KINGSPORT — Long-time car dealer Sam Anderson is taking on a new role in downtown Kingsport: he’s restoring a 1934 building to its original look.
The 22,000-square-foot building at the corner of Broad and Center streets once housed Freels Drug Store, Sobel’s and Nettie Lee.
Work started about three months ago on the project, and so far contractors have torn off the old metal siding, exposing the original brick. Now scaffolding stands on the front facing Broad Street, where workers are patching and repairing the old facade.
Anderson, who is 81, grew up in Kingsport, and recalls when the corner building was constructed.
“I thought it was the ugliest building I’d ever seen,” Anderson said.
The building stills bears the Freels Drug Store name on the original tiled floor entrance. Sobel’s, a men’s clothing shop, was located next to Freels, and Nettie Lee clothing operated on the other side of Sobel’s.
Eventually, Sobel’s moved and Freels and Nettie Lee expanded. Nettie Lee later closed.
Today, those old businesses and buildings and many others from Kingsport’s early years can be viewed in archived photographs at the Kingsport Public Library.
Anderson remembers when property owners began covering their original brick storefronts with large slabs of siding. Now seen as an eyesore by many, the siding was viewed as modern in the 1950s and 1960s, Anderson said.
“It was stylish back then,” he said.
The drug store closed in the 1950s or early 1960s after pharmacist Dr. Vic Freels died.
In the 1970s, Anderson acquired the building from the First National Bank Trust Department. It housed a variety store at the time.
Then Draughons College rented it for several years.
For the past 20 years, the building has housed All Oriental Rug Gallery. John Faiz owned and operated that business, along with Aladdin’s Cuisine and Broadway Cafe in the same building.
But the restoration has prompted a change in business operations. Faiz is holding a going-out-of-business sale at the rug store, and will also close the restaurant in mid September. He said he plans to vacate the property by Sept. 25.
Thereafter, Faiz is hoping to relocate his businesses elsewhere, perhaps on land he owns on Shipley Ferry Road in Colonial Heights, or on property he owns behind Hamrick’s off Interstate 81.
Back downtown, Anderson said he’s not sure what he’ll do with the building once the restoration is complete. Another retailer may open up shop on the main level, while he may establish loft apartments upstairs. The building also features a mezzanine.
Outside the building on a recent warm day, Anderson looked down Broad Street and pointed to all the buildings that have been renovated or restored in recent years. He said the restorations took off a few years ago when several investors took interest in downtown Kingsport, including Doug Beatty, who’s restoring the old State Theater, and John and Angela Vachon, who have acquired and restored several buildings in the downtown area.
Anderson decided to join in the restoration ranks when he saw an old picture of the original Freels Drug Store.
Pulling off the metal siding was just the beginning. Anderson said the original windows were not only covered on the outside — they were also covered with paneling and insulation on the inside. Nearly all the windows now must be replaced, he said.
“We’re trying to get it back to its original look as much as we can,” Anderson said. “I think it will be a beautiful building when we’re through with it.”
Anderson also owns several other buildings in the downtown area, but most people from Kingsport might know him from his auto dealing days.
Anderson owned and operated Anderson Ford on Lynn Garden Drive for years. Today he’s still a partner in the business, which was renamed Fairway Ford in 1995.
He’s also a partner in the Courtesy Chevrolet dealership.
Anderson graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1945 and then joined the Navy, serving on the tail end of World War II. After spending nearly two years in military service, he returned to East Tennessee and studied transportation at the University of Tennessee. He married and went to work for Latimer and Looney Chevrolet dealership, which started his career in the car business.
In the 1950s, he worked at Tennessee Iron & Metal Co., and then bought the Ford dealership in 1960 and changed its name to Anderson Ford.
His father, Sam H. Anderson, was also a Kingsport fixture, and started working at the J. Fred Johnson store in 1918. He became a partner in the business and operated the store for 40 years.
Anderson said he’s seen a lot of changes in Kingsport during his lifetime. And what’s happening now in the downtown district — not only with building restorations but also with the city’s construction of its new Academic Village — represents some of the biggest and best changes he’s witnessed, he said. The Academic Village consists of several buildings designed to train students in various fields. Construction has started on the 54,000-square-foot Kingsport Center for Higher Education, which will offer degree programs from various colleges in the region. Work is also progressing on the 41,000-square-foot Regional Center for Health Professions at Kingsport, which will train students in the medical field. And construction will begin soon on a 30,000-square-foot Regional Center for Applied Manufacturing, which will train students in manufacturing trades.
The new buildings will join the Regional Center for Applied Technology, which opened five years ago to train students in technology fields.
“I am just sold on this downtown and what we’re doing with the colleges,” Anderson said.
“I feel like Kingsport is on the leading edge of education, and it’s going to make a big difference in this city,” Anderson said.