Gatlinburg: Open for business

GATLINBURG (WATE) – The city of Gatlinburg is back open for business and ready to welcome guests three months after November’s devastating wildfires. Some restaurants and shops opened up right after they were allowed back downtown while others took a little more time to get it just right.

Business owners are optimistic things will rebound.

“It wasn’t bad; it was awful. But like the Phoenix, out of the ashes grows great things,” said Ted Zavakos with popcorn store Pop Culture.

Zavakos says they took a 68 percent revenue loss in December alone, but with new development moving forward and spring break right around the corner, he says things are looking up.

“People are good and they want to help us. And so it’s been… we can’t even tell you how grateful we are at the support that we’ve seen,” he said.

High above the Parkway, Space Needle owner Ron Hensley is feeling positive as well, even though they had more than a quarter of a million dollars in cleanup.

More coverage: Rebuilding Gatlinburg

“Everything was covered in soot,” said Hensley. “Inside the arcade, the tower and everything. And soot has a lot of caustic agents in it which will accelerate rust on metal. So it was very important for us to get it cleaned off. Now we can go ahead and touch up paint and kind of get back to looking normal.”

Hensley and other business owners say they have all come together to support each other, but now there’s one more big hurdle to overcome.

“Public perception is that Gatlinburg has burned down. And we’ve done what we could to tell everybody that we’re open and downtown is far from burnt. It suffered very little damage. We were back open within a couple of weeks after the fire downtown,” said Hensley.

Arts and crafts community needs patrons

A little bit off the beaten path, the arts and crafts community in the Glades area needs customers. President A. Jann Peitso says business has been slow ever since the fires and many people are under the impression they are closed or burned down.

“This community is 80 years old and they’ve had to go through a lot of ups and downs, so they’re pretty resilient people. But we do need folks to come back and see us here and to know that we’re not burned down,” she said.

Peitso says there are a number of programs coming up to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the community, which they hope bring people back in.

Related: Greystone Lodge in Gatlinburg works to keep visitors coming

“Our biggest project, which the city is also helping to sponsor, is Hands On Gatlinburg, April 7-9. We have people who come out here from everywhere and take classes for that weekend. So they can be artists for a day,” said Peitso.

Peitso says it’s vital to the community’s survival that people return.

“We will have stores close. We already have a lot of our members who have gone to Florida and other Southern states to do shows this year. Some of them have never done that before, to make for the income that they’ve lost. These are craftsmen. They are not necessarily businesspeople and they get by on little, but we need these people to come back and buy collectibles,” she said. “Each person makes their craft that we have out there.”

New coffee shop thriving despite fires

At Stillwater Cold Brew. the coffee is flowing. and business is growing.

“Actually week over week, I’ve seen an increase of locals and tourists coming in,” said owner Tom Griffin.

Stillwater Cold Brew is a craft coffee shop specializing in cold brew coffee made with spring water from the Smoky Mountains. They’re new to Gatlinburg.

“We got ready to open in October, started brewing and shipping and then the fires came,” said Griffin.

The fires hit right as the cafe was about to open. Located on Highway 321, many nearby places damaged and destroyed, but Stillwater was unharmed and just like much of the rest of town, Griffin knew he wanted to get open as soon as possible.

“I had all this brewed coffee so I hastily painted a piece of plywood put it out on the street and gave it to all the first responder relief workers hay week. :11

As the rest of town was getting back to what it was before the fires, Stillwater was also helping it move forward and grow. It was a new business shedding light on the future after a dark time.

“Just being here every day and opening that door and turning that light on it reassures the locals as well as the visitors that we are here and we are in business,” said Griffin.

They’re now open and seeing regular business

“It was slow. You know I stood here all day long and two people walked in and those two became four and they became eight and today we do very good business,” he said. “The fires, although tragic, have not interrupted the business flow.”


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