KINGSPORT — After a quarter century, Jim Glenn is still in business downtown selling and repairing selected brands of lawn mowers and other power equipment.
Near the front door of Jim’s Lawn Center, he still has the restored 1967 and 1972 Simplicity riding lawn mowers on the showroom floor for sale for $895 each, as orange as the day they were new.
And he still sells Coca-Colas in small glass bottles for 60 cents out of a vintage red Coke machine, the kind with the glass door you open to pull out the bottles after dropping your coins into the changer.
But these days, his business doesn’t see much traffic.
The problem, he believes, is that some of his long-time customers think he’s going out of business to make way for the pending Higher Education Center and Academic Village downtown.
His is one of six in-use buildings — five used by businesses and one by a non-profit association — the city is interested in purchasing for the education buildings sites near the existing Regional Center for Applied Technology.
And that does not count the vacant Tri-City Linen building in that area the city already has bought, another building it wants to buy and other property it already owns in that vicinity.
Mower service, consulting business relocating soon
Glenn’s business and Paul Adams and Associates will be the first to make the exodus from what will become the Academic Village.
Glenn is about to move his business, an independent service dealer at 138 Clay St., across town to a new location at 640 E. Sullivan Street. It’s next to the China Wok in the old Safeco building.
“Hopefully we’ll be open by the first of the year,” Glenn said. “I’d have been happy to die here,” the 75-year-old Glenn said of moving a quarter century’s worth of parts, equipment inventory and memories. “But it’s (the Academic Village) definitely in the making for improvement of the area, for Kingsport and the whole Tri-Cities area as far as that goes.”
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is to consider the purchase of Glenn’s building and land and that of Paul Adams at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Glenn said the region’s industries and businesses need and demand a better-educated work force.
For that reason, he said he understands the need for the Allied Health Center and Higher Education Center, which are to join the Regional Center for Applied Technology or RCAT operated by Northeast State Technical Community College.
“I think it will be a good thing in the long run,” Glenn said.
Paul Adams, a business consultant who lives and works at his 331 W. Market Street building, is a relative newcomer to that area of town since he went in business at his current location in 2003, but he said he supports the concept, too.
Adams said he plans to relocate to the Colonial Heights area in late November to 161 Wendover St., in the Jefferson Building.
“We’ve reached a proposal,” said Adams, who as a former part-time college instructor said he supports having higher education downtown. “I don’t particularly like losing the building, but I like the fact they’re bringing the nursing program here.”
Adams’ business offerings include consulting, taxes and bookkeeping.
The vision for the Academic Village, displacing these and the other property owners, calls for a 42,000-square-foot Allied Health Building on the site of city-owned public parking at the corner of Clay and Clinchfield streets and a 50,000-square-foot higher education center built at the corner of Clay and Market streets on the site of the old Tire Center building the city owns.
Construction on the $4 million Allied Health project began in October with an opening date of fall 2008. City leaders are planning to have the $12 million higher education center open by the fall of 2009.
The Allied Health Center will be operated by Northeast State Technical Community College, with various two-year medical programs, and King College is to offer nursing classes and degrees, while Northeast also will operate the Higher Education Center with a group of four-year colleges including King and the University of Tennessee also offering classes and degree programs there.
Conceptual drawings show the two main facilities, three potential expansion buildings surrounding a closed Market Street and Clinchfield Street, along with an adjacent parking garage.
But city leaders want to make sure existing businesses being displaced aren’t lost in the shuffle.
“The one we were the most concerned about locally was Jim’s Lawn Center,” Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming said. “He saw a pretty marked decrease in business because everybody thought he was closed.”
Glenn put up a sign on the front door of his business, headlined “We ain’t quittin.”
Glenn said that went up when his work load began to decrease after a photograph of his building was misidentified in the Kingsport Times-News as a vacant one the city was about to buy.
Even without the photo, he said it was understandable the public might think he was closing.
Ironically, Glenn said 2007 still has turned out to be his best year ever, but he just isn’t getting the normal volume of post-season maintenance work on equipment.
Still, if he has to move, now’s the time to do it because from now until the early spring is his slow time, and he’ll need that to move his inventory in three separate buildings of about 7,875 square feet into the new building of about 10,800 square feet.
Thousands of parts must be moved, along with catalogs, mowers and other inventory, including some used parts he keeps.
Glenn said that the business probably will temporarily close for a week or two during the transition but should be open full force at the new location in time for the spring rush.
He employs four people, not counting himself. He’s “retired” but comes to work just like always.
“I’m too old to work and too young to quit,” Glenn quipped.
He’s had the business since 1981 and been at the current location, the old Felix Sign Co. building, since 1982. Before that, he oversaw the old lawn mower service department at Dobyns-Taylor Hardware downtown and worked in various industries in Kingsport.
“It’s going to be like leaving home. We’ve been here so long, it’ll be like leaving home and moving to a new house,” Glenn said. However, on the up side the new location has more outside room for receiving shipments and room for a larger showroom.
He sells, services and carries parts for Simplicity, Snapper and Great Dane mowers and equipment, Ariens walk-behind mowers and Robin string trimmers and blowers and hedge trimmers. He also carries parts for Briggs and Stratton and Kohler small engines.
Other businesses affected
Most anytime Mayor Dennis Phillips speaks publicly about the Academic Village, he says the affected business owners should be commended for their willingness to sell and move.
Phillips has helped spearhead the Academic Village concept.
Aside from the pending purchases of the Glenn and Adams properties, the city also is negotiating or will soon with the Carriage House, A-Hood Bonding, Ward’s Feed Store and the Kingsport Fire Fighters Association for their properties downtown, Assistant City Manager Fleming said.
The city already has bought the old Tri-City Linen building, which was vacant after that business closed, although it wasn’t originally in the footprint of the Academic Village.
The city also is interested in buying the old Pete’s Generator Shop, which is no longer open, for the Academic Village.
Allyn Hood, owner of A-Hood Bonding, said he’s willing to move but only if he stays in close proximity to the Justice Center downtown. He said a portion of the old Tri-City Linen property fronting Clay Street, across from his current location at 150 Clay Street, would be near perfect.
The city already has bought the old Tri-City Linen building, which was sold after that business closed, and city officials are looking to buy the old Pete’s Generator Shop on Clay Street.
“I’ve talked with them. I’ve told them that the value of my property is not really the issue. It’s the value of my business, the location,” Hood said. “My sign needs to be visible from the jail.”
Since the owner of the Linen building offered it to the city after that business closed and the city does not have definite plans for the whole property, Hood said he hopes to work out a deal with the city for a small building and section of that property.
Hood said he believes the city might have been better served to have bought property along West Sullivan Street on supermarket row for the education facilities, but he said he understands the need for the projects for Kingsport and the region.
Allen Ward, owner of Ward’s Feed Store, 230 Revere St., said he has no deal or offer yet from the city, but he’s already looking for a new building.
“We’d kind of like to stay in a central location. A lot of our customers are from Hawkins County and Southwest Virginia,” Ward said. “It’s still all up in the air. We’re just looking around for other options if this comes about.”
Ward said he had heard speculation about the old Quebecor building the city owns and where the Farmer’s Market may relocate.
“As of right now, they didn’t really have a place for us,” he said of the Quebecor property, formerly the Kingsport Press.
Ward’s has been at its current location since 1977 but has been in Kingsport 61 years, starting out on Main Street — in the current Pappy’s Custom building — in 1946.
As for the Kingsport Fire Fighters Association building, 214 Clay St., association President Matthew Sorge said negotiations are just under way. He said the non-profit group saved for almost six years to buy the building a year ago and renovated it by gutting and redoing the interior and installing a new roof.
“It’s important to us to be part of the community. We want to be in downtown for that reason,” Sorge said of the current headquarters, across the street from the Justice Center. “Finding comparable property right now in downtown is very, very difficult.”
Terri Willis, owner of the Carriage House, a custom framing business at 333 W. Market St., is still negotiating with the city and looking for a new location.
“We are still looking for a place of relocation,” Willis said in an e-mail. “We’ll find somewhere but haven’t yet. My view is that everything is going to work out fine.”
In an earlier interview with the Times-News she was supportive of the city’s Academic Village project.
“It’s the most logical site for the higher education center,” Willis said then. “It involves less businesses than anywhere else.”
She said the Carriage House has been in business for 33 years, 24 years in its current location, and the family plans to remain in the downtown area.