JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- For rent and sale signs are coming down, and spaces are filling up across downtown Johnson City.
“In the business, it’s location, location, location,” said Vik Vatrana, who is opening a full-service Mexican restaurant, Diablo, in the former Willow Tree space. “This is a really good location for people who want to hang out after hours. Come for a drink and a snack or maybe dinner. Some of the other restaurants are pretty much full down here.”
As of March, the prime location to open a new restaurant or shop is in the heart of the city.
“We are at 100% max capacity right now. The one space that may be available is in negotiations to be leased,” said Wilson Agency Principal Broker, Jacque Lowe. “We are seeing a large boom in the commercial aspect where for so many months and into years, due to COVID, they were not able to operate.”
Lowe says several restaurants, an artisan boutique, a gourmet popcorn shop, and a general store will fill the empty spaces.
“People have participated in the Great Resignation, and they are chasing their dreams. So, they’re opening retail, they’re opening boutiques, they’re opening restaurants, they’re seeing the benefit of working for themselves and contributing to the community at the same time,” she said.
That’s what happened to Bradley Eshbach and his wife. They who are turning the former Masengill’s property into a general store called the Generalist.
“In the 70s, everything moved to Roan Street and the mall, and that really took all the center of gravity of Johnson City and moved it that way. And you see the pendulum swinging back everywhere,” said Eschbach. “Not only Johnson City but just all rural and smaller communities, southern communities trying to revitalize their main streets. Not just because they all suck but because they are the real ‘jewel in the crown’ of a lot of these places.”
One thing Lowe says is bringing everyone downtown is “the vibe.”
“People get here, and they fall in love with what all there is to do and the opportunity here. Everyone down here is kind. We work really really well together. We support each other’s businesses and it really is a community environment,” Lowe said.
“Not everywhere has not only [Main Street] and these buildings,” he said. “But this heritage and kind of story of all these buildings and different businesses that have been in these buildings.”
A few years ago, business owners like Vatrana wouldn’t have entertained the thought of opening a business downtown.
“Ten years ago, I would not have because our downtown wasn’t hopping as much. So you know, now I’m more confident that I will do good here,” Vatrana said. “I came on some weekends to see what’s happening here. I mean, I’ve stayed late at night here just to see what’s going on. How many people are coming? So then I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go ahead and let’s, let’s move forward.'”
Those beginning new ventures in downtown Johnson City hope to make it more of a destination.
“Downtown Johnson City gives you the ability to come and have a lazy Sunday brunch with your family or come and have a less than lazy Saturday night with your friends and everything in between,” said Eshbach. “No matter what time of day or what you want to get into that day, downtown will have a lot of choices for you.”
The Black Olive and Juan Siao restaurants are set to open in April. The Generalist and Patriot Popcorn are expected to be open in time for summer.