JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – When reopening the former home of a century-old business, the Eshbachs know better than most that history plays a role in every decision.
“This is kind of a love letter to Johnson City,” Bradley Eshbach, co-owner of The Generalist, said. “I think Johnson City is one of the coolest places in America, and if there’s anything that my time not living here taught me is that I didn’t get that when I left.”
Bradley lived outside of the Tri-Cities for over a decade, taking up residence in Chicago and building a career before returning to the region. Now, he and Lora Eshbach run a retail space that highlights local makers and is rebuilding local relationships that were lost in an era of worldwide supply chains.
“We’re intentionally building a local supply chain,” Eshbach said. “So we’re getting ice cream, but we’re not getting it from Cisco, we’re getting it from a woman in Hampton. We’re getting our pimento cheese from Chuckey, so that feels really cool.”
The concept of the general store is largely gone from communities, Eshbach said, replaced by big-box conglomerates and international chains. With the creation of The Generalist, Eshbach hopes to build something that looks like the early years of the city as downtown residents make regular visits.
“That’s where Johnson City started,” Eshbach said. “A general store about a block and a half away around where the farmer’s market lot is.”
The Eshbachs are hoping to turn the historic Massengil’s location into a new sample of the Tri-Cities. From local products to a massive, hand-painted map in their specialty shop section, the whole venue revolves around the region.
“There’s a new generation of folks that are taking over leadership roles in the civic world,” Eshbach said. “That are starting businesses, that are really rethinking the narrative of Appalachia at large but also Johnson City.”
As the business continues to grow, Bradley said customers can always request specific products, and The Generalist can reach out to stock them. The grocery and specialty sections are built to be changed over time, and the Eshbachs plan on keeping a fresh layout for first-time visitors and regulars alike.
For artists and makers, Eshbach said there are multiple ways to get involved. Placing products in the business could involve renting specific display areas, or selling items on consignment with no overhead storage costs. While retail space is filling up quickly, Bradley said an upcoming e-commerce site means it’s a good idea to get a foot in the door even if you don’t plan on selling immediately.