When it comes to the Warren County economy, there are different types of pain. When Carrier closed, that was a fall-down-the-stairs type of pain. Everything hurt.
The announcement Bluegrass Underground is leaving its home at Cumberland Caverns is not such an acute, throbbing pain, but it’s a departure that’s definitely going to leave a mark.
When I was at the big Bluegrass Underground taping in March, there was a couple who drove for three days from Canada just to see the weekend shows. Since its inception, Bluegrass Underground officials say people have come to Warren County from nearly all 50 states, and several countries, to see music played in a cave.
The atmosphere is so unique, Cumberland Caverns made a BuzzFeed list of top concert venues in the world. That’s just one of many accolades. The positive publicity from Bluegrass Underground in promoting our area was bigger than an elephant. Maybe bigger than two elephants.
The bottom line is the impending departure of Bluegrass Underground will be a huge gut punch for tourism in our area. We still have kayaking, the Park Theater and other assorted accessories. And we can still put on a happy face, but Bluegrass Underground was our crown jewel, our ice cream with chocolate syrup.
Unfortunately for us, Bluegrass Underground is following a natural progression when it comes to most business models. It started small here in Warren County in a very remote concert venue with limited seating.
Being a prosperous business, Bluegrass Underground experienced growth. Since tickets sell out so fast, there’s a demand for a larger venue that can accommodate more people. And, whether we like it or not, when there’s a group gathered to hear music, there is often a request for beer. Yes, I said it.
We can thump our moral chests and denounce the evils of alcohol, but when an event like Bluegrass Underground can’t sell beer, it will move to a place where it can. There’s too much money to be made, and businesses exist to make money.
I will close this segment about Bluegrass Underground by saying all is not lost. That’s what everyone is telling me so I’m going to repeat it.
Said McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley, “Hopefully negotiations will continue and a critical situation will be alleviated. Even a new music venue could be opened up within the city. The options and possibilities are endless.”
According to Cumberland Caverns general manager Robby Black, events of all kinds, including concerts, will continue to be a part of the guest experience at the cave. Robby says this change in business relationship will actually allow for new and exciting opportunities to come to the cave and the surrounding McMinnville area.
Chamber of Commerce president Mandy Eller says a creative solution can still turn this decision around.
These are all folks who know their stuff so I’m going to take their word that hope still lingers at the end of the rainbow. There’s still lemonade that can be made from this lemon. We can prevail in this hour of darkness.
Hargrove pens its downtown departure
Downtown McMinnville is in the process of losing one of its fixtures. Hargrove Office Supply is closing its retail location on Court Square and will soon operate out of a warehouse for online and phone customers.
“It’s gotten to where we don’t get much walk-in traffic anymore,” said Mike Hargrove, who operates the business with his brother Tom. “We got a good offer on the building and we decided to take it.”
Ben Myers has purchased the building and will be moving his business, Panther Creek Nursery, into that spot. Mike said Hargrove will gradually be moving inventory from Court Square to its warehouse and will be completely out of the building by the end of September.
“It’s sad, but that’s the way things are going,” said Mike. “We will still offer the same service and we’ll still deliver.”
Hargrove is keeping the same phone number, 473-4434. The company has been in business for 67 years.
As for that corner of Court Square, it’s rich in history. It was designated as Lot No. 1 when the town was first surveyed in 1810.
The building has the appearance of being three stories tall, but it’s only a two-story building. The third floor is just for show.
“James Walling added the third floor because he wanted to have the tallest building in McMinnville,” said Mike. “It’s just a front because there is no third floor. It does have a second floor that was used at one time. There are four rooms up there.
The current building was constructed in 1910 with the second floor added in 1932 or ’33, according to Mike.
Queita calls it a career
Queita Roberts started her first day at First National Bank on Aug. 30, 1970. Now 47 years later, she’s ready to call it a career. A reception will be held in her honor Aug. 29 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and her last day on the job will be Sept. 1.
“Back when I first got this job, if you worked at a bank it was the most wonderful thing in the world,” said Queita. “I worked hard because I really wanted a promotion.”
Among her major accomplishments at First National was creating bank mascot Tommy T. Giraffe.
“I looked at a number of different animals to figure out what we wanted and then we had a big contest to name him,” said Queita. “He was in all our events when we first got him, the parade and everything. We even had a Tommy T song. We made a big deal out of it when a kid would come in and open a Tommy T account. It was to help kids learn about saving money.”
A few Tommy T savings accounts still exist today, even though the friendly giraffe isn’t as active as he once was.
When Queita first started at First National, the bank had two offices in McMinnville and one in Viola. Now First National is preparing to open its eighth branch in Shelbyville later this year.
Queita started in bookkeeping, then moved to proof, which is the department which processes checks. She then became a teller before moving to the Plaza branch. She then moved to the Northgate branch no longer in existence to become branch manager. From there, she moved back to the main office on Main Street where she’s been head teller for quite some time.
Now that she’s preparing for retirement, Quieta joked that she will stay with the bank as a special consultant.
“You can pay me once a month in an envelope,” she told bank president Pieter van Vuuren.
Replied Pieter, “I wouldn’t count on what will be in that envelope.”
Like any job, Quieta says every day hasn’t been a bowl of cherries, but she said, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my work. Since I’ve been here there’s been a lot of progress at the bank, good progress.”
A great story of success
It was close to 15 years ago when the Industrial Development Board began to make plans to construct its very first spec building. For those who may not know, the idea of a spec building is to construct a shell of a structure to give an interested company a huge head start in setting up operations. As an added bonus, the IDB also provides financing.
The county’s first spec building was 50,000 square feet. It was purchased by Morrison Tool & Fab which began operations there 12 years ago. Now operating under the name Morrison Industries, that spec building has been expanded to 150,000 square feet and the company has a workforce of 200. That’s pretty impressive stuff.
I mention this because Morrison Industries was praised Thursday during the monthly IDB meeting. Morrison Industries was able to pay off its 15-year loan on the spec building three years early, which made IDB members smile with glee.
I called Morrison Industries president/ CEO Jacob Wilson on Friday to ask him about his company and how it’s prospered over the years. He says it’s been an entire team effort.
“You always hear about people not being able to find good employees, but we really haven’t had that experience at all,” said Jacob. “We stopped using a staffing service years ago, it’s all direct hires now, and that’s more of the image we want to convey. A staffing service seems like a temporary job and we don’t want that. We want good, long-term employees.”
Jacob thanked the IDB for its help and says that’s a major reason Morrison Industries has been able to expand and add to its workforce.
“We’ve generated almost $60 million in payroll dollars since we moved into our new building,” said Jacob. “That validates the investment the county made in us. We never could have gotten to the size we are today without the IDB’s help. We’d only be about half the size we are now if we couldn’t expand into our current facility.”
The IDB is preparing to start construction on its fourth spec building with an estimated price tag of $1.75 million. We can only hope the company which eventually moves into that building will become another Morrison Industries.
Old station may be revived
Back when downtown was an absolute mess and our Court Square had an unsightly hole on one side, Vicki Monroe Spivey was one of the first to start a restoration project.
She took a run-down building on the corner of Spring and Morford streets and turned it into a glimmering facility she called The Station Pure Art. The building served as a sign of hope that downtown restoration projects could be achieved.
That was about 20 years ago. The Station Pure Art has been closed since 2008 and Vicki has been evaluating her options.
“I’ve been waiting for the right thing,” said Vicki. “A lot of people want to rent it, but I’ve got it priced pretty high to keep the flea market type stuff out. I don’t want that. I’ve been waiting for something I think will really help the area.”
I’ve heard rumors that just such a deal is about to materialize. Vicki wasn’t prepared to release any details on Friday, but she did confirm there is solid interest.
“I think this is something that’s going to pan out and it will be something people are glad to have downtown,” said Vicki. “It will involve The Station Pure Art and the whole warehouse behind it. It will be that entire corner.”
Vicki said she will keep me posted and let me know if a glorious agreement is reached.
Don’t be left in the dark
The solar eclipse is coming this Monday, but the Southern Standard doesn’t want you to be left in the dark when it comes to local news. That’s why the Standard is offering an Eclipse Special all this week for the special low, low price of just $70.
It’s a price that’s ridiculously small and I’ve tried to convince management that it should be higher, but to no avail. At the $70 price, you can get the Standard delivered to your home for just 45 cents an issue, or about the price of a lollipop.
Also of note, the kind folks at Edward Jones will be giving away ice cream from noon to 3 p.m. in conjunction with the downtown eclipse bash. Leann Cordell has purchased 500 cups of ice cream so stop by while supplies last.
Unemployment hits new record
I’m starting to sound like a recording, but Tennessee keeps shattering records when it comes to unemployment. One month after the lowest unemployment rate in recorded state history, the jobless rate is even lower.
The state announced Thursday the unemployment rate for July was just 3.4 percent. This is a drop from June’s rate of 3.6 percent.
Over the past year, Tennessee unemployment has plummeted from 4.8 to 3.4 percent. At the start of 2010, Tennessee unemployment was 9.4 percent.
No plans for Red 7 Pizza
Since I pledge to make an effort to answer all business questions that come my way, I’m providing this response to the kind man who asked about Red 7 Pizza locating in McMinnville. According to this hungry resident, he had been to a Red 7 in Lewisburg and heard the company was going to be opening a location here in town.
With this information in hand, I called the Red 7 in Lewisburg and was told the pizza company is in fact becoming popular. There are currently locations in Lewisburg and Columbia with a new store on the way in Spring Hill.
However, and you knew a however had to be coming, there are no plans to open a Red 7 Pizza in McMinnville. The manager I talked to on the phone said employees are told to be friendly and chat with customers whenever possible and perhaps that friendliness was perceived as a store locating in McMinnville.
That’s all folks
As we bask in the glory of a Pioneer football victory, remember to call 473-2191 with all your business tips.