By MARINA WATERS
KINGSPORT — The old Wallace News Stand building once entertained readers hungry for magazines, comics, newspapers and more filtering throughout downtown. It’s been closed for years and its shelves are gone. But its future is far from over.
Anthony and Jamie Williams recently bought the Broad Street building that has served as a downtown Kingsport icon for more than 100 years. The property won’t transform back into a newsstand, they said, but it will become a business space with an upstairs loft where the couple and their two children plan to live.
“When this building came up, I knew as far as the space and layout we could make it work,” Anthony said. “It was a no-brainer for us to be able to live upstairs and rent out downstairs. It’s a good investment for us.”
The couple are also driven by their love for downtown.
The Williams family currently lives in the upper half of the Commerce Street building that houses Reedy Creek Bicycles and Bays Mountain Brewing Company. But when it comes to their newest investment, the Wallace News Building, as they call it, the couple aim to invest in its rich history and begin the property’s next chapter.
“Part of the reason we want to do this is we want to see this building restored to something that’s going to last another 100 years,” Anthony said. “It’s iconic in the sense that it brought a lot of community to downtown Kingsport. We would like to see that happen as well with whoever the tenant is that comes downstairs.”
The plan includes renovating the future business space downstairs, which has been gutted and is already being shown to potential renters. No matter if it’s a café, shop or market, the building owners have two goals: to offer support to their downstairs renters and to see that the sense of community the old newsstand offered lives on.
“It would be neat if it could be a place where new stories are told,” Jamie said. “We want our kids when they’re our age to say, ‘Do you remember when they used to do this?’ in the same way people remember the slushies and the popcorn.
“We hope it fosters a sense of community. Because really downtown is becoming a neighborhood. Our hope is that it becomes something positive in the community.”
The building, located at 205 Broad St., is 101 years old. It has served as a beauty salon, collection agency, law office and, of course, Kingsport’s crown jewel newsstand.
It started as Broad Street Fruit and News in 1936. Wallace Crum purchased it in 1941 and Wallace News Stand was born. The downtown spot offered hard-to-acquire magazines, paperbacks, tobacco and pipes, video games and a pinball machine in the back. In 1974, Marty Mullins continued Wallace News, and later so did Tom Throp, who shut the building’s sliding garage door for the last time in 2018 well after the digital era had forever changed print readership.
Many still talk about their favorite reading material and those Mountain Dew slushies and popcorn. Those machines are now in the hands of local business owners Jodi Millsap and Vic Brooks. And all these years later, those memories live on.
“There are so many people that say, ‘I used to get my skater magazines and car magazines there,’ ” Anthony said. “And other people say, ‘They always had these fashion magazines — they had it all!’ ”
“It was the place you could get the Times News and the New York Times,” Jamie added. “They were there, both of them next to each other.”
While cleaning out the building, the couple found a number of relics from decades past. A metal case of cigarettes sat in the walls of the building as did a Moon Pie and Butterfinger wrapper and a set of long lost keys with an MTV keychain.
“It’s kind of like a time capsule,” Jamie said of the items found in the walls that were featured on the Wallace News Building Instagram and Facebook pages. “You picture the guy working on the building and his cigarette case falls out of his shirt pocket and he can’t reach it and there it sits for 70 years.”
The project hasn’t been all dreamy nostalgia as the Williams family continues to reveal the lengthy 10-foot ceilings, remove various plaster and wallpaper still clinging to the original brick they plan to expose and get through layers and layers of linoleum, hardwood and tile flooring. But, they say, it’s worth it.
“It’s had lots of Band-Aids over the years because it is expensive to renovate these buildings. Band-Aids come off and they can be ugly. Sometimes you’ve got to start fresh,” Anthony said. “But we’re trying to pass the torch of this building and move it into the next century.”
Their love of old buildings is far from the only motivation they share to breathe new life into the downtown landmark. For the building owners, the newsstand building is a way to spark new interest in Kingsport and downtown.
“It feels like there’s this untapped potential,” Jamie said. “But I feel like we’re right on the verge in Kingsport of really seeing it come alive. There are a lot of people — not just us — that are investing time and energy into it.
“For us, we feel called to downtown and to be a part of it. We want to see it grow and see the potential it can come to be.”
As Anthony and Jamie Williams talk with potential business owners interested in adding to the building’s history, they plan to continue imagining the future of the downtown space while honoring its memorable past — popcorn and Mountain Dew slushies and all.
“I’m hoping when we have a grand opening for this thing that I can call (Millsap and Brooks) and say, ‘We need the popcorn and slushy machines to come out for a showing,’ ” Anthony laughed.
“It will always be known as the Wallace News Building,” he added. “We may live upstairs and there may be a new business downstairs, but it’s going to be the Wallace News Building for eternity.”
You can follow the Wallace News Building’s journey on Facebook and Instagram. To inquire about the downstairs storefront space, email Thewallacenewsbuilding@gmail.com.
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By MIKE STILL
BIG STONE GAP — Romano Danelon arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1900 with his possessions, including an accordion.
Danelon played that 1890 Fidel Socin on a passenger ship to the U.S. as he made his way across Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Big Stone Gap. He played it as he became a bricklayer and stonemason, as he became Rome Fred Daniel, as he enlisted in the Army and as he raised a family.
Southwest Virginia Museum Collections Manager Martha Wiley said the accordion, like the approximately 60,000 other items in the museum’s collection, carries a story within the broader saga of Southwest Virginia. Preserving it, with the wood, brass, mother-of-pearl and leather worn from Daniel’s hands is also part of what the museum staff and specialists across the state do to make those items last for future generations.
“We also have a picture of (Daniel) playing it, and we wanted to keep that human touch,” Wiley said as she explained how a preservation specialist worked to stabilize the accordion’s condition. “His nephew dropped by a CD of Mr. Daniel playing and singing.”
Wiley said the museum — originally the home of coal baron Rufus Ayers in the late 1800s and acquired by Congressman C. Bascom Slemp in the early 1900s — also has its connection with Daniel, who practiced his trade on parts of the home.
Setting up a computerized cataloging system for museum holdings was complete by 2018, Wiley said, and the system contains descriptions of the items ranging from old household papers and Slemp’s correspondence with U.S. and world leaders to household and farm implements, mining equipment, Oriental ceramics, period clothing, rare books and an 1870s railway sleeper car.
However, keeping an accurate, updated list of the museum’s inventory is not the only part of maintaining the collection, Wiley said.
“One of the things we do to keep things intact and preserved is lots of atmospheric checks,” Wiley said, pointing to one of seven hydrothermographs in the museum to track temperature and relative humidity.
“We try to keep the humidity around 50% because we have such a wide variety of items,” said Wiley. “We have paper which, if the humidity gets too low, it gets brittle, and wood, if it gets too high, it’ll swell. We also try to keep the temperature around 68 to 70 degrees to make it comfortable for visitors.”
Light can also fade or deteriorate papers, photographs, clothing and other items, and Wiley pointed to ultraviolet light filters mounted in the museum windows. Room lighting is also kept at appropriate levels, she added, and color cards are placed in various areas to measure light fading.
Wiley said special procedures for cleaning some exhibits require careful brushing and vacuuming, while many are kept under glass cases to prevent visitors touching them.
Clothing and documents are stored in acid-free boxes and folders, Wiley said, and acid-free tissue paper is used to keep the form of clothes or hats. Staff do not touch items with bare hands, she added; nitrile gloves like medical personnel or police investigators use are the rule.
Wiley said many of the items in the collection reflect Victorian-era ideas on death and how the dead should be remembered.
“One of the things the Victorians did was keep the hair of people who died,” Wiley said as she unwrapped a find. “A woman had gone to an estate sale and she bought what she thought was just a coffee maker in a box. She got home and it also had a wallet stuffed full of receipts from a Valentine Miller, who lived from the 1820s until 1888 in Russell County, and you could tell his whole life from it.”
Wiley opened the packet to show one of the items from Miller’s wallet: a wreath of hair with a satin ribbon sewn onto a piece of cloth.
Military uniforms and equipment from the Civil War make up a large fraction of the museum’s collection, Wiley said, and a series of exhibits on the centennial of the end of World War I included an aluminum matchbox with the name R.F. McConnell and his unit etched on one side and a reference to one of the most violent campaigns involving U.S. troops: Verdun, Argonne 1918.
The museum has entered Virginia State Parks annual events where the department recognizes its 10 most endangered artifact or collections. In 2018, Daniel’s accordion earned that recognition and a monetary award for its preservation. In 2020, the museum’s Jessie Reasor Zander Collection of documents and photos about African American life in Wise County received another award.
Wiley showed one of the Zander collection’s items: a 1950 Bland High School yearbook from when the county’s schools were segregated.
Hazardous material handling can be part of the collection, Wiley said.
“We have a couple of cool old doctor’s bags, but they’re full of vials,” said Wiley, “and maybe one day that’ll be something I can get a grant for. We have a World War I gas mask, and I read that they have asbestos in the lining. That’s not a real problem though, because the only people who have access to it are me, the park manager and some of the staff, but not the public.”
Possibly the largest item in the Southwest Virginia museum is the Interstate Railroad car on the museum grounds. Wiley said the 1870s-era sleeper car had seen rough times in the intervening 150 years. It was once a fisherman’s cabin and eventually sat at the entrance to town as a visitors center before the museum acquired it a few years ago.
With the help of local railroad historian Ron Flanary, Wiley said, the former coal car wheel trucks on which the car was mounted were replaced with more accurate trucks. Progress has been made on restoring the interior closer to its 1870s configuration.
“You watch old movies about railroads back then, and it amazes me how tiny the staterooms are,” Wiley said.
Museum and Park Manager Scott Bowen said that the car interior is not open for public tours because of various delicate items inside, but it has become a popular backdrop for weddings and community events.
While the museum has depended on the public for much of its collection, Bowen said Virginia State Parks now is not accepting item donations because of state COVID-19 protocols.
“We are asking people to keep us in mind and to reach back to us next year,” Bowen added.
For more information on park hours, admission and seasonal events, visit online at www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/southwest-virginia-museum or call (276)-523-1322.