Longtime Johnson County residents can recall a time in the not so distant past when folks gathered in Mountain City, a vibrant, booming downtown with a movie theater, several retail stores, and restaurants galore. With the recent announcement of a new community advocacy group, spearheaded by Mountain Antiques owner John Coolahan and Sassy Kats owner Sylvia Silverburg, many are hoping a revitalization effort will ensue.
“It is a tough situation,” said Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons, who agrees the downtown area should be better utilized and celebrated. “Given the fact that the structurally sound buildings that are vacant or not being used are simply not available for us to market to a potential new business at this time.”
In a recent social media poll, a large majority of residents voiced the need for a good clothing store here. “Not only have I looked at potential new store requirements online,” explained Mayor Parsons, “but have personally spoken with several new store location division managers and C.E.O.’s including T.J. Maxx and other clothing stores.” Parsons relates the same response as county mayor Mike Taylor reported, which involves most companies stating their current business model does not include opening locations in areas similar in size to Mountain City due.
Mayor Parsons said those he spoke with were wary of the economics of making a store successful given Mountain City’s demographics. “I was told by a couple of them that this decision might change as they do understand there is a need for their products in small towns,” said Parsons, “and are looking at branching out with a business model that might work here sometime in the future.”
Attractive stores and businesses have specific requirements, or site criteria, most of which Mountain City simply cannot meet. While many structures sit empty just waiting on an appealing occupant, property owners are reluctant to remodel to specifications as it is likely they would never get a return on the money they would have to spend to make a deal happen. “If our population grew or the median income were to increase, many of these companies we want and need would be knocking our door down to do business here,” said Mayor Parsons. “It is unfortunate for myself and other county leaders that until some of these things I have mentioned takes place, we will continue having an uphill battle in seeing a growing business community and revitalization of our downtown area.”
Many city residents are encouraged with the success of Heritage Hall and the Johnson County Center for the Arts and would like to see an improvement in the aesthetics in the downtown area. While businesses may not be flocking to the area, some have toyed with the idea of sprucing up the downtown area to make it more welcoming to visitors and encouraging to residents. In the past, a committee made up of downtown business owners, and professionals placed trashcans and planted trees and flowers, but there is no
funding for continued endeavors.
Every rural downtown possesses a collection of assets that can provide the foundation upon which future downtown development efforts are focused. It is absolutely essential to take advantage of the assets available and tout the positives of an area as quaint as downtown Mountain City and not merely focus on what cannot be done. Successful downtown development cannot occur unless both the public and private sectors are heavily involved and committed.
The new community advocacy group’s first meeting
is scheduled to be held
downstairs at the Johnson County Welcome Center
on Thursday, February 20, at 6 p.m.