KINGSPORT — Terri Willis heard the talk around town and knew city officials were eyeing her business as well as several others as a possible site for the Academic Village in downtown Kingsport.
When city leaders came calling, Willis wasn’t surprised.
“I knew what was going on. But it’s OK,” she said.
“We had several months to look for somewhere to move. Even so, relocation is hard because we’d been there so long and change is hard. But we tried to make the best of it. What they’re doing down there is a good thing.”
After 27 years at the same location, The Carriage House recently moved from 333 W. Market St. to 528 E. Market St., seven blocks down to make way for the city’s higher education center.
The Carriage House offers custom framing, needlework, gifts and collectibles, and Willis teaches various needlework classes, such as cross stitch and rug punch.
The Carriage House sells the “Life is Good” line of merchandise, which Willis said reflects her attitude. She’s adopted the motto “Life is Good in Downtown Kingsport.”
“We want to focus on the positive. I think you’re better off doing that,” she said.
Artwork is also available, as well as various keepsake items commemorating Kingsport — Willis’ hometown. You can find ornaments, shelf sitters, pottery, stationery, magnets and more bearing scenes from the Model City. The ornament series, for instance, features locations around town, including Church Circle, Allandale, Exchange Place, Kingsport Power Co., the Train Station, Kingsport Library, and Bays Mountain Park.
And this year the Santa Train will be featured as the 10th ornament in the series.
“I always have Kingsport things,” said Willis, pointing out she’s selling Fun Fest T-shirts this year. “I’m a Kingsport girl.”
The Carriage House is a family business purchased in 1975 by Willis’ parents, Mick and Pat Dunkin. At the time, the store was located next to the current Kathy’s Old Time Cafe on E. Market Street.
Willis recalls working at the store that year when she was just 14 years old. Her brother, Ray Dunkin, also worked at the business.
A few years later, the store moved down the street to 333 W. Market St., where it operated for 27 years “until we were caught up in the move,” Willis said.
The city’s Board of Mayor & Aldermen acquired The Carriage House property earlier this year, and Willis recently completed her move to the East Market Street location.
In place of the long-time home of The Carriage House, the city is building a new higher education center, part of the proposed Academic Village.
Other properties so far acquired by the city for the project include the old Tire Center building, the Model City Motors building, Jim’s Lawn Center, the Paul Adams building, A-Hood Bonding, Pete’s Generator Shop, and the Fire Fighters Association building. Ward’s Feed Store is also targeted for acquisition.
In addition to The Carriage House, Jim’s Lawn Center has found a new location, moving from 138 Clay St. to 640 E. Sullivan St.
Paul Adams, CPA, has relocated. And A-Hood Bonding plans to move across the road to Clay Street, in the Tri-City Linen building.
Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager for development, said negotiations and acquisitions have gone smoothly for the new Academic Village.
“Normally when you start on a project like this, it’s almost unheard of to have agreeable businesses relocate without having to be upset with each other and threaten eminent domain and those sorts of things. And that hasn’t happened here,” Fleming said.
“We’ve all kind of come together for a common goal, and that is for the betterment of Kingsport, to do something very important to sustain our community for many years to come,” he said.
By this time next year when the new higher education center opens, 2,100 students are expected to attend classes in downtown Kingsport, Fleming said.
“Just to give you a perspective, that’s the same size or a little larger than the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. That’s a little larger than Carson-Newman College as a whole. And it’s a little larger than LMU (Lincoln Memorial University) as a whole,” Fleming said.
“We’ve been working very hard and it will, I believe, lay the groundwork for a very successful, very stable economic engine for the community for the years to come,” he said.
As for The Carriage House, Fleming said the shop is “exactly the kind of business that we want” in Kingsport.
“They represent a very important part of the business community and that is the small family-owned business,” Fleming said. “The fact that they were able to successfully relocate is very encouraging for downtown Kingsport.”
Willis, whose parents have now retired from the business, said she could have moved the shop elsewhere in town.
“I could have easily gone somewhere else but I stayed downtown. To me, downtown is the central hub,” she said.
She credited her loyal customers, saying they made it possible for The Carriage House to continue to operate.
“They are why we were able to move,” she said.
“There is a reward to being a small business owner — not in the monetary sense, but in knowing who you are and where you came from. I love this store, and knew we had to go on,” Willis said.
The Carriage House is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
For more information, call the shop at (423) 247-9091.