drowning.”

So does the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund, which helps homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments because of “job loss, reduction in income or temporary financial hardship, such as divorce, illness or death of a spouse,” according to the resource at “The Fund also assists returning veterans who are transitioning to civilian jobs.”

For qualified homeowners, the fund can pay mortgage and other expenses up to three years “while you search or retrain for new employment,” according to the website.

“I think it’s a benefit to any homeowner who really wants to stay in their home and is having a tough time,” Pierson said. “I run into people all the time who have a hard time getting back on track.”

So far this year, 80 active foreclosures are listed on Multiple Listings Service in Onslow County, but that number changes daily, Pierson added. In addition, there are 101 foreclosures under contract, which means that someone placed an offer to buy and are doing the diligence to close on the property.

“I do think the historical data shows improvements in Onslow County,” Pierson said. “Foreclosures are going down, but our overall sales are going up.”


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New South Asheville Duke Energy substation to be online in 2018

The auxiliary power station is needed to meet the area’s increasing power demands, Duke officials say.

Duke Energy plans to begin construction of a substation early next year at the intersection of Mills Gap and Sweeten Creek Roads in South Asheville.

Because of increasing power demands of customers in that fast-growing area of Buncombe County, the Charlotte-based utility intends the substation to be online by November 2018, said Jason Walls, Duke’s Asheville-area local government and community relations manager.

“We’ve reached the point where the system is no longer adequate to meet the demands of customers,” Walls said. “The substation will serve the existing need and future growth.”

Walls cited the emergence of Biltmore Park, the development along Hendersonville Road and the establishment of Gerber Village as examples of South Asheville’s expansion – and increasing need for power.

News of the substation follows the December 2014 disclosure that Duke plans to build three substations that would serve power needs for downtown Asheville and nearby neighborhoods.

A substation is an auxiliary power station which, among other actions, converts electrical current and steps up or down voltage.

A 115-kilovolt power-transmission line stretching 1.8 miles will be built to connect Duke’s existing Asheville Plant-Osteen West to the new substation, wrote Sarah Spagnola, a utility project manager, to local residents in a Feb. 3 letter obtained by the Citizen-Times.

“The new transmission line will be constructed in a 100 foot easement,” Spagnola wrote.

Duke bought the South Asheville substation land in 2013 for about $2.5 million, Walls said.

Plans outline that power lines will “be suspended on steel H-frame structures and steel single pole structures,” Spagnola also wrote. “The average height of the above-ground structures will be approximately 60 to 105 feet.”

The project will be “unsightly,” said Jennifer Ruane, a real estate agent with Asheville Realty & Associates.

More importantly, Ruane said the substation proposal already has negatively affected homeowners in the area.

A potential buyer for a client’s house “pulled out of a contract” a few days ago after learning of the substation, Ruane said. “It’s unfortunate,” she said.

The substation will lower property values and make it difficult for residents to sell their homes, she said.

Electricity rates for customers don’t automatically increase because of the construction of substations, Walls said in December 2014.

That happens only “when revenues coming in are no longer sufficient to cover costs, Walls said. Increases typically aren’t tied to projects as specific as substations, he said.


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Historic Papers Found Hidden Inside Wall Of N.C. House

An electrician working on a home renovation in North Carolina discovered a box that contained a number of historic documents — some signed by former presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.

Electrician German Martinez was running wire to a room at the Patton-Parker House in Asheville, North Carolina, in February when he took down a patch of drywall and discovered a secret compartment hidden next to a chimney, the Citizen-Times reports.

Martinez then pulled out a tin box, in which he found a stack of leather-bound books.

“I’ve worked in a lot of old houses, but I’ve never found anything like this,” he told the Citizen-Times.

Inside the box were letters of business correspondence, as well as other documents, from the house’s builder Thomas Patton. The Patton-Parker House’s current owner, attorney Jim Siemens began looking over the documents with his girlfriend, Deborah Haft, in February and March, and they found two signatures from Jackson and Van Buren.

One was a land grant from property in Arizona signed over from Jackson to Patton in 1830. Another land grant was signed in 1837 by Van Buren.

“I haven’t seen anything nefarious,” Siemens said. “But as a lawyer, it’s interesting for me to see how involved these guys were in the land transactions around Asheville.”

So far, he said, no other hidden documents or anything of significance has been found behind the other walls and floors of the house.

The Patton-Parker House was built by Patton, former Asheville mayor and Buncombe County commissioner, in 1868, according to the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County. The PSABC put the house up for sale in early 2013.

At the time of the sale, PSABC Executive Director Jack Thomson assured that the house would be preserved for its historic nature.

“When the historic house is sold we will place preservation covenants in the deed that will protect the historic nature of this special place in perpetuity,” he said.

The house was sold to Siemens as a location for his family law practice.

The house was notable as the location where a group of women met in 1894 to organize support women’s right to vote. The next day, a gathering sponsored by Patton resulted in the formation of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association — which began the fight for women’s right to vote in the state.

The house became a local landmark in 2000.

via: Historic Papers Found Hidden Inside Wall Of N.C. House

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Asheville-area home & garden events, winter to spring

Asheville-area home & garden events, winter to spring

Send calendar items to Bruce Steele at two weeks before the event. Or mail to Bruce Steele, Asheville Citizen-Times, P.O. Box 2090, Asheville, NC 28802.


PLANT SALE: Deadline is March 15. The annual Haywood County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association plant sale has begun. Edibles (berries, asparagus and fruit and nut trees) and native plants (perennials to attract pollinators) are available. Order forms at the Extension office on Raccoon Road; by calling 828-456-3575; or email

WNC HOME, GARDEN & GREEN LIVING SHOW: March 18-20, U.S. Cellular, downtown Asheville. Featuring products and services for the home, garden and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Vendors include home builders, furnishings, eco-friendly transportation, lawn and garden equipment, landscaping, clean energy products, pools and spas, home financing, health & wellness, educational institutions, appliances, home security and entertainment, decorating ideas, decks and patios, sporting goods, heating and cooling equipment, pet products, green businesses, home repair and renovation and more. Hours are 3-8 p.m. March 18, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. March 19 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. March 20. To learn more, visit

BAMBOO WALKING TOURS: 1:30-3 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays through November at Haiku Bamboo Nursery/Farm, 468 Rhodes Mountain Road, Hendersonville. Gates open at 1 p.m. The first walk of the season is April 10. Learn about bamboo plants, characteristics and environment. Wear walking shoes, no sandals. Cameras permitted. Adults $25, seniors $23, ages 13-18, $15, free for younger. To arrange a tour or to learn more, call 828-685-3053. Visit or find the nursery on Facebook.

HAYWOOD COUNTY GARDEN TOUR: June 18, on the theme “Pollinate, Propagate, Cultivate,” presented by NC Cooperative Extension Foundation, Haywood County Extension Center and Haywood County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers. Tickets $15, on sale May 7 at the Whole Bloomin’ Thing in Frog Level. $20 the day of the tour. 828-456-3575.


OPEN DAILY: Retail shops open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day, Brevard Road at Interstate 40. Arriving now: onion sets and seed potatoes. Still available: apples by the bushel. In the Retail Shoppes: root vegetables, greens, tomatoes, canned goods, local cheese, fresh eggs, honey, homemade ice cream and fudge, handcrafted gifts and more

Upcoming events include:

Growing in the Mountains, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 22-23. Native plants, nursery material, bedding plants and more for home gardens.

27th annual Herb Show, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 29-30 and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 1. Herbs, trees, native plants, bedding plants, decorations and more.


EXTENSION OFFICE HAS MOVED: The Buncombe County Extension Office has moved to 49 Mount Carmel Road in Erwin Hills. The phone number remains the same, 828-255-5522. For help anytime, visit

LEICESTER GARDEN CLUB: Meets at 1 p.m. fourth Tuesday of the month at the Leicester Library. To learn more, contact Crystal Dover at 828-259-9649.

WEAVERVILLE GARDEN CLUB: Meets at 9:30 a.m. second Tuesday of every month September through June in the Community Room at the Weaverville Town Hall on Main Street. To learn more, call 828-658-1154.


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Local businesses drive Asheville vibe

A PERSONAL TOUCH: Local businesses around Asheville, such as Dancing Bear Toys (above), play an indispensible role in driving the area’s economy and lending the city its unique ambiance. Through a combination of hands on ingenuity, creative approaches and a strong sense of community, Asheville’s specialty shops and boutiques are a testament to the viability of independent, locally-owned businesses in a world of big box chains and internet megastores. Photo by Max Hunt.
A PERSONAL TOUCH: Local businesses around Asheville, such as Dancing Bear Toys (above), play an indispensible role in driving the area’s economy and lending the city its unique ambiance. Through a combination of hands on ingenuity, creative approaches and a strong sense of community, Asheville’s specialty shops and boutiques are a testament to the viability of independent, locally-owned businesses in a world of big box chains and internet megastores. Photo by Max Hunt.

Walk any downtown Asheville street and you’re likely to encounter some quirky storefronts offering unusual products. Together, these “specialty shops” or boutiques, most of them locally owned businesses, are a key component of the city’s distinctive flavor, attracting thousands of tourists each year and helping fuel the economy.

But as Asheville’s national profile rises and more large-scale retail outlets look to stake a claim here, small businesses are taking steps to ensure that this city doesn’t become a victim of its own success.

Sum of its parts

Just how important are boutiques and small businesses in general to Asheville’s economy? In 2013, “retail trade” trailed only “health care” in the number of people employed in the Asheville metropolitan statistical area, according to a U.S. Census Bureau business report. “Accommodations and food service,” meanwhile, was the fifth most common category and employed the third-most residents.

Overall, 98 percent of businesses in the metro employed fewer than 100 people, and 95 percent had fewer than 50 workers. The abundance of locally owned specialty shops also contributes to the city’s unique character, says Heidi Reiber, director of research for the Economic Development Coalition, an arm of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Franzi Charen, co-owner of Lexington Avenue’s Hip Replacements boutique and director of theAsheville Grown Business Alliance, agrees. “Our local businesses define the vitality of downtown,” she points out. “Out of the 1,448 businesses in the 28801 ZIP code, 88 percent have less than 20 employees, and 55 percent have one to four employees.”

ALL HANDS ON DECK: With smaller budgets and fewer employees than larger chains, small business owners and workers often must think outside the box when it comes to marketing and daily operations, says Malaprop’s Linda-Marie Barrett. Photo by Max Hunt
ALL HANDS ON DECK: With smaller budgets and fewer employees than larger chains, small business owners and workers often must think outside the box when it comes to marketing and daily operations, says Malaprop’s Linda-Marie Barrett. Photo by Max Hunt

Less is more

Perched at the corner of Haywood and College streets, Spiritex embodies the idea that less is sometimes more. Founded in 2005, the fabric design firm and retail establishment specializes in organic cotton apparel. “It’s a take on the traditional textile industry in North Carolina,” notesCorey Jones, operations manager and information technician. “It’s a small company, so we all pitch in.”

The operation’s intimate scale enables it to have a hand in every phase of the production process and to develop close relationships with its suppliers and contractors. “Creating a sustainable lifestyle for the people involved in our production is important to us,” says Jones. “We know the farmers that grow the cotton; we know the guy that runs the gin. Every step of the way, we can say, ‘Hey, Ted, how’s it going today?’”

Down the street at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, General Manager Linda-Marie Barrett says having strong relationships with co-workers increases overall efficiency. “We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented staff,” she says. “They make running a small business less of a challenge, because they work hard and understand the importance of our success.”

That cooperative atmosphere, says Barrett, also extends to the other local booksellers. “Malaprop’s works together with our community of bookstores,” each of which has its own niche. “We find that through working together, we raise the profile [and] value of what we do in our community.”

Growing pains

Not all small, indie businesses are clustered downtown. But wherever their owners opt to set up shop, it’s imperative that they fully understand the real costs of starting a business, notes Walli Ann Wisniewski, who left a college teaching position to open The Tennis Professor on Merrimon Avenue last year. “However much money you have to open the doors of your business, multiply that by at least three times,” she recommends. The first few months, she notes, have been a learning process. “I didn’t know that I would be ordering spring lines as soon as I opened my doors in the fall. That was a challenge.”

Understanding the ebb and flow of a seasonal market can be difficult, Charen concedes. “One thing I’ll never get used to is the fluctuations from month to month. Every year is different.” But her advice to new business owners is simple: “When I see them panicking because they didn’t have any business that week, I tell them to relax. They’ll come back.”

Walli Ann Wisnieski left a college-level teaching position to follow her heart and open up a tennis retail shop. While acclimating to running her own business has been challenging, she believes the hands-on customer service she offers trumps what you can find at generalized, larger sporting goods outlets. Photo by Max Hunt.
GETTING OFF ON A GOOD FOOT: Walli Ann Wisniewski left a college-level teaching position to follow her heart and open up a tennis retail shop. While acclimating to running her own business has been challenging, she believes the hands-on customer service she offers trumps what you can find at generalized, larger sporting goods outlets. Photo by Max Hunt.

Like many other specialty firms, The Tennis Professor banks on the personal, face-to-face connections and experience it offers customers, including the chance to try out merchandise before buying, with trained staff available to provide guidance.

“We have over 30 rackets to play with through our demo program,” she notes. “The larger sports chains that may carry gear don’t specialize in tennis, and our vendors supply us with a specialty-store line of product that bulk stores just don’t have.”

Thinking outside the box

To survive amid intense competition, small businesses also need to be creative. The Regeneration Station in Oakley, for example, is the offspring of Junk Recyclers, owner Tyler Garrison’s online resale operation.

Opened in 2012, the business “came about when he realized he needed a storefront to sell all the things he was picking up under Junk Recyclers,” says Nikki Allen, who manages The Regeneration Station. By refurbishing used items for resale, the storefront can offer a wide variety of products at a fraction of the usual cost.

“Our business model gives us the ability to create a culture and integrate entertainment and shopping into an experience that brings customers back again and again: something you can’t find online or in a big-box store,” says Allen. “In addition, we can offer a better product at a cheaper price.” But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The biggest challenge, she says, is “adapting our new, often rebellious ideas into existing molds of traditional business operation.”

Limited resources typically require indie business owners to wear a variety of hats. “The hardest part of running a small business is that you have to be the expert in everything,” says Jenny Lane, co-owner of downtown clothing boutique f r o c k. She opened the Battery Park Avenue boutique with her mother, Betsy Bradfield, in April 2008. “We are in charge of marketing and promotion, regular social media posts, merchandising, setting the atmosphere inside the store, bookkeeping, inventory, communication with designers and vendors — it’s a lot!”

The key, continues Lane, is to understand your strengths and limitations. “Standing out in our market is all about knowing our brand and representing it in everything we do. We can’t be the best at everything, but we can be the best at being frock.”

KNOW THYSELF: f r o c k co-owner Jenny Lane says that one of the key components of running a successful small business is to know its identity. "
KNOW THYSELF: f r o c k co-owner Jenny Lane says that one of the key components of running a successful small business is to know its identity. “We can’t be the best at everything, but we can be the best at being frock.” Photo courtesy of f r o c k.

Understanding local needs

Several local businesses have felt sufficiently established to open a second location. Epic Cycles, a Black Mountain bike shop, launched its West Asheville store a little more than a year ago. “Haywood Road has one of the highest bicycle counts in the state,” reports head mechanic Randy Collette. “Meeting the needs of the daily rider is very important to us.”

Each store, he notes, has a distinct clientele, and “We can tailor our offerings to both locations,” ultimately broadening their customer base.

Dancing Bear Toys, an Asheville staple since 1989, creatively incorporated some of the existing infrastructure into its design when it moved to Kenilworth Road in 2013. “We kept the bar from when it used to be a Hooters — now we call it the game bar,” store manager Jordan Castelloe explains. “It’s been a huge hit with our customers. Sometimes we have couples come in on dates just to play games!” A Hendersonville branch has been open since 1997.

Dancing Bear goes the extra mile to connect with its customers. Playful, handwritten signs adorn store shelves; demo toys are readily available for trying out. “We work hard to provide a fun, interactive shopping experience,” notes Castelloe. “Big business’s profits come from number crunching, essentially reducing your customers to data points; for a small business, your profits come from understanding the community’s needs and figuring out innovative ways to meet those needs.”

Convenience vs. sweetness

In an age when the Internet dominates many facets of American life, local businesses have taken various approaches to the digital dimension. At Spiritex, Jones estimates that online commerce accounts for almost two-thirds of total sales. “With all the involvement, time, energy and effort that goes into brick-and-mortar, the returns really aren’t that great,” she says. A website, on the other hand, gives customers a store that’s “open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world, instead of 10 to 7 in Asheville.”

The Internet also enables businesses without a large marketing budget to advertise effectively via social media. Malaprop’s, says Barrett, can “connect more intimately with our customers on various platforms — our email newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr — bringing what we do and what’s available to our customers’ attention, which brings them into our store.”

Other local businesses, though, have made a conscious choice to limit their online presence. “When you decide to go online, you have to understand that you are putting yourself in a place where you have to compete directly with places like,” notes Charen. Hip Replacements, she says, “hasn’t been convinced that’s a direction we want to take the store in. In fact, we’ve opted not to.”

And frock, says Lane, doesn’t offer an online retail site “for a couple of reasons. Local and personal is what we do: Why complicate it?” Many consumers, she believes, appreciate the intimacy that only face-to-face interactions can offer. “Visiting your local hardware, music, clothing or pet store is one way to expand your community and be a part of something. You see the same faces, and there’s a sweetness in that.”

Keeping Asheville real

Rik and Elizabeth Schell have operated Purl’s Yarn Emporium on Wall Street since 2010. Former customers, they bought the store from Lindsey Rey to keep it from closing. “I taught my husband to knit and he more than liked it, so we followed through on our crazy plan,” Elizabeth reveals. And despite the challenges of parking and rent increases as the city’s popularity grows, she adds, Asheville is still “a great place to own a small business.”

“It’s so rare to have a downtown like ours that you can walk around, that includes original buildings, that isn’t — yet — completely overrun by chain stores,” she observes. “Businesses like ours help keep Asheville real.”

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Ceramic artist Laura Cooke believes that the camaraderie and vitality of Asheville’s arts community is indicative of what draws people to the city. With rising property values and redevelopment projects abounding in the RAD, however, the future of the arts community there is up in the air. Photo courtesy of Laura Cooke Ceramics
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Ceramic artist Laura Cooke believes that the camaraderie and vitality of Asheville’s arts community is indicative of what draws people to the city. With rising property values and redevelopment projects abounding in the RAD, however, the future of the arts community there is up in the air. Photo courtesy of Laura Cooke Ceramics

Laura Cooke, who sells her ceramics out of the Phil Mechanic Studios in the River Arts District, says the strong support from her fellow artists has helped her business flourish. “Potters are always helping each other out — giving advice, firing kilns together, lending materials,” she reports. “They’re the closest thing I have to co-workers.” The thriving arts community, adds Cooke, also “speaks to Asheville’s commitment to handcrafted and local.”

The building, however, was recently sold to Texas developer James Lifshutz for nearly $2 million, stirring fears that rising property values and taxes could threaten RAD artists as well as downtown indie boutiques. In 2013, the adjacent Kent Building was sold for $2 million.

Asheville, notes Charen, is “so successful in some ways that people come here only to find high real estate prices and no place to live, or no living-wage jobs. You see more high-end boutiques in downtown now; that development has kind of moved on to the River Arts District, where you see this kind of gentrification creeping in.”

In a Jan. 25 press release, Lifshutz, who developed the Blue Star Arts Complex in San Antonio, said: “Art is in the DNA [of the Phil Mechanic building], so it must continue to be prominently in the mix. What will the final mix be? My intent is to spend the next year or so figuring that out by way of a planning effort that will involve my consultants, the city of Asheville, current tenants and other stakeholders.”

Cooke, meanwhile, says, “There is concern that I could be priced or forced out. Right now, I’m assuming I have at least a year. Hopefully the new owner will give us warning if he decides to take the building in a different direction, so we’ll have time to look for new space.”

Following the money

And as the city’s reputation as a regional tourist destination continues to grow, Charen maintains, supporting local businesses becomes ever more important. “Asheville’s hit the green light for the chain stores: They’re seeing the money.”

With an influx of big chains, she contends, come rising real estate prices, cheaper foreign products and a loss of the very character that has attracted people to the city. “When you have chains come in, it creates this race to the bottom. The entire landscape changes for everyone.”

To that end, Charen has taken a step back from direct involvement in running Hip Replacements in order to devote more time to the bigger picture. She was recently appointed to the Downtown Commission, and she’s also looking to focus more on Asheville Grown and on coaching other local startups. “One of the things I would personally like to start doing is consulting and working with entrepreneurs to help them with their businesses,” she reports. “I’m also interested in business succession [handing off a business or key leadership positions to someone new], especially in the manufacturing field — which, for me, is a key part of any local economy.”

Franzi Charen encourages folks to "Go Local" in front of Anthropologie. Photo by Able Allen
Franzi Charen, recently appointed to the Downtown Commission, hopes to help mentor other local businesses in the near future and promote the value of patronizing local shops. Tourists come here to experience what we have that’s different,” she says. “Whenever the tourists stop coming, the chain stores are out of here, but our businesses and employees are still going to be here.” Photo by Able Allen

In addition, Charen wants to bring more area residents downtown. “I’m grateful for the tourism industry, but we’d rather have our bread and butter be from the locals, because it’s more sustainable,” she explains. “Whenever the tourists stop coming, the chain stores are out of here, but our businesses and our employees are still going to be here.”

And even if the individual enterprises are small, their collective economic impact is significant. “Local businesses,” notes Charen, “generate three times more value per dollar in the community than when you shop at a chain store. The secondary jobs — bookkeepers, Web designers, accountants and lawyers — small businesses hire locals to do that.” National chains, however, “centralize that stuff, and all that money leaves our community.”

All together now

Local indie business owners praise the work of groups like Asheville Grown and UNChain AVL(a recent project that’s taken a more assertive approach to the same concerns, organizing protests and lobbying City Council).

“Programs like Asheville Grown and other like-minded ‘buy local’ campaigns are really drawing awareness to the huge impact of spending locally,” says Lane.

Costelloe agrees, saying, “Ashevilleans really take the message to heart.” And for these entrepreneurs, “It really feels like we’re all on the same team. It’s not enough for one small business to make it, or even a handful. It takes a network to keep the local economy afloat.”

Economics aside, adds Jones, supporting local businesses helps sustain the unique atmosphere that so many folks have helped create. “Why did we choose to live here?” she muses. “You really have to step back and think about that. It certainly isn’t because it had strip malls!”

Charen concurs. “Tourists come here to experience what we have that’s different. With so many other places, we’ve seen it inevitably happen that they lose the interesting things that made it special and they become ‘Anywhere, USA.’ I hope Asheville won’t go in that direction.”

via  Posted on February 11, 2016 by Max Hunt

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Sometimes Realty prices are affected by violence…

Just after 9 a.m. Saturday,  deputies arrived at a home on Ledford & Craine Road in Marshall and discovered a 2010 Toyota Corolla with no license plates, according to Michael Garrison of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.

As deputies examined the car, James Michael Norton walked toward them from a home across the road.

During that conversation, Asheville police officers notified Madison County deputies that the Corolla was registered to Christina Louise Kessinger, Garrison said.

Kessinger was found Friday afternoon in a trash bin at 56 Central Ave. in Asheville with a screwdriver in her skull, according to warrants.

Norton, 29, was later arrested by Asheville police on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of the 62-year-old woman.

On Monday, he appeared before a Buncombe County district court judge where he was assigned a public defender and continues to be held without bond in the jail.

He was released from prison one year ago, on Feb. 15, 2015, for larceny of a motor vehicle and altering a serial number, after serving a sentence of at least 10 months.

Norton’s criminal history is peppered with felony convictions across several counties, including larceny over $1,000 and credit card theft in Buncombe County, breaking and entering in Madison County and drug possession in Henderson County, records with the Department of Corrections records show.

On Monday, Asheville police spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said in an email that the agency is declining to release 911 recordings related to the homicide, saying they are part of an ongoing investigation.

Several evidence markers are located near a blue DumpsterHowever, North Carolina law is “crystal clear” on the matter, according to Amanda Martin, general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association. The recordings or transcripts are public records, and local law enforcement has a history of releasing these to the media.

Later Monday, Hallingse wrote in an email that the police would release 911 records.

It is unclear why Kessinger, a real estate agent with Asheville Realty Group, was at the office building. When contacted by the Citizen-Times, a man who works there said he discovered Kessinger as he was taking out trash.

The man, who asked to not be named, said he opened the bin to find blood and the woman inside, moaning. He said he ran back into the building to get a phone and call 911, and said he returned to the dumpster with a coworker. Officials soon arrived, but the woman fell silent, said the man.

“We told her help was on the way,” he said.

Norton was charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon late Saturday night.

After obtaining a search warrant for the Ledford & Craine Road site, Asheville police investigators processed the scene around the vehicle and transported it to a forensic bay in Asheville for further analysis. Investigators also took other items from inside the residence and brought in Norton for questioning, according to Madison County law officers.

via  Paul Eggers and Tonya Maxwell, and 8:07 a.m. EST February 16, 2016

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N.C. consumers to receive portion of $470M settlement with HSBC

The settlement ends U.S. probes into allegations of foreclosure abuses by the London-based financial services company

North Carolina’s portion includes loan modifications and about $1.8 million in cash payments to consumers

Former N.C. Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith will oversee HSBC’s compliance with the settlement

North Carolina consumers are set to receive a portion of the $470 million accord announced Friday with HSBC Holdings Plc to end U.S. probes into allegations of foreclosure abuses by the London-based financial services company.

The settlement resolves claims of abusive practices, such as robo-signing, that may have deprived struggling borrowers of opportunities to keep their homes. HSBC reached the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, federal housing and consumer protection regulators and 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia, according to a statement by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

North Carolina’s portion of the settlement includes loan modification relief and roughly $1.8 million in cash payments to approximately 2,194 North Carolinians who lost their homes to foreclosure, according to the office of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.

“North Carolinians who take out mortgages deserve to be treated fairly by their lenders,” Cooper said in a statement. “This agreement brings direct relief for deserving homeowners and better protections for future borrowers.”

The cash payments will go to eligible borrowers who had a mortgage serviced by HSBC. Eligible consumers must have experienced servicing abuses and lost their home to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2012.

Cooper’s office did not immediately know how many Charlotte-area borrowers might be eligible for cash payments or other relief.

Former N.C. Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith will oversee HSBC’s compliance with the settlement, which closely resembles a landmark, $25 billion national mortgage accord struck in 2012 with some of the biggest mortgage servicers in the U.S., including Charlotte-based Bank of America and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo.

Smith also serves as monitor of the 2012 accord.

The HSBC settlement paves the way for smoother loan modifications and provides for payments to some borrowers for past foreclosure abuses, Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, said.

The bank will also be required to reform its practices, he said.

The settlement “will create tough new servicing standards that will ensure fair treatment for HSBC’s borrowers and provide relief to customers across New York State and across the country,” Schneiderman said.

The agreement follows a series of joint federal and state initiatives aimed at addressing the causes of the financial crisis that began in 2008 and helping to put the market back on track.

Previously, a separate federal-state working group reached multibillion-dollar settlements with lenders including Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase related to mortgage-backed securities.

State and federal officials also joined forces to tackle servicing issues by striking the 2012 deal with five companies over robo-signing and other foreclosure abuses, including the handling of documents. HSBC wasn’t part of that agreement.

Bloomberg News and staff writer Deon Roberts contributed.

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West Asheville’s Phil Mechanic Building Sold to Developer

West Asheville’s Phil Mechanic Building Sold to Developer

West Asheville's Phil Mechanic Building Sold to Developer story image

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The iconic Phil Mechanic Studios building on Roberts Street has been bought by James Lifshutz, a real estate investor and developer from Texas.

Lifshutz said he plans to convert the space for residential use, and also to possibly include a brewery or a restaurant on the river level.

Lifshutz also said he is excited to be a part of things going on in the RAD.

The building was listed for sale last February for nearly $2 million.

From a press release:

Sale of prominent RAD building, Phil Mechanic Building at 109 Roberts St

On Friday, January 22, the Phil Mechanic Building changed hands. The longtime owners, Mitch and Jolene Mechanic, sold the building to James Lifshutz, a real estate investor and developer from San Antonio, Tx.

Lifshutz is no stranger to urban infill development with an arts-twist. He developed the popular Blue Star Arts Complex in San Antonio which has become the anchor for a revitalized Southtown (the collection of neighborhoods south of the central business district).

“I am very pleased to be a part of the exciting things going on in the RAD. There is a great vibe here, and even greater potential to build on it to realize the vision for an interesting, pedestrian-friendly, art-centric urban neighborhood – with residential options, art studios and galleries, and of course food, beer, and entertainment.”

Jolene Mechanic has poured much energy and heart into the building and its programming over the years – she is moving on now, but with mixed emotions. “it has been so gratifying for me to have been an early positive influence in the RAD, to have had the opportunity to showcase the important work of so many gifted artists over the years, and to have made so many lasting friendships. I will miss it,” Mechanic said.

To which Mr. Lifshutz responds, “I am amazed by how much positive activity that Jolene generated during her ownership. The Asheville arts community should be ever indebted. And although much of that programming has ramped down over the past couple of years, it remains imprinted on the building.”

Lifshutz is buying the Mechanic Building with the intention of changing some of the uses, including converting some space to residential use, and a possible brewery or restaurant on the river level. “But art is in the DNA of the building, so must continue to be featured prominently in the mix. What will the final mix be? My intent is to spend the next year or so figuring that out by way of a planning effort that will involve my consultants, the city of Asheville, current tenants, and other stakeholders. I am looking forward to it. “

via | Jennifer L. Saylor

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