Since I’ve been writing business news, downtown McMinnville has never been able to totally escape the quicksand.
Just when it seemed our downtown area would be making great strides, a building would burn or a major business would close. Downtown seemed locked in a perpetual cycle of one step forward, one step back.
But the past three or four years have proven to be dancing to a different beat. The Park Theater has reopened. Restaurants like Collins River BBQ, Topz, and Kimmi’s Tea Room have shown an ability to thrive.
And now the old Fraley’s building is being renovated with two new businesses possibly opening there before 2020 bids us farewell if work goes according to plan.
“There is such a sense of excitement about downtown right now,” said Christy Ross, who opened her barbershop, Ross & Co., on Main Street eight years ago. “People are renovating their buildings and there seems to be a renewed sense of pride downtown. It’s a renewed energy. A lot of people have worked really hard to help us reach this point.”
Ross said when she first opened her barbershop, “there might be five cars park on a Saturday.” Now Christy said she can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a rainbow.
Much of the excitement surrounds the renovation of the old Fraley’s building, which has been vacant for 16 years. There are five retail spots currently under construction.
Raven Young is spearheading the remodeling efforts and says she believes the businesses will be able to open this year.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get them in as fast as we can,” said Raven. “I’m extremely pleased with how it’s looking and we’ve definitely had a lot of positive comments, especially now that the front glass is in.”
Southern Traditions will be occupying two of the spots, while PI.E Pizza will be taking another. Raven said Friday she has nothing new to report about the other spots being leased.
Kimmi’s Tea Room on Spring Street is one of the downtown gems which is no longer hidden. Kimmi’s occupies a building which had previously been a pile of loose wires and cobwebs.
“This is our busy time of year,” said Mark Taylor, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Kimmi. “October, November, December, those are the months where our business does best. It’s the holidays and people are ordering cookies or they want catering.”
Asked what people love about Kimmi’s and Mark says it’s not just the baked goodies.
“There are two or three things that if we took them off the menu there would be riots,” said Mark.
He noted those favorites include the lemon cream cheese cookie, chicken and sweet corn soup, and chicken salad sandwich. Kimmi’s also has the English-style scones, which are sweet biscuits.
All the baked items at Kimmi’s are homemade. It’s a job Kimmi says she loves.
“When people ask me what I’m going to do today, I say I don’t know,” said Kimmi. “I get to come in and decide what I’m going to bake every day.”
Jennifer Bond has found a nice home for her business Renewed Creations on Main Street. The shop is filled with dealers offering a unique blend of antiques and vintage items. Jennifer will finally have retail neighbors on both sides of her store when the new businesses open in the Fraley’s building.
“It will be nice to finally send people in that direction,” said Jennifer. “A lot of our shoppers are from out of town and they’re always asking us questions about where to go and what to do. When people come downtown, they’re looking for small shops and hometown vendors. That’s what they expect.”
Jeff Murphy is one of the vendors inside Renewed Creations. He has lived in McMinnville about six years after moving here from Cookeville.
“We talk to everyone who comes in here to find out where they’re from,” said Jeff. “Most of the people coming in here want to see what the local vibe is. A lot of them say that because of COVID they are avoiding the big, metro areas and picking smaller, rural areas to visit.”
The warm glow of the summer harvest has faded into the background for most farmers, but not for the family of Glenn and JoAnna Yoder.
Living Greens Hydroponics has 11,000 square feet of greenhouse space under plastic and thousands of plants that are yielding varieties of fine lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes right now.
“We are able to pick all winter,” said Glenn while standing among rows of towering tomato plants. “We sell at the Farmers Market on Saturdays, but one message I want to get out is we continue to sell here all year, even when the Farmers Market is closed. We’re open every Tuesday and Friday all through the winter from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.”
Living Greens Hydroponics is located at 5145 Viola Road in the Mt. Zion area. The business can be reached at (931) 635-9538.
“We offer offseason products that people are very interested in,” said Glenn. “It’s a local product so people know where it’s coming from. And we haven’t gotten any complaints about the taste.”
Glenn was nice enough to invite me out to his farm Friday afternoon and I was well impressed with his operation. Glenn built the entire hydroponics system himself from scratch and it’s a hotbed for vegetables.
“It’s a recirculating water system that works 24-7,” said Glenn. “All the nutrients are added to the water. We try to provide exactly what each plant needs for the best possible growth."
The lettuce couldn’t get any fresher because it’s harvested with the root system in place. The tomatoes and cucumbers are often picked the day they're sold or just before.
The greenhouse and watering system allow the Yoders to grow vegetables all winter, although Glenn admits it's at a slower pace.
"The biggest problem in the winter is the lack of light," said Glenn. "We could install an artificial light system but that's really cost-prohibitive so we're dependent on the sun. In the winter, the days are shorter and there are a lot more overcast days. That just means it takes longer to grow."
It's a true family operation with Glenn, his wife, and sons Tristan and Alex all chipping in to make the business work. Glenn certainly knows his stuff having grown vegetables with hydroponics since 2002. He's been set up at his current spot in Viola for four years.
Among his customers, Glenn sells to three area restaurants -- all in the downtown area. They are Juicy's, Kimmi's, and Collins River BBQ.
As I made my way around downtown McMinnville last week, the comments were almost universally positive except for one thing. I did hear some complaints about parking.
For years and years, decades and decades, folks have been complaining about what they perceive to be a lack of parking in downtown McMinnville.
I don’t agree there is a lack of downtown parking and I’m going to explain why. I am a weirdo who has walked around downtown and counted every parking spot. Yes, I realize I should find better things to do.
What my unofficial count determined is there are 489 parking spaces in downtown McMinnville. These are parking spaces either on Main Street or directly off it.
My unofficial breakdown goes as follows:
• There are 87 parking spaces on Court Square.
• There are 72 parking spaces in the area behind the Chamber and Park Theater.
• There are 97 parking spaces in the block behind Paul Holder Realty and Edward Jones.
• There are 156 parking spaces in the area behind First National Bank and around the Farmers Market.
• There are 77 parking spaces on Main Street in the general shopping district from Chancery Street to just past Pioneer Pediatrics.
This grand total of 489 parking spaces doesn’t include Spring Street, Morford Street, and the public parking area off Spring Street. It also doesn’t include parking in front of the post office, which is pretty much filled entirely by post office customers.
The problem, as many people have often said, is perception is reality. Since people perceive there to be a lack of parking in downtown McMinnville, despite some 500 parking spaces being available, the city has a parking problem.
I suggest large, attractive signs on Main Street alerting visitors to nearby public parking areas that don't have a two-hour time limit like the spaces on Main Street and around the courthouse. As one person noted, downtown does a tremendous amount of business with out-of-county customers and they might not be familiar with all the parking.
That's all folks
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