Jerry Houchens of P & J Antiques plays pool in a leisure room in his apartment above the antiques business. Erica Yoon photo.
KINGSPORT - Living upstairs in downtown is a trend in the Model City, according to local landlords and city officials.
If so, newlyweds Mickey and Susan Glover and bachelor Obie Hounchell are on the cutting edge, having moved downtown this year, while others have lived there for years or soon plan to make the move downtown.
Angela Vachon, who operates Urban Synergy along with her husband John Vachon, estimated that at least 82 loft-type apartments exist in downtown or will be ready by year's end. Their business offers business and loft spaces downtown.
"There could be others out there we don't know about," said Angela Vachon, a Kingsport native.
Those 82 units include 12 loft units she and her husband are building, six in a Market Street building and six in the Five Points area.
That is in contrast to the estimate of 20 to 25 downtown loft residential units Kingsport transportation planner Jack Qualls recently had, based on building permits and historical perspective from building officials.
"We already have two pre-leased that we haven't even framed," said Angela Vachon, who devotes full time to the business and handles day-to-day work with contractors.
Her husband works in orthopedic medical sales and Urban Synergy.
Of completed apartments, she said a few owned by Robin Miller remain available near Pacific Grill on Main Street.
"It (residential) is critical for downtown," John Vachon said of new retail moving downtown.
The Vachon's one-bedroom units rent for $495 a month, compared to $650 a month for two-bedroom, two-bath units. Water and sewer are included.
The Vachons, who live in Gray but have their business headquartered in the Progress Building they own on Broad Street, said they plan to move into a downtown loft space by year's end. They just don't know which one yet.
Others have already taken the plunge of living downtown and getting married.
Newlyweds live upstairs
The Glovers, married earlier this year, live in an upstairs apartment just renovated by Aaron Brett Carson of Philadelphia.
Mickey Glover, an artist and college instructor, has lived there for five months for $700 a month.
Susan Quiggle Glover, a certified nursing assistant, moved there in May after they got married.
Both had lived in apartments and in their parents' homes. She is from Kingsport, and he grew up in Bristol, Va.
"I'm an artist. I've always dreamed of living in a place like this," said Mickey Glover, who has been working on an abstract painting in the living room in the same space it will hang and plans to do the same in the couple's bedroom.
"Since we moved in, I've been working here. It's also my studio," he said. "I love the room. I love the space. I've never had a place big enough to do that (paint in his apartment)."
He said he could envision starting a family in the space although the couple's eventual plan is to buy a house.
"I love living here so much. I could envision living here for a long time," he said.
Like the Vachon's plans, the Glovers and Carson's other tenants' rent includes water and sewer, and the Glovers said their highest electric bill so far was about $80.
It's also a handy place for their parents and in-laws to visit.
Her parents live in the Kingsport area and are long-time antique dealers with booths in the Haggle Shop, an antique mall downtown, while his parents, who live in Bristol, have just opened up two booths in that same downtown mall.
The Glover's apartment includes a large living room, kitchen and dining area, hallway, master bedroom, second bedroom being used as his office, two bathrooms, laundry area and closets, including a large walk-in closet.
The Glovers said they enjoy living in downtown.
"The loudest thing we hear is the train," he said of downtown sounds, but on Thursday and Friday nights they have almost a balcony seat for free downtown concerts.
"During the concerts, we can just sit up here and listen," Mickey Glover said.
"The emphasis Kingsport is putting on art is really nice," he said. "We love the sculpture walk."
Downtown food also hits the spot, the couple said, including T.K.'s Big Dogs Too.
"These are probably the best hot dogs I've ever had," he said, adding that the Jan-Mar, a long-time Broad Street eatery, has excellent hamburgers.
A bachelor's point of view
Hounchell, who lives down the hall from the Glovers in what was once a Western Union building, said he's partial to Kaffe Blue and Discovery Ice Cream for food and Up Against the Wall art gallery for art.
"I know where everything is in the antique places, and you can't beat Wallace's (Wallace News Stand's) popcorn," said Hounchell, whose father operated Happy's Barber Shop.
Hounchell's apartment has the same exposed brick exterior walls, partially exposed beam ceiling and 10-foot ceilings, but it's a smaller, one-bedroom apartment.
He, like they, saw the apartments advertised in the newspaper, but they opted for a larger unit and him for a roughly 900-square-foot unit for which he pays $550 a month.
"I walked in and immediately said I'll take it," said Hounchell, a control manager for Day and Zimmermann Engineering. The Greenville, S.C.-based firm works at Eastman Chemical Co., where Hounchell reports to work.
"I was on DKA (the Downtown Kingsport Association) years ago," Hounchell said. "I have a love for old buildings. I very much appreciate the architecture. This has a Manhattan flavor even though it's in Kingsport."
Living above your work
Pat and Jerry Houchens, owners of P & J Antiques in the old Charles Department Store building on Broad Street, stay closer to their work than Hounchell's cross-town commute.
They live on the third floor, above the antiques business. They bought the building in 1998 and moved in two years later. They marked their seventh year living there in March.
"Everything is within walking distance," said Jerry Houchens, who like his wife is from Charlottesville, Va. They lived in Fall Creek and had two antique malls downtown, plus she had two jobs and he had one: a cardiac perfusionist. That means he ran the heart and lung machine during heart surgeries.
"I could walk to work and wouldn't have to spend six hours a week cutting grass," he said of the decision to occupy the third floor.
She said a big plus to her was the secure feeling of living on the third floor, which because of insulation and its height is quiet, impervious in the living quarter to even the ever-present trains downtown.
Both have since retired from their outside jobs, so their commute is down two flights of steps.
Part of the space includes his workshop and a layaway and storage area in what was warehouse space. But about half of the 6,000-square-foot third floor space is their two-bedroom apartment, including a master bedroom with a sitting area, formal dining room, home office, den with a pool table and two bathrooms.
The ceilings are about 10 or 11 feet, depending on the room, some of which have "coffin-style" ceilings. The master bedroom has a dome-shaped ceiling.
The Downtown Kingsport Association, of which Pat Houchens is an active member, is considering an upstairs loft in the old Kesterson Photography building it bought and is renovating on Main Street.
Elsewhere downtown, attorney Charlton DeVault has his office downstairs and his living space upstairs at the corner of Broad and Main streets in what was once a drug store.
And Steve and Linda Ladd, owners of Olde Tyme Auction on Cumberland Street, said they live part-time above their auction house - once a car dealership and bowling alley - most every Tuesday nights after the auctions and on some other occasions.
Angela Vachon said other business owners live in units above their businesses or rent out those space for others.
Among them are her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Paul and Amber Vachon. They have their Appalachian Medical Massage Associates and other business tenants downstairs in a building on Cherokee Street, near the auction house in Five Points. Paul and Amber Vachon, who moved from Asheville, live in an apartment upstairs.
Amber Vachon tells people on a Friday downtown tours, hosted by John and Angela Vachon, that she and her husband, Paul, go for days without driving their car and sometimes walk to White's Fresh Foods on West Sullivan Street to buy groceries.
Landlords see bright future for loft apartments
Aaron Brett Carson, a native of the Telford community in Washington County, Tenn., is the landlord of the Paper Tree building and a principal in a business called The Mint. His apartments include three upstairs upscale apartments - including those of the Glovers and Hounchell.
The three upscale units are above the Paper Tree at 201 Broad St. and the Central Barber Shop with an East Market St. address. He also owns a building across the street with three other second-floor apartments.
He said that Broad, East Market and Main streets, at least in his opinion, seem to form the core residential area of downtown, but he predicted that could grow over time.
"It's (downtown) had residential apartments for a long time," Carson said. "What's different is when you tried going upscale, downtown had a different vibe to it. It didn't have an upscale vibe."
He has no residential units in a building he owns in the Five Points area, but others offer second-floor apartments in that part of town, including buildings owned by Sam Anderson and Jeff Lane.
"We're definitely growing a New York loft style as opposed to just apartments," Angela Vachon said.
A new Tex-Mex restaurant is pending on Broad Street, joining the already-open Discovery Ice Cream on Broad Street; Kaffe Blue and Get Rhythm karaoke on Broad Street; and Breaking Tradition billiards on East Market Street. With those and other retail downtown, Carson said it made sense for him to own six loft apartments just off Broad Street.
He bought the Paper Tree building in April 2006, spent about a year renovating the apartments and rented all three within a week. He's owned the other building, across the street with three apartments, about three years.
The old State Theater, slated to reopen next year, and the Thursday and Friday night free concerts are also a draw, as are the art displays downtown, he said.
"I drive my car a couple of times a month," Carson said of living in downtown Philadelphia, where he walks to the bank, to eat and to socialize but usually drives for serious grocery shopping.
From what he's seen, Carson said that Johnson City's downtown seems to be "dead" during the day but comes alive at night, while Kingsport's has been the opposite.
Pat Houchens, active in the Downtown Kingsport Association, said during a Main Street meeting in Johnson City she toured one-bedroom lofts downtown that were selling for $200,000 to $250,000 each.
Bristol, Tenn.-Va. also has made efforts to revive its shared downtown along State Street, with loft apartments and businesses.
Although individual wants and needs vary, Hounchell said downtown Kingsport may be positioned for a major swing including intertwined retail and residential development.
"Of my 44 years, this is probably the strongest flourish of activity I've know," Hounchell said. "If it's going to make it, this is about as much of a shot as it will have."