Rick Wagner • Oct 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The owner of Carolina Pottery says the store's closing is the result of maintenance issues. Ned Jilton II photo.


KINGSPORT — Carolina Pottery at the Factory Stores of America mall is going out of business at year’s end, but not because business is bad.

The closure, which the owner credited to building maintenance issues with out-of-state mall owners, comes as Carolina Pottery plans to open a new store next year in Lenoir, N.C., where most of the store fixtures from the Kingsport store will go.

There was no word Friday on a new tenant for the retail space.

The Carolina Pottery owner said he has looked unsuccessfully for another Tri-Cities location but would not rule out a reopening here in the future. The chain has stores in Knoxville; West Columbia, S.C.; Smithfield, N.C.; and plans to open the Lenoir store in the spring.

The chain sells home furnishings including housewares, dinnerware, glassware, wicker furniture, home decor, silk and other artificial flowers, and lawn and garden items, along with Christmas and other seasonal offerings.

“It was really our election,” Tim Marsh, owner of Pineville, N.C.-based Marsh Pottery LLC, said Friday morning. “The landlord is out of California. They really haven’t taken care of the property in the way we would like.”

No one for the California-based Factory Stores of America, owned by a group of real estate investors, could be reached for comment Friday.

And no one from DPI Group, a Kansas City. Mo.-based business that bills itself online as an “economic development consultant,” returned a phone message Friday.

Marsh said he simply declined to renew the lease for a five-year term because of the maintenance issues.

“We’re looking around (for a new Tri-Cities or Kingsport location),” Marsh said of a search for a suitable retail building of about 70,000 square feet.

“We don’t have one to go to,” Marsh said. “I think it will (reopen in the Tri-Cities) someday.”

Marsh called the Tri-Cities store employees among the best in the chain and said he was unsuccessful in convincing many, if any, to move.

“That was one of the reasons we hated to close, because of the great people running the store,” Marsh said. “It’s probably one of the best groups of employees we have anywhere.”

He said about 20 employees remain with the business, but that in prior years it employed 50 or so.

The move will leave a movie theater, Tri-City Cinema, as the largest tenant in the mall. It is located off Exit 66 of Interstate 81 near Sullivan Central High School.

The center opened in 1989.

Marsh said the center, which never had a planned second phase, was the vision of Dixon Fleming, who is an investor in Marsh Pottery.

The pottery chain was started in Smithfield by the late Dick Fleming, Marsh’s father-in-law, and Dixon Fleming headed up the shopping mall development part of the business that eventually was sold and became Factory Stores of America when the operation was merged with Chelsea Property Group.

Marsh owned the Carolina Pottery retail business and sold it in April 1998, but the new owner went bankrupt and closed in the fall of 2001. Marsh acquired the business again and reopened the Kingsport store in mid-2002.

Kingsport store manager Sharon Anderson, who said she’s worked there for 11 years, said most of the store fixtures would be moved to the Lenoir store but that the business would sell limited fixtures and all the merchandise before the store closing, which Marsh said would be sometime in December.

The business must vacate the space by Dec. 31, Marsh said.

The Carolina Pottery closing comes on the heels of last year’s closing of the 100,000-square-foot Dixie Pottery, once a tourist draw in Abingdon. That business opened in 1957 and closed earlier this year, eight years after Ed Yates sold it to developer Steve Johnson and as the building lease was expiring.

Businesses with similar merchandise in Kingsport include Michael’s, which opened last year in Kingsport Pavilion; Hobby Lobby, which has been in East Stone Commons for a few years; and Ben Franklin, a long-term fixture in the Allandale shopping center.

“We just appreciate everything over the years,” Marsh said of loyal Carolina Pottery customers and employees. “It’s a great place, (there’s) no better place than the Tri-Cities.”

For more information visit www.carolinapotteryusa.com.

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