ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – Downtown Erwin might be small, but the area overall has a ton of heart and a lot to offer.
Throughout the years, there have been a number of steps taken to revitalize the area including updates to infrastructure and the addition of green spaces downtown. All of these improvements have made downtown Erwin the perfect place for visitors to check out.
During the pandemic, business owners said they saw a slight increase in business because of people avoiding busier cities for vacation and opting to go on mountain getaways right here in Northeast Tennessee.
“People want a smaller place to get away to and Erwin is the perfect place to come, said Town of Erwin Communications Specialist, Jamie Rice.
Rice told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that the pandemic hasn’t slowed them down, in fact, it’s opened the door for even more opportunity in terms of enhancing downtown. In the times of wearing a mask and social distancing, an outdoor walking exhibit has been added to the downtown area.
The ‘Leaf & Root & Berry exhibit‘ features work from a number of local artists displayed in four different storefronts in downtown Erwin. People can walk through the downtown area and view these pieces from outside the shops.
The stores showing these pieces include Keeseckers, Baker’s shoe repair, The Bramble Wedding venue, and Baker’s karate studio. It began on November 1st and goes through the end of January. The work being displayed is available for purchase as well.
“It’s a great way for people to come downtown and stroll and see the things in our windows and support local artists,” said Rice.
Speaking of art, the Erwin Elephant revival has been on display since the summer. “It’s been really nice to have these elephants for a little longer and it just makes people smile when they drive down our main street,” said Rice.
Eight elephants, hand-painted by local artists can be seen all over Main Street, and on December 1st, they can be purchased and taken home. The elephants will be auctioned off in a silent auction. Anyone interested can call Erwin Town Hall and place a bid. The starting bid is $1,500, according to Rice.
Rice said the elephants are made of fiberglass, are 60 inches tall, and easy to move. She said they make a great presence in a home garden or a business office with all proceed raised from the sale of these elephants going towards local charities.
Along with walking the streets and viewing local art, visitors to downtown Erwin can also check out all the shops the area has to offer. One new addition to the downtown scene is Whisk Bakery, which opened in June.
While opening during a pandemic is certainly an interesting experience, the owner of Whisk Bakery, Ali Wainwright said they didn’t really make any adjustments after opening, but rather the pandemic guidelines became the norm.
Opening the bakery has been in the works for over a year and a half prior to the pandemic. Since opening, they follow a number of safety measures and rely mainly on call ahead and to-go orders.
While Wainwright said she imagined more people dining in when the idea of opening a bakery first crossed her mind, she is fine with the to-go orders and said business has been steady. Overall, she told News Channel 11 that they’ve had great community support.
“We want this to be a space where you can just come and feel welcome and bring your friends and family and just sit and stay for hours and have coffee,” said Wainwright.
She said being on Main Street is key and that they’ve seen a lot of foot traffic and visitors since opening. While the bakery offers sweet treats and drinks, it also offers something unique not only to the area but to a bakery in general.
Whisk Bakery has a ‘pay it forward’ board where people can pre-pay for an item and pass it along to someone else in the community who comes into the store. It’s a sweet idea that can only be found in the sweetest place on the block.
The hours for Whisk Bakery are Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wainwright said the hours are select right now to give them time to bake fresh from scratch. She encourages everyone to come to check out not only her new shop but also downtown Erwin.
“I think the charm is really what people kind of miss out on by not coming down here when we’ve got such friendly people and a lot to offer,” said Wainwright.
Along with new businesses come the staples in the community, such as Keesecker Appliance and furniture and Steel Rails coffee house, both of which are owned by Ben McNabb.
McNabb said they never closed during COVID but did make some changes. In his furniture store, acquiring shipments was challenging at times, but not impossible and in his coffee shop, the curbside pick-up was utilized and will continue to be used in the future as well.
“We’ve kept curbside going even though we’ve opened the dining room back up and we still have people coming in. I think it really helped our business,” said McNabb.
He said he’s seen downtown improve quite a bit. “With the revitalization that was done several years ago, it’s a beautiful little downtown so it’s a great place to come,” he said.
Despite a number of festival celebrations being canceled this year in Erwin, McNabb said there’s still plenty the downtown area can offer the public. He said downtown has a lot of heart and great customer service, something you can’t get in a bigger downtown.
McNabb and Wainwright encourage people to come to check out downtown Erwin if you’ve never been and be sure to support your local shops and small businesses, especially during this trying time.