BRISTOL (Tenn./Va.) – The feeling of excitement is palpable as one walks down State Street. Small businesses prepare for the largest influx of customers since before the pandemic.
Every kind of small local business stands to benefit from the additional feet on the street following the grand opening of the Bristol Casino slated for Friday afternoon.
“I’m kind of like the kid on vacation who goes ‘mom, are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ Well, it’s time, we’re there now, so we are so excited!” said Karen Hester, The Southern Churn owner.
She has already reaped the benefits of the casino by partnering with Hard Rock to sell her fudge in Hard Rock shops across the nation and on Friday, it will be available at the Bristol Casino’s “Rock Shop.”
“We’re so excited that opening day is tomorrow, we can hardly wait! We’ve already delivered our shipment of fudge over – and our other goodies we sell them – so the shelves are stocked and we’re ready,” Hester said.
Small business owners told News Channel 11 they’ve ordered extra inventory and some have hired additional staff to meet the potential rush of patrons looking to explore Bristol as the temporary casino opens.
Hal Boyd’s father opened Boyd’s Bicycle Shop 61 years ago in downtown Bristol. He now runs it with his brother.
Boyd said he’s already seen an increase in out-of-towners visiting his shop.
“Anytime you get more people in, if they’re coming in, it’s good. You know, the more people that come, the more people that buy – hopefully. But we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
And apart from selling and repairing bicycles, Boyd also offers locksmith services.
“So we also figure that all these people get excited and lock their keys in their car when they won the big pot that we’ll be going out there to get them in their cars. And the ones that are broke, we’ll be selling them a bicycle,” he joked.
For small, family-owned restaurants nationwide, the pandemic was a killer. To Matt Shy, owner of Bristol Gardens and Grill, COVID nearly took his business down.
“We lost almost 60% of our revenue by losing caterings within one day,” he said. “We’re not just going to sit in the corner and cry.”
Shy said he wasn’t going to shy away from the opportunity to brand his business with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to become a food producer. He now grows peppers on his property in greenhouses next to his smoking pit, so that he can smoke meat, as well as produce, make, bottle, label, and sell a variety of BBQ and hot sauces.
“Caterings are little by little starting to come back, there’s a casino opening up down the road, and for the first time in two years, it feels like maybe there’s a little air under the wings and we can take a deep breath and go, ‘wow, maybe we pulled it off,'” he said.
The anticipated foot traffic increase is what is building his enthusiasm, along with the professional relationships his business has built with the casino.
“I’ve actually delivered lunch and seen the project in the process, the project has come along amazing. What it looks like in there is fantastic,” Shy said. “We’re all very excited, Bristol’s needed a change, needed something to kind of drive it into the next century, so to speak.”
Another Bristol restaurant getting ready for the rise in the number of patrons this weekend is The Angry Italian.
As a Chicago native, owner Keith Yonkers hopes to welcome visitors as he was welcomed by the Bristol community when his family moved here and opened their south-Chicago-style Italian restaurant.
“I think the positive is you’re going to have that Southern hometown feeling here in Bristol, everybody’s friendly, it’s like everybody knows you, so the warmth of the town will be there,” he said, as if to his upcoming customers.
He said he wanted to remind visitors from up north that this southern town is a lot different from the fast-paced beats of big cities they might be used to.
“Don’t expect things to happen yesterday, things happen on their own accord” Yonkers warned.
He had a restaurant in Las Vegas years ago, and so he said he knows what to expect.
“I’m very familiar with working in a casino town, I worked at Caesar’s, I was at a university where a casino opened up so I saw what happens when casinos come in,” he said. “I think it’s going to be positive, but I know that with a lot of positives you get your negatives as well and I’ve seen it, I just hope it doesn’t happen here in Bristol.”
But for others, the promise of rejuvenation that the casino offers is enough.
“They have taken our dilapidated mall and created a beautiful casino, so we’re excited and all of Bristol should be proud,” Hester said.
The casino will be open to the public at 2 p.m. Friday, following which it will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.