Archive for the Downtown Bristol Category

“We are spiritual beings, having a human experience.” ~Dina Miller

Posted in Downtown Bristol, Local, Modern, Whimsical Gems & Treasures on January 15, 2011 by Divide By Zero

Welcome back, my loyal, local fans!  This week, I had the exclusive opportunity to talk with Dina Miller once again.  You might remember her store, Whimsical Gems & Treasures, from the very first local blog article I ever wrote.  I continue to patronize her shop and have found many trinkets and gifts for people who like having things that are not mainstream.

Speaking of not being mainstream, the reason why I interviewed Ms. Miller this time is because she’s introducing a class in her store that is something different than people around here are used to.  In an area that is predominately Christian (most denominations of such, represented) Ms. Miller’s store is going to be host to a class for people wanting to learn more about the Wiccan belief system.  I was able to interview Dina Miller as well as the young lady who is going to be heading up the class herself, Ms. Kayla Ramos.  Here’s what they had to say:


Del Dotson:  Okay!  I’m Del Dotson, and today I’m here with…

Dina Miller:  Dina Miller.

DD:  Who is…

DM:  The owner of Whimsical Gems & Treasures.

DD:  And also, I’m here with…

Kayla Ramos:  Kayla Ramos.  The owner of Phoenix Rose New Age.

DD:  Today I’m interviewing these ladies because Ms. Dina is incorporating a Wicca class into her store.  Which is going to be taught by Kayla.  So my first question is: Kayla, can you give me just like, a basic outline of the Wiccan religion, or the Wiccan beliefs?

KR:  Yeah.  Wicca beliefs are based on nature, they love nature.  They don’t hurt anything- true Wiccans don’t hurt anything.  They love life.  We believe in reincarnation, and all that other good stuff.

DD:  Okay.  Um, I know it sounds like I’m reiterating, but what are the core beliefs, and a few of the differences that Wicca has with Christianity?

KR:  We have one core belief and that’s “To harm none.”  And it says “and you do what you will, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”  The differences between Wicca and Christianity is that Wiccans are..  Well they were the first religion, basically.  They were there thousands of years before Christianity.  And we are more of a scientific kind of religion, and we’re more individualized than Christianity.  Christianity is a big group of people who believe in one God.  Wiccans believe in two gods. Well, a goddess and a god.  That’s basically the main differences.  We’re a peaceful religion, we don’t hurt anything or anybody.  We don’t do blood rituals or anything like that.

DD:  So like, I know that probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that you guys [Wiccans] are closely related to Satanists, and things of that nature.

KR:  Hahahaha, okay.  That’s a misinterpretation in the uh, well it was a… how do you say that word?  Translation!  It was a mistranslation in the Bible, in the Olde English, the Olde Hebrew Bible.  It was “Diablo” and “Satan”, which actually means “adversary” or “opponent”.

DD:  Okay.

KR:  So… we don’t believe in the devil.  See back when the Christians came along, of course you have the good side and you have the bad side.  And when you’re trying to convert another side it causes issues and… then Wiccans get slammed, basically.

DD:  Right, hahaha.  Well, I mean.  I wanted to let you clear it up.

KR:  No, we don’t believe in a devil and… if I get into that, it’s just one big go-around, y’know?  Hahaha.

DD:  Right, and I don’t think I have enough tape for that!  The next question is: Are there any similarities that you can think of, between Wiccans and Christians?

KR:  Well, Christians, true Christians don’t hurt anybody, they try to be peaceful and Wiccans do the same.  We have our laws just like the Christians do.  We actually, probably have more laws than Christians do.  Both are supposed to be peaceful people, but sometimes that gets.. the line gets blurred.. with misunderstanding.

DD:  Right, yeah.  There can be a lot of gray area when you’re comparing two different belief systems, I can understand that.  What religion were you raised in, or how did you end up making Wicca your belief system?

KR:  I was raised Christian.  And along the lines, I started developing new beliefs, I started questioning Christianity.  And there were a lot of contradictions in the Bible that I didn’t understand.  So I found a path that was more, for me and I could understand it better.  It just.. it made more sense to me.  I was basically… spiritual(?)… through my life.  Like I was raised the Christian way, but that was kind of forced on me, so I did my own thing.  My parents agree with it, my mom is kind of in between now, she’s older so of course she’s getting scared and stuff, and believing in the Christian God a lot more.

DD:  Right.

KR:  I mean, like, it runs through both sides of my family.  I’ve got a bunch of family and they’re all into it in some way, shape, or form.  There are a lot of Christians, and there are more Wiccans then there are Christians.

DD:  So, what kind of reactions do you get from people around here?  You know.. down here we’re considered to be in “The Bible Belt.”

KR:  Well…

DD:  Like, do people say “Hey, that’s cool and different and funky”, or do they.. is it more negative than positive?

KR:  Well times have changed, a lot of things have changed in the past 5 years.  Like before if you… I was beginning at the flea market, that’s where I had my little store open, it was at Lee Roy’s flea market in Abingdon.  And like, 5 years ago you would have people completely ignoring you and shunning you and walking by you throwing things at you.  These days, I have my best customers on Sunday!  Hahahaha.

DD:  Really?  Cool.

KR:  They came in and bought me out of all of my Wicca paraphernalia!  But I mean, I finally had a few people and they were preachers and they came into my little stall in the flea market and they’d hand me pamphlets and tell me Jesus loves me.

DD:  Yeah, well, he does.

KR:  And I couldn’t help but think, well, I don’t go to churches and hand out Books of Shadows. Haha.

DD:  Okay, so.. Dina, what kind of reactions did you expect to get, or what reactions did you get when you first introduced the fact that you’re going to do this class to people?

DM:  I expected negative.  Because people are more closed-minded in this area, and my goal in this shop is not just to be a retail shop but is to open.. help open minds in the area, in a peaceful way, without scaring people away.  To let them have a better understanding of what Wicca, Buddhism, or crystal healing, spiritualism, and what all that is.

DD:  Right.

KR:  A whole medley of religions.

DM:  I had a little bit of negative feedback on facebook, when I posted it.  But I had more positive reactions..

DD:  More encouragement, than anything?

DM:  Yes.

DD:  Okay.  Cool.  This is a question for both of you:  Can you tell me just a little bit about the class in general?  Like, how is it set up, or are there going to be activities, or just anything you want to share about the class overall.

KR:  Well the class will be set up over in the Phoenix Rose section in the back of Whimsical Gems.  And the first class will be to explain Wicca beliefs.  To help open minds and help people understand what Wicca is really about.  And then I have 9 classes.. it expands over 9 classes.  It’ll be every Wednesday after February 2nd.  And those classes are more like workshops.  And I’ll be teaching a little more about how to work magic, and do the whole spell thing.  To help them [the students] understand what the tools are for, what the herbs are used for, the oils, everything.  And that’s basically what that is.  Overall, just to help people understand more.

DM:  And what I would like out of the classes is for people to kind of relate whether you call it a “spell”, whether you call it “magic”, whether you call it “intention”, or whether you call it “prayer”, it’s all.. the end result is all the same.  Whether you call it “God”, whether you call it “Goddess”, it’s all the same.  You know… there was anointing in the Bible, prayer.. and meditation.. it’s all about the end result.

KR:  There was a story I read once, it said there was a shaman lady back in, like, thousands of years ago who was teaching her people the way of shamanism and when she was done teaching them she sent them all out into the world.  They discovered different religions, different beliefs, and different ways to live.  Well they came back and asked her “Why are you teaching us this one way, when there are so many different ways to choose from?”  And she said that different religions were like a pearl necklace.  They’re all different and unique, but what’s really important is the string that ties them together.  And that makes a whole lot of sense to me.  And I wish I could find that story again, but I can’t find it anywhere.

DD:  Alright, next question:  I know you guys already mentioned this a little bit, but um.. can you tell me a little bit about the overall goals [of the class], is there just one goal for the full endeavor, or is there more than that?  I know it’s to build more understanding, but is there anything else that kind of underlies that?

DM:  Just to bring awareness that God is a loving God.  He is not a judgmental, mean force that people try to make Him out to be.

KR:  It depends on which God.

DM:  Well, God is about love, and peace.  If we knock out the judgment of others, it’d make the world a better place.

DD:  Dina, what purpose did you have in mind when you decided to incorporate this class, into your store?

DM:  Well, the same thing I just said. Not to only be…

DD:  I’m not trying to reiterate myself over and over again, I’m just trying to get everything laid out.  Haha.

DM:  Right.  I wanted to have a fun retail shop that could help the community, be a fun place to shop.. a “feel-good” store and also open minds in the area to different spiritual beliefs without scaring people away.

KR:  To bring Wiccans out of the broom-closet!

DD:  Alright.  Let’s see.  How do you both think that the class fits in with the whole ambiance that Whimsical Gems & Treasures had before the incorporation of the class?  Before you even though about it?

KR:  Well, she [Dina] found me at the flea market and.. well actually a mutual friend of ours has brought us together in a way.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  So I jumped right on it, and she had the goal to open up minds in the area and I have my goal basically to spread the word, and.. open up minds in the area.  Haha.

DD:  So it was kind of like a feeling of synergy, you guys coming together and all.

DM:  I already had the crystal healing.

DD:  Yeah.

DM:  And that is something not common in this area.  So that was my first, and I offer a variety of different spiritual items in the store, not just Christianity.

DD:  Yeah.

DM:  So it just tied in with what I’m trying to do already.

DD:  So Dina, do you think that if these types of classes catch on become pretty popular will you expand on that?

DM:  Yes.  I’ve already spoken to a Professor at VI, and he is interested in doing a discussion here, at the store on the similarities and differences of world religions.  And I think that for this to be an avenue to find things out that they didn’t know before.  It would be a great place to do it.

DD:  Is that scheduled yet?

DM:  No.

KR:  It’s not definite yet.

DM:  He just said he was interested, and said that we’ve got to get together and make a plan.

DD:  So you’re just “in talks” about it with him right now?

DM:  Yes.

DD:  Cool.  Okay, so what else can we expect from this?  Do you have anything else planned?

DM:  Just to be a peaceful, fun, store for everyone.  We are not a religious store, we are a spiritual store.  We are a feel-good store.  We want people to be able to find their own way, and their likes, and what they.. like!  You know, belief-wise, and shopping-wise.  If you notice, everything in the store is all about love, peace..

KR:  Friendship.

DM:  ..feeling good.  That’s my goal.

DD:  And my last question is:  Is there anything that either of you can think of or want to mention or talk abut, that I didn’t bring up?  Or that I didn’t mention?

DM:  I think you pretty much covered it.

KR:  Yeah.

DM:  Good job, Delmer!

DD:  Alright, well that’s it then.  Thank you both a lot for your time.

KR & DM:  And thank you!


I want to know what peoples thoughts are about this.  I want you all to wear my comment section out.  Any and all feedback would be appreciated.  I myself don’t know how I feel about this; it could be good insomuch that it will open the minds of the unappreciative.  But it also could be bad, because people generally don’t like change.  I guess we will see in the coming weeks!

The Jester.


Also, if you want to send feedback, sign up for the class, or just ask some questions, here is the stores contact info:

Dina Miller & Kayla Ramos

509C State Street

Bristol, VA 24201


What to expect from me next:

I wanted to share with everyone something that happened today.  In a series of serendipitous events, I came into contact with one of the coordinators (or somehow related) to an event being held in the near future right here in Bristol.  The Special Olympics.  Specifically the bowling event.  In the coming weeks, I am going to try to get together with her and get some more information about it.  It’s going to be a fun event, and I promise an excellent as well as detailed article about it.  This is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart, and I hope to give it the publicity it deserves.  I hope to see everyone there!

The Jester.


5 Guys. A Taste From Home.

Posted in 5 Guys, Downtown Bristol, Local, Modern, Restaurants on December 10, 2010 by Divide By Zero

This is an article I’ve been meaning to write for a while.  I don’t think I even really have to write it, it will write itself for me.  If you’ve ever been to a 5 Guys burger & Fries joint (5 Guys), you know all about it.  If you’ve never been, stop reading this now, go eat there, then come back and finish reading.

I don’t know how many of my readers know this, but I was born and raised in Northern Virginia.  Not too far away from Washington D.C.. Five Guys originated in D.C./the D.C. area, right in my neck of the woods.  I fondly remember going to 5 Guys after school when I first had my driver’s license.  We loved it, up there.  After school, hit the best burger joint in town, get some good food, with some good friends: wonderful.  One of the things we loved the most about them, 10 years ago, was the portions of the fries you get.  I just learned recently (on my last trip to a 5 Guys) that a “Regular”, or a small, serves 2-3 people.  A “Large”, or a large, serves 4-5 people.  They are not lying when they say that.  They definitely serve more than one person.  I’ve even gotten away with just ordering fries from there, and being set for my lunch.

Which brings me to my next point.. peanut oil.  We as Americans take peanut oil for granted.  It’s healthy, it’s delicious, and here it’s pretty cheap.  If you’ve ever read Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, I ask you to remember the very last section of the book.  When Tony went over to Japan.  He suggested to a restaurant to use peanut oil instead of the crap they were using.  The Japanese fellow then told him that you could rent an apartment in Tokyo for what it would cost to keep the restaurant stocked with peanut oil.  Crazy?  A little bit.

Also, if you’re a nerd like me, or you enjoy writing like I do, you’ll notice upon entering a 5 Guys that their advertising is solely made up of banners that quote what past reviews have said about them.  An I’m not going to lie, I hope one of my quotes makes it up on their wall one day.  But they don’t need my support.  They have won countless awards in many different food magazines, in many different cities.  They are, for all intents and purposes, the best “fast food” joint ever.

The ingredients are what set it apart from other places like it.  In a world of greasy hamburger patties, soggy pickles, and stale buns, 5 Guys stands out as flavorful, crisp, and fresh.  They use a lot of local produce to cater to a wide customer base.  They keep it plain and simple, and they do it very well.  It is the epitome of what we as a nation should come to expect in our burger joints.  Not the watered-down, tastes-the-same-as-the-place-next-door, trash we have been force fed for decades.  Five Guys is the King of the Mountain when it comes to this sort of thing.

The opening of a 5 Guys in Kingsport, as well as right here at Exit 7 was glorious to me.  Being from the area this restaurant originated and the time frame it originated in, I didn’t think I’d be able to partake in their delicious, everything, when I moved down here.  Then they followed me.  It was awesome, and I can never repay 5 Guys for that.  I know they didn’t just do it for me, but having the ego that I have, it makes sense that they would.

So when you dine at this casual eatery, just know that your money is going back into the local community.  Also, apparently the 5 Guys company is on the cusp of a huge business expansion.  They plan to open up a lot more locations, and it is the hope, wish, and dream of this local jokester to see 5 Guys outnumber McDonald’s all across the world.  I believe the key to their success is that they do the same thing other people do, but they do it better.  They keep it simple food, done fresh, done right, and done delicious.

I’ll see you in line.

The Jester.

The Outback Chronicles: Part 2

Posted in Alcohol Involved, Bad employment, Downtown Bristol, Gourmet, Outback Steakhouse, Restaurants with tags , , , on December 5, 2010 by Divide By Zero

Working in the restaurant industry, when you’re not some stupid kid on Summer Break, or saving up for a car or something, you get to watch things unfold that probably wouldn’t happen outside of a restaurant kitchen.  Some things are funny and everyone tells the story for a while and laughs about it.  Other things are terrible, and you spend years drinking and trying to repress the memory.  It depends on the day you show up to work.

Down here in Bristol, we have a NASCAR racetrack.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, or have ever been here to visit it, or even follow NASCAR at all.  I don’t, I did a whole write up about how awkward that whole situation is.  But I digress, there are 2 “race weekends” a year, and our simple, slow-paced little town turns into a touristy, throbbing metropolis.  People travel from all across the nation to be here for the race, it’s crazy.  They spend tons of money to get here, tons of money to stay here, and tons of money on souvenirs, entertainment, and food.  Food being the key word in that sentence.  They go out to eat 3-4 times a day, and when the race is a few hours away, they don’t mind waiting an hour and a half to sit down and have a steak and some beer.

Tensions run high, and I mean that is putting it very, very mildly.  And Larry, one of my best friends to this day through my former job at the OS-Lounge, is a trained chef.  He is a no nonsense kind of guy, and gets the job done by any means necessary.  As I said in my previous post, Larry worked prep, he was on the back line.  When we were slow, Larry had time to relax, have a good time, and show his true colors.  During race weekends, he would help do everything involved with the inner-workings of the kitchen because he knew how to, had the physical ability to, and was willing to, no matter how hard it may have been.  He was the owner’s “Ace-in-the-Hole”.

I forgot to mention this, but it is pertinent to the story.  Before I started in the dish room of the OS-Lounge, there was another dishwasher there.  For all intents and purposes, we’re going to call him “SWard” (short for “Socially Awkward”).  I didn’t like working with him.  I worked with him, and I bit my tongue when he talked, because he was very awkward.  I didn’t want to provoke him talking to me any more than he already did.  I think a lot of people felt the same way, or at least that’s the general consensus I got while on my breaks with other employees.  One thing he did have going for him though is he was one heck of a musician.  From what I heard, he was mostly interested in the drums, and played all the time, and was rather good at them.  Other people told me stories of him playing guitar and keyboard and being at least better than average at anything else he picked up that could play music.  Okay, back to the story…

One crazy race weekend (before I had been hired on), SWard was using a crutch, and had a cast or a sling or something.  Whatever it was, he was too crippled to be working in the dish pit, so the management put him out front as a bus boy.  No one was in the dish area, and all the cooks, prep guys, and servers were pitching in to keep up with the dishes.  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know that is a slippery slope and can get really backed up, really fast.  That was the case at the OS-Lounge this particular night as well.  So then Larry, being the man he is, jumped back there to help get everything done, so he could get back to his regular job.  When he went around the corner, SWard was in there doing nothing but drumming on shelves and any stainless steel surface he could find.  That is the kind of thing he did all the time, even when he wasn’t crippled.

Larry then told him in a very commanding, very stern voice “You either need to get to work, or get * out of my kitchen!” (*insert whatever colorful language you’d like here).  In all honesty, you learn to take those kind of comments in stride while in a commercial kitchen.  As soon as I walk into the kitchen, I know I am the low man on the totem pole, so when someone tells me “move”, “GTFO”, “coming down”, or anything like that, that’s exactly what I do.  Also though, I never stand around on company time drumming on stuff with spoons.  In this case, SWard didn’t want to move or go back to work or anything.  So while Larry hopped to it and started pushing dishes through the machine, SWard started to get angry and hobbled himself out of the way a little bit, while cursing Larry out under his breath.

Well, another thing you know not to do around a bunch of irate cooks is to piss them off any more than they already are.  This is exactly what SWard did to Larry, and Larry is not the type of guy to mess with like that.  Especially not on race weekends.

This is my artist's rendition of why SWard shouldn't mess with Larry. And why he should have pee-pee'd himself.

When Larry tells me this story, the words he uses is “yolked-up”.  What that means is that Larry backed SWard into a corner and made it so SWard wasn’t getting away from Larry without Larry being able to do something about it.  Arm-bar, Head-lock, whatever it was, whatever you want to call it, that’s what being “yolked-up” means.

While in the corner, Larry pretty forcefully explained to SWard that if he had something to say he’d better * come out and say it.  If he didn’t have anything to say, he’d better shut * up and get * back to work.  Yes, all the asterisks mean there was some colorful language involved, way more colorful than I’d like to post on the internet, but you get the idea.  With that, SWard didn’t have anything to say, so Larry let him down, let him go, and turned to walk away.  He was walking from the dish area towards the fryers, into the cold-side of the cook line.

This will help.

As soon as Larry turned to walk away, SWard decided to start cursing Larry under his breath again.  Since Larry had already yolked-up SWard, warned him, and let him have a moment to respond, Larry didn’t take very kindly to SWard being a little girl about the situation.  Larry wanted you to say something to his face, not behind his back, (literally and figuratively) he didn’t play that game.  So Sward got hit a time or two.  He was already crippled, yes, but it wouldn’t have made a difference even if he was in great shape, and uninjured.

Pandemonium broke loose in the kitchen.  Whatever orders were being made, whatever tickets were in the window, whatever anything anyone was doing, came to a nasty halt.  Papa had to hurry his self over toward Larry, grab him and drag him to the employee bathrooms, where Larry was then locked in.  Rightfully so too.  There may have been people in that kitchen that could match, or beat Larry in speed, no one could match him for power.  So Papa was freaking out because of how volatile of a situation he was in, Ted was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to get near Larry.  SWard was threatening to call the police, and sue Larry, and the restaurant.  Everyone else in the kitchen was laughing their butts off.  I would have been too, had I been there.

Like I said, this happened before I started working there.  I kind of wish I could have seen it because apparently it was a paramount event.  Everyone talked about it later like it was epic.

I remember hearing about it when I was in one of the employee bathrooms with the employees who smoked, while we were all on break.  One of the other people in there, a waiter, said: “Yeah, if I knew we were allowed to hit one person and get away with it, I’d have hit someone like that a while back.”  Which begged me to ask the question.. what happened to Larry after that?  Lose his job?  Cops get called?  Fines & penalties?

A verbal warning.  Nothing else came of that situation.  And that, I believe is the way it should be.  Especially in any high-stress situation, or career-field.  If two people have a disagreement, they should be able to smack each other around a few times, then get back to work.

This was a few years ago, maybe the policies have changed since then.  I don’t know.  I do know, and can tell you that back then, the owner/manager had a bail bondsman on speed dial because of the staff.  That’s right, on more than one occasion the management had to bail out their better cooks/preps to make sure they made it to work.  They also had to invest in a breathalyzer so that people would stop showing up to work plastered.  So maybe a few things have changed.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s going on while things are busy at that place.  Don’t worry, there’s more to come.  Be patient.

The Jester.

The Blowfish Emporium: Let me explain…

Posted in Downtown Bristol, Fan Art, The Blowfish Emporium on October 7, 2010 by Divide By Zero

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that I am all for local businesses.  There are some that we frequent, and there are some we rarely ever go into.  Until recently, the Blowfish Emporium was a place I rarely went into.  And after spending a little bit of time there, and getting to know the owner, Mrs. Bethany Wilson, I think I have figured out why I was reluctant to shop at her establishment.  Also, I hope to turn around the opinions of others who are in the shoes I was up until recently.

If you have heard about the Blowfish Emporium (just “Blowfish” from here on out), you probably know that it’s an art gallery.  You probably don’t think you fit in with people who look at art.  The kind of people that you see dressed in Manhattan Black and Kangol hats staring at an unfinished tic-tac-toe board or something.  Well, we’re not in Manhattan, and that’s just not how Ms. Bethany rolls.  Like I said, I was a little intimidated by the store, but I can assure you that once you walk inside, you will feel very much at home.  The art is fantastic, and it is all done by people who live in the area.  I’d be willing to put money down, saying that if you bought a painting from Blowfish, you could arrange to meet the artist for a word or two.

Another thing about this art gallery is that it’s not just paintings.  There are also practical pieces in the store like hand-made jewelry, pottery, they have classes lined up for you to make your own masterpiece.  It really is a place of business that not only fills a niche, but inspires and invites new people into the niche.  Being born and raised 20 minutes from D.C. I had easy access to art shows, gallery openings, and museums.  I have also been to Chicago and absorbed the cultural art there.  But nothing is like going into the Blowfish.  I felt very comfortable there, Mrs. Wilson is very professional, yet laid back enough to make sure you have a good time while you’re browsing through her store’s many different items.

Like these people.

And I know what you’re thinking: “But Del, she could just have been nice to you while you were interviewing her, for the publicity!”  No, she was being nice to me because she’s genuinely a nice person.  She wants to answer your questions, and tell you her opinion without forcing it on you.  And as for the publicity… my site gets about 80-100 hits every 6 days or so.  Her background is in marketing.  I don’t think she needs my help getting her name out there.  She’s just very sincere, very confident, and seems like the kind of person that really enjoys what they do!  I visited the store the day after I was able to interview her and she loves striking up conversations about the different pieces she has on display.  And you can bet your butt, if she doesn’t know the answer to a question, she will find it out for you.

Also, (heads up for the guys out there), I highly recommend shopping for your g-friend at Blowfish.  Mrs. Wilson has informed me that if you purchase something there, you can work out a gift-wrap situation and a bag, and everything so all you have to do is sign the card.  It will really make you look like you know what you’re doing.  Especially if you’re like me and it takes 3 or 4 tries to wrap something, then you realize it’s July and you’re using Christmas wrapping paper.  Definite thumbs up there.

Pictured: Something that's not scary.

So without further ado.. here is the interview I was able to get with Mrs. Bethany Wilson.  And I have to say, she was so easy to talk to, I wish I had more questions/time for her because she made this interview fun.

Del Dotson:  Ok, this week I’m here talking with..

Bethany Wilson:  Bethany Wilson.

DD:  And she’s..

BW:  I’m owner and operator of the Blowfish Emporium, local arts gallery.

DD:  First question, what got you interested in art?

BW:  I worked with Believe in Bristol, a non-profit organization, which is a main street program that essentially runs downtown.  And it promotes economic development and all of that stuff, so I was involved with Believe in Bristol, Christina Blevins, and lived downtown.  My husband and I, we had this retail space because we own the building and after several months of not having anyone sign a contract, I kind of have always wanted to own my own business.. so being involved with Believe in Bristol, the arts were really something big here, and the art galleries surprisingly were pretty much non-existent.  I had several friends who were artists [and still are], and I’d ask them where they were showcasing, and they’d say: “Well, I really don’t do anything, because where would I put it?” so I kind of started thinking about that, and you know, the arts have been here for years and years, so why not add an art gallery?  Because I feel like, especially showcasing local arts you feel a little bit cultivated, and you’re stretched a little bit in your own world because the arts are so subjective.  And they appeal to such a broad audience.

DD:  Yeah.

BW:  You may have a particular style that you like.  Whether it be abstract, or realism, or whatever.  But when you see and view the others in an inviting and welcoming environment, you kind of grow yourself, and I think that can mainly be done through local art.

DD:  So is that mainly what you showcase here, the local art?

BW:  Mm-hmm, I have local and regional art.  And that includes everything from photography, pottery, original paintings, jewelry, handmade soaps, a lot of other little nick-nacks, hair-ties..

DD:  Yes, and it’s all very cool in here, I like looking around.

BW:  Thank you!  And I mean, I have everything from people showcasing their work publicly for the first time, to those who are well established nationally and some internationally acclaimed artists.  Like I said, it’s still artists from this area, so you have all sorts of price ranges and different takes on landscapes, improv paintings, abstracts, all sorts of cool things.

DD:  That’s really cool.  My next question is, I know you guys own this building and everything, but what made you decide to open a business on state street?  What made you choose this location?

BW:  I’m actually, both my husband and I are from the area.  So when I was in High-School I was involved with something called Bristol youth Leadership.  Through that program, we were introduced to future development plans of Bristol, Downtown area specifically.  So with the potential that Downtown Bristol has, was something that as I got older, I knew I wanted to be a part of.  That was actually the compromise, we were living in Atlanta at the time.  My husband wanted to move back up to the area and I loved Atlanta.

DD:  And he’s from around here too?

BW:  Yes.  He’s from Bristol.  So the compromise was, well if we’re going to move downtown then we’re going to live downtown and be part of the movement.  Because growing up, the downtown area was something that I didn’t ever frequent because all it was, was antique shops.  That’s great if you’re antiquing but if you weren’t into that then you had no reason to come downtown.  So between from when I was in High-School to when we started looking at relocating back to Bristol, Downtown was already starting to grow quite a bit.  Development opportunities were right in the prime time, I think.  So that’s kind of what brought us downtown.

DD:  I hear a lot of people saying that, you know, all Downtown has is nothing but this enormous potential.  So what would you like to see happen with Downtown Bristol, like say.. in 10 years?  Where would you like it to be?

BW:  Oh gosh.

DD:  If everything were possible.

BW:  If everything were possible, there is a project that has been on the table for 10 or so years.. it’s called the “Beaver Creek Project”.

DD:  I think I’ve heard a little about that.

BW:  They actually would go in and develop Beaver Creek, so where it would be somewhat like a city-walk.  And it would go along the creek, and it actually goes through Bristol.  It starts past the train station and it goes all the way down to the speedway [Bristol Motor Speedway – approximately 8 miles away].  But the plans for its development would not only 100% control flood damage, which everybody down here pays huge, huge insurance premiums for flood control, it’s ridiculous.  So not only would it completely have 100% flood control, but the development potential.. I think it would bring in new business.  If you look at Greenville, South Carolina that have a river-walk, or where is it, like Santa Fe or somewhere that also has a river-walk, I mean, its potential for river rides with quote-unquote gondolas [yes, she used the “quotation fingers”], maybe not exactly a gondola.. but aesthetically it would just make downtown..

DD:  Beautiful.

BW:  Absolutely beautiful.  It would be such a huge tourist attraction.  That would be my number one dream because I think with the Beaver Creek Project, it’s a very economically expensive project, I think it would bring in.. I mean when you look at the businesses that are downtown, that’s great that we have a lot of small businesses, but really we need major corporations to come in here that will bring in multiple jobs and multiple people who want to become permanent residents of the area.  So in order to attract those kind of businesses we need those big, major steps of why they should come here, you know?

DD:  I agree.

BW:  With Beaver Creek, I think a lot of other things will just kind of trickle..

DD:  Will just kind of fall into place?

BW:  Fall into place, yeah.  So that would be my first big achievement, if I could have anything happen it would be the Beaver Creek.  But that’s like a 40 million plus, dollar project.  Haha.

DD:  Well I didn’t know anything about it.  Kind of.. I think I kind of heard a little about it, back when I was reading up on all the City Plans and all that stuff.

BW:  Yeah.

DD:  It’s, like you said, it’s not really mentioned a lot in the more recent documents the City puts out.

BW:  I think the big, one of the biggest.. it happens to be one of the most unique features of Downtown Bristol, but it is also a big obstacle, or it can be.  Because we are Bristol Tennessee and Bristol Virginia, we’re a dual city in 2 separate states.  We have completely 2 different laws and regulations, and committees.  So, you know, most downtowns are dealing with one city manager, one board, or one law enforcement, you know?  So like I said it’s one of our most unique features, but it’s also just, double the work.. haha.  Anything like a Beaver Creek or something would be interesting.

DD:  Right.

[Phone rings in the store.  Mrs. Wilson is constantly busy with that kind of thing, I consider myself very lucky to have been able to talk with her for as long as I did.]

DD:  Is this the first business you’ve opened up?

BW:  Yes.  It is.  My background, is actually.. it has nothing to do with art.  It has to do with business management and marketing.  When I graduated college, I moved down to Atlanta and then I became Associate Director for a marketing program for a private prepatory pre-school in Buckhead.  And that was my first job in marketing.. a pre-school which was interesting.

DD:  Right.  And it was a private school?

BW:  Mm-hmm.  Very prestigious families, and NBA players, and Ludacris’ daughter went there.

DD:  Awesome!

BW:  So that was my first experience and when I moved back here I worked part-time for an international marketing consultant.  That was great experience, but it was just..  I mean, not very many people can say that they love their job.  Owning your own business is definitely twice the work if not more, more hours, more responsibility..

DD:  I’m a business major, so I can see that.

BW:  But at the same time, you have to work for somebody, so why not work for yourself?  Haha!

DD:  Exactly!

BW:  If you can!  If you can, I mean, like I said it’s hard.  If you work for someone else you’re guaranteed a paycheck, as long as you do your job you’re guaranteed a paycheck every week or 2 weeks.  Owning your own business you’re not guaranteed anything, you just have to bust heiny and make it work!

DD:  So, being around all of these local artists and kind of having connections with everyone do you think that since you’ve opened up the Blowfish you’ve become a little more creative?

BW:  Oh yeah.

DD:  Like, do you pick up a paint brush now and try it out a little bit?

BW:  Yeah, we actually offer painting.  It’s a very informal twist on a painting class.  We offer BYOB painting every Tuesday and Thursday evening.  And what we do is, as you can see on the schedule we have a set image.  So tonight it’s going to be this deer with a million antlers.  But we offer a set image and some of them are originals from our artists, and others are, as you can see with the Bristol sign are just other images and works of different artists.  But what we do is we take that image and everybody gets a blank canvas, and we have a paint bar, so you don’t necessarily have to follow those colors.  But we use the image as an inspirational point and then a local artist comes in and does a demonstration on how to get you started.  Then you create your own interpretation off of that image.  Whether or not you follow it to the T, is really up to you.  but our art instructor really encourages you to kind of.. make it your own.  Whether it be adding something, taking something away, changing the colors to accommodate your house or whatever.

DD:  Just kind of making it special to you?

BW:  Yeah.  But I literally am 100% honest when I say that no skill is needed or required, at all.  We’ve been open just over 13 months, and since we’ve been open we’ve had over 1500 students.

DD:  Wow, so how many are usually in one of your classes?

BW:  It depends on the season.  When it gets colder, our classes get bigger, because there’s not as many things to do outside.  Colder seasons we average between 10 and 15, warmer seasons are anywhere from 5-8 typically.  Let’s say we have 1500 students divided by 12 months [it’s calculator time!], that’s over 125 people a month!  If you divide that by 4, that’s at least 30 people a week, so 15 per class.  But we do provate parties as well.

DD:  Very cool.

BW:  Where you can book a Friday, Saturday evening, have the whole place to yourself, you can bring in your own food, bring in your own drinks and set up a party.  Then you get to pick your image that you want to do.  And we have hundreds!  A whole selection.

DD:  Well that sounds fantastic!

BW:  So since.. well your question was “Have I gotten more creative”..

DD:  Oh yeah, I forgot that’s where we were heading.

BW:  Since opening that, the art instructor and I, we kind of came up with this concept off of a similar concept that is pretty nation wide.  Where you go, it’s not exactly paint by numbers.  Well, it’s definitely not paint by numbers.  I had gone to a private party in Alabama, and had such a good time painting, and had never painted before that I wanted to do something similar, but I felt a little bit restricted.  Because they literally were like: “Pick up this brush.  Dip it in this color.  Draw a line here.”  Everybody ended up with an awesome painting, but everybody’s looked exactly the same.  There was no freedom to express yourself.  And even though I had never painted before I felt completely restricted.  So Pat.. Pat Jessee, she’s the artist that comes in, and she’s been an artist her entire life, and is very well known.  She worked in New Orleans for 30 or 40 years.  She was a curator for an art gallery, she worked for some very prestigious artists.  She’s an art instructor but she also gets commissioned locally to do art improv on stage to musical performances.  She’s a cultural dance instructor, she’s just an awesome overall instructor, and she can make the most miserable, uncreative person end up with this awesome painting, where they learn something new about themselves.  I don’t know, she’s just amazing.

DD:  Well it sounds like she’s got it going on.

BW:  Oh yeah!  She’s awesome!

DD:  Okay, just a few more questions.  What do you think your store, what do you think the Blowfish Emporium brings to Downtown Bristol that wasn’t already here?  I mean, not just the fact that it’s the only art place..

BW:  Well I definitely think that, it being a local art gallery it definitely gives artists in the community an opportunity to showcase their talents, to show how talented our area really is.  And it just gives more personality to our area, for our artists to be on pre-view.  So Blowfish just is a place of opportunity and artists can promote their works, and promote what’s going on behind the scenes of Bristol.

Pictured: Mrs. Bethany Wilson. When it comes to the art scene in Bristol. She's a Jedi, is what I'm sayin.

DD:  Which leads me to my next question:  How do you think Blowfish fits in with the personality of Downtown Bristol, on State Street?

BW:  I definitely think that Downtown is on a fast track to growing and you have to be innovative in your business way of thinking.  Because we are dealing with such a different generation, you know?  Everybody’s on Facebook and the social media networks, so being in tune with all that, and also offering an art gallery where you don’t feel like “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to break anything.”   By definitely creating an environment that is welcoming and, whether you buy something or not, you’re going to take away something.  Just because that’s because how art is.

DD:  Sure, yeah.

BW:  So I want to showcase a place where if you have $5 you can buy something, if you have $500 we have something for you.  And none of it is mass produced.  All of this is hand-made, local art, local jewelry.  When you give that gift to somebody.. you know, when you buy local.. that money comes back to your community.  When you buy online, none of that money comes back to your community.  When you buy regionally, where you spend your money is where it comes back to, so when you come here and you buy a piece of jewelry that’s $50, well that $50 is going into your community, it’s going to a local artist, versus if you go buy a similar item at Wal-Mart, that money is going to China!

DD:  Hahaha!

BW:  You know?!

DD:  I hear ya!  And my final question is, well I had 2, but you already answered the other one.  Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we didn’t really touch on?

BW:  The thing about small business, and I think everybody everywhere feels this is that we are so, so affected by the economic downturn and the state that we’re all in.  That is even more of a reason why you should buy local.  Because small businesses rely 100% on our local community to survive.  And you still have to buy birthday gifts, you still have to buy anniversary, Christmas gifts.   You still have all of those things you have to buy for.  So when you go and shop, whether it’s at Blowfish or wherever, just buy local, so you can keep your small businesses in business.

DD:  Okay, well that’s all I have.

BW:  Awesome.

DD:  Thank you for your time!

BW:  Yeah!  Thank you.  I look forward to reading it!

I think she has it right on the money.  She knows what she needs to get done, and does it.  I hope this reaches out to people who have passed by Blowfish (like I had so many times in the past), and is the open invitation they need to get them in there and look around.  I am positive you will find something you’d like, or something you could get to score brownie points with your wife/g-friend/daughter/mom, or for the art enthusiast in your life.  I’ll see you there!

Blowfish Emporium

529 State Street, Bristol VA, 24201

(276) 644-1428

Follow them on Facebook & Twitter!

*all photos are subject to copyright laws and are the property of their respective owners*


Posted in Downtown Bristol, Sophistication on October 1, 2010 by Divide By Zero

I know what you’re thinking.  The title is referring to this lolcat picture.  Actually, no.  I finally got the interview I have wanted since Rhythm & Roots weekend.  That weekend, as my girlfriend and I were wandering in and out of all of the stores open for business, contributing to the glow, and overall R&RR weekend experience, we came across one I hadn’t ever been in before.  Shoozies.  It’s a pretty classy place compared to some of the stores that have been around a while, but I think it’s a breath of fresh air.  I was lucky enough to speak with the owner of Shoozies during the hustle and bustle of Rhythm & Roots.  She had opened up the first night of the R&RR weekend, so it’s fair to say that this location of her business is in its infancy.  I immediately wanted to include a write-up on her and her store here on my blog, for your guys to read.  And after weeks of waiting, and having scheduling conflicts, I was able to sit down with the owner this morning.  She had a lot to say, and I enjoyed every minute of the interview.  Plus I am very proud of the fact that I was the first person to interview the owner of this store.  I feel a little honored!

Del Dotson:  Okay so, first off can you tell me your name and your title with the business?

Peggy Wilson:  My name is Peggy Wilson, and I’m the owner.

DD:  Okay.  What made you choose to open a business on State Street, over any other location you could have chosen?

PW:  Well, I decided about 5 years ago, this building was available, and I decided to buy the building.  Because in Kingsport, I’ve always leased all of my.. I’ve always had a lease.  I’ve never really owned my own building.  So I decided I would just buy this building and rent out a retail space to someone and build a loft.  And maybe, just a slim chance of maybe that I would put my own business in there later.  Then I had trouble leasing the building.  It was not in great shape and so after a couple of people leased it a year and moved out, I decided to remodel and get it looking really good.  And see what was actually here.

DD:  So this isn’t your first business?

PW:  No.  I have a business in Kingsport, it’s called Shoozies, also.  It’s the same business.

DD:  And where is that located?

PW:  It’s in the Fort Henry Mall.  Well, “Fort Henry Mall” is now “Kingsport Town Center”, they’ve renamed it.  But it’s been Fort Henry Mall forever.  And I moved in there in ’94.  1994, and.. no, ’84.  1984!

DD: Wow.  That’s a long time.

PW:  Yes, it is.  And I’ve gone through a lot of landlords.

DD: Right.

PW:  ..and a lot of ups and downs.  So, right now the mall is in kind of a “down-mode”, they’re trying to get some of the major stores leased and it’s just not happening.  I decided that, since my lease is up soon, and they’ve told me I can lease month-to-month, or whatever I want to do.  And I think that’s what I’m going to do down there.  But I decided that I might try Shoozies up here and see how it goes.

DD:  Yeah.  And just to kind of have a place to call your own?

PW:  Yes.  And, you know, have a place in case I don’t renew my lease, or don’t want to stay any longer.  Or can’t stay any longer.

DD:  Well that’s wonderful, a really good idea.

PW: Yeah.

DD:  I remember when we talked before, that you said you really busted butt to get [the store] open by Rhythm & Roots.

PW:  Yeah, we did!  It just seems like it’s taken forever. Everything takes longer than you expect, but..

DD:  I know that [all too well!].

PW:  And so we had different target dates to be open, I missed them.  So I decided that I’m going to be open by Rhythm & Roots, some way, some how. And we worked, and my husband has a job in Bristol and he works hard.  We worked down here [at the store] until midnight all week, and my computer guy was going on vacation.  He came down, and got my computer going at 6:45 on Friday night and we opened the doors at 7:00.

DD:  Right, hahaha.

PW:  It really was worth it, because I haven’t done any advertising yet and just about every one, maybe about 75% of the people who come through my door said they saw me and knew about me from Rhythm & Roots.  It’s made a big difference.

DD:  Yes, it’s a really good way to spread word-of-mouth.

PW:  Yes.

DD:  Okay, my next question is what do you think Shoozies brings to Downtown Bristol that wasn’t already here?  You’ve already kind of touched on it a little bit.

PW:  I think it’s a.. I think it’s wonderful for Downtown Bristol.  I hope that I am successful for many reasons but one is that if I’m successful that it will draw more stores similar to this to Downtown.  I don’t want another shoe store, but clothing stores, or specialty stores.  Our mall has not kept up with the time..

DD:  No, not at all.

PW:  You know!  And if you don’t keep up, if you’re not progressive, you’re going to get left behind.  It just takes Downtown a while to get going.  We’ve had, since I’ve owned the building 5 years ago, we’ve had a step forward, two steps back.  You know, two steps forward, one step back.  But we are doing better.  So I know my store will attract other stores if I’m successful.

DD:  Alright.  Well that’s wonderful, I really like that idea (mentality).  How do you think Shoozies fits in with, like, State Streets’ personality?  With the whole, kind of, face it has down here?

PW:  Well, you know I think State Street is many faces.  During Rhythm & Roots, wearing boots that I didn’t even know owned a pair of boots!  So it kind of turned into being a different State Street during Rhythm & Roots.  It’s just got a lot of everything and I think every store down here is kind of unique in their own way.  And they could have gone to the Mall.  Like some of these stores that have been here forever, when the Mall was really going well, they could have said: “Downtown’s dead, I’m moving to the Mall.”  But they want Downtown to succeed, they like Downtown.  It’s a great place!  I love it here!  It’s pleasant, and it’s really different from the Mall.

DD:  Yeah it is.

PW:  ..and it’s nice.  I think the character of State Street is a mixture of personalities that have businesses down here.  Everybody that’s down here has taken a risk.

DD:  Absolutely.  And last week, I did an article on Inari Wines.  I asked them the same question.  And Aulikki said that State Street is really moving towards, you know it’s getting all these specialty shops.  And she mentioned you [Shoozies], she said you know, there’s that shoe store and it has really nice items in there, and we have wine here, and an art shop, err.. gallery right next door [to Shoozies].  So you know, it’s moving towards being really elegant.  In a way.

PW:  Yeah, it is.  But nothing against the stores that aren’t.  Because they’ve stayed here, and they’ve endured.

DD:  Yeah.

PW:  Do you know what I mean?

DD:  Yeah, and they bring a little bit of the charm too.

PW:  Yes they do!  Yeah you’re right, charm, that’s a good word!  But I think to make it profitable Downtown, you’ve got to have stores like mine.  We’ll see what happens, I’m just hoping I can stay.  I want to.  But if I can’t pay my bills, I can’t hire employees, I can’t sell enough to do that, then I can’t stay.  But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could make it.

DD:  Right.  Is there anything we can look forward to from the store in the near future?

PW:  I’m going to get my Birkenstocks any day.  they’re supposed to have been shipped.  I’m hoping today.  Birkenstocks and Uggs, those are my 2 biggest sellers in Kingsport.  I’m getting both of those, I finally got my approval on the Uggs, it took me forever.  It took me months to get approval.  But I finally got approved!  And Uggs are so picky that’s why they’re in such high demand.

DD:  One more question!  Is there anything else you’d like to share, that I didn’t really already ask about?

PW:  Hmmm.  I don’t think so.. I’m still, even though I’ve been in business for 25 years, I’m still open to any suggestions.  So I am getting.. it’s a different business in Bristol, I already know that.  I’m looking for ideas of things to carry that the customers want, that I can sell.  I don’t know of anything, except that I am..

DD:  Open to suggestions.

PW:  Yes I am.

DD:  That’s cool.  Okay, that’s all I have.

PW:  Well thank you so much.  Thank you for bearing with me and coming back so many times.

DD:  You’re welcome, and thank you for your time.

She’s right.  I like the mentality behind her opening a classy joint on State Street.  I see the way things are moving down there, and with more stores like Mrs. Wilson’s Shoozies, there is more room for success of the whole area.  I believe that her success will really be a success for everyone living in/near Downtown Bristol.  With more businesses like hers, there will be more things to do Downtown.  There will be less abandoned buildings, more foot traffic, which would lead to more public events.  All of which to me, is one huge cycle that would pull our little neck of the woods out of the recession real quick.  Right now her store is different than what we are used to on State Street.  But different doesn’t mean bad.  Change is usually a good thing, and I hope her business is successful.  I think Shoozies is doing pretty well for having no advertising whatsoever.  I think that if Mrs. Wilson markets it right to her target audience, the sky will be the limit!

Overall, the store is not my style.  I am, however a male.  I know plenty of women, though, that love shopping for shoes and bags and accessories and I think Shoozies would be the perfect place to shop for your wife or girlfriend.  I secretly hope they start selling gift cards soon.  That being said, I think the way it’s set up, it wouldn’t be uncomfortable for men to go in and look around, like most other women’s stores are.  That’s a hard thing to do.  Guys know what I am talking about; how often are you left standing up against a wall holding bags and feeling awkward, waiting on your girlfriend?  Shoozies is classy, but comfortable, (and guys, Peggy was gracious enough to put a lot of comfy places to sit around the store).  And Mrs. Wilson is one of the nicest people you will meet.  Every time I have gone in, she (and her staff) have been nothing but polite and kind.  I haven’t had a bad experience with her or her store at all.  I definitely think it’s worth checking out if you’re local, or just stopping by Bristol for the weekend.

Good Luck, Mrs. Wilson!


527 State Street, Bristol VA, 24201

(276) 644-3275

A Grape Place to Be

Posted in Downtown Bristol, Gourmet, Inari Wines, Sophistication on September 24, 2010 by Divide By Zero

This week, I ventured into a little spot near State Street called Inari Wines.  If you haven’t been here yet, I recommend you get there soon.  It’s right across the street from the Bristol Public Library.  It’s sort of easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.  But once you see it, you can’t un-see it.  My girlfriend and I have had a chance to take part in one of their wine tastings, and we both had a very pleasant experience.  We learned some things about wine that we didn’t know before, and enjoyed the company of everyone in the store.

That wine tasting was the first time I remember having some free time to look around their store, and it really is a different place you can find some interesting things.  Like Whimsical Gems & Treasures, there are a lot of nifty little gifts that you wouldn’t find in mainstream stores.  The items Mr. and Mrs. Brandt (the owners) have at Inari Wines make perfect gifts for people who are hard to buy for, or already have everything.  If you take the time to browse a little bit, I’m sure you could find a perfect gift for everyone you know.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Mrs. Aulikki Brandt for a few minutes, when she had some time.  She was very welcoming to me, and seemed to enjoy the questions I had to ask.  She gave very informative answers and was very friendly.. as has been my experience with her store overall.  I have taken the time to transcribe my mini-interview for you all.

Del Dotson: Okay, so you’re the owner?

Aulikki Brandt: I’m one of the owners.  Me and my husband.

DD: And what’s your name?

AB: My name is Aulikki.  Aulikki Brandt, here’s my card.

DD: That’s a pretty name.  Okay, my first question is What made you choose to open a business, like, in downtown Bristol, right near State Street?

AB: When.. We used to live in Houston, and our dream was to leave Houston and come to a small town and open our own business.  And we didn’t really know what it was going to be.  We thought maybe a computer business, or a coffee shop.  Then when it finally came the time where we were in Bristol, and we kind of evaluated what we did not have here, this is what we came up with.

DD: Yeah, okay.

AB: We wanted to do gourmet food, wine, cheese, beer, gifts.  Things like that.

DD: Yeah, because you have a lovely store.  And I’ve noticed there’s not too many places like this.. you know..

AB: mm-mm (as she shook her head ‘no’)

DD: In or around Bristol.  Or the Tri-Cities, really.

AB: Right

DD: Um, is this the first business you’ve opened up?

AB: Yes.

DD: So you’re a first-time business owner, that’s cool. And um, I think you’ve already answered this, but what do you think Inari Wines brings to downtown Bristol that wasn’t already here?

AB: I would think that we have a really unique.. niche that is very different than anything else, anybody has downtown.  So I think that for the whole area, I think that we have definitely changed a lot about of the appreciation of good wine.

DD: Definitely, yeah.  I’ve come to your wine tastings a few times on Saturdays and I really enjoyed that.  Um, my next question is this.  How do you think Inari Wines fits in with the whole personality of downtown Bristol?

AB: I think it really fits into the specialty shops.  And I think that, I think we have lots of great antique shops but it’s really neat to see, now that we’re getting more specialty shops.  There’s a shoe shop, there’s ladies purses and all that kind of stuff.  There’s art shops, so I think it really fits into that kind of a..

DD: That kind of atmosphere.

AB: Yes!

DD: It kind of “goes with the flow”?

AB: Mm-hmmm.

DD: Is there anything we can look forward to?  Any, um.  Besides the wine tastings.  We always look forward to the wine tastings!

AB: Well, we are hoping to expand our store to have a whole special wine tasting area.  It seems to be getting so busy right now but we are planning to remove one of the walls up here and build a special tasting area.  That’s something we are slowly starting to work on.

DD: Very nice.  And the last question is, is there anything else you’d like to tell me, or share that I haven’t already asked about?

AB: We’re still kind of the best kept secret down here, that people just.. Still, people walk in every day.  They say: “Oh I never knew that you were here!”  And I say “Well, we’ve been in business 7 and a half years, so..”

DD: And you guys used to (looks out the window and points across the street)…

AB: We started across the street and we were there for 2 years.  We ran out of space so we moved to State Street across from Paramount for 2 years.  Now there’s a fabric shop in that space.  And then we moved here, and what really works for us in this location is that we have the whole front for parking, the back for parking.  Parking for us is a big issue, especially when you start to move the cases of wine.

DD: Oh yeah, I’ll bet.  Hahaha.

AB: We really lucked out to get this spot.

DD: Alright, well thank you very much for your time.

AB: Thank you!

That concluded my interview with Mrs. Brandt.  I wish we both had more time for her to answer more questions.  I also wish I hadn’t just spent my money in the antique shops.  There was a big can of Wasabi Peas with my name on it in there!

Seriously though, I recommend this establishment to everyone.  There’s really no way I can write down the passion and information the staff (especially the owners) of Inari Wines freely gives out to its customers.  You can visit their website here.  It has a more extensive list of the inventory they have to offer, and a detailed schedule of events they have planned.  Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, just have a general interest in wine, or are (like myself) a complete novice of everything wine and just want to learn a little bit about it.. this is the place to go.

I also highly recommend attending one of their wine tastings, I am certain that they will offer a wine that you will have to take home with you.  They really know their stuff.

Thank you Mrs. Brandt for the opportunity to talk with you.  And thank you both for being a big part of the downtown Bristol community, all the best in the future!

Inari Wines Gourmet Market

39 Piedmont Avenue, Bristol VA, 24201

(276) 821-WINE (9643)

Rhythm & Roots Special!

Posted in Alcohol Involved, Annual, Downtown Bristol, RHYTHM & ROOTS! on September 20, 2010 by Divide By Zero

I had the opportunity to go to Rhythm & Roots this weekend, and I had a blast.  I haven’t been in about 4 years, but could tell right away that it has been getting better every year.  The atmosphere was great, and embodied everything it should have embodied.  And the personality of State Street was allowed to shine through.  There was a great turn out this year, and from what I could see, everyone enjoyed themselves.

This might be the reason why.

It was great, the old shops got customers, the new shops got their name out there in a very big way, and the other shops that are wanting to sell got some advertising.  In any case, here’s the rundown of the weekend I had.

I got to go into the Cameo Theater.  A big thank you goes out to Kroger’s for sponsoring that stage.  Ted Olsen put on a very good performance, with a fair audience.  I took a few pictures, but wish I had the opportunity to go into the balcony (something the Cameo has that the Paramount does not).  I also noticed that even though the Cameo could use a face-lift, it was in pretty decent shape for not being renovated in a while.

Inside the Cameo.

I loved seeing all the local artists come out and offer their work for reasonable prices.  It was pretty awesome.  I almost got a “Charcoal drawing by Nick” of the Burger Bar that was being offered for $40.  The only reason why I didn’t was because I was short by $10.  It’s okay though.  Another highlight was Java J’s gelato.  All of the flavors I sampled were delicious, but the one that stood out the most was the caramel latte.  Definitely a good treat to cool off from the heat with.  While I was enjoying the gelato, I sat outside of J’s at one of their bistro tables.  The stage by the Bristol sign was featuring a band by the name of “The Possum Playboys”.  They were very good, very funny, and put on a great show.  No local band was better, in my opinion, than the 3:00 Paramount performance by a band called Red Molly.  They are 3 enormously talented young women who were astonishingly entertaining.  I can’t lie, I went to their performance by accident, and hadn’t heard of them before Rhythm & Roots, but glad it happened.  I looked at the wrong showing and ambled into the paramount expecting to hear ETSU’s Celtic band, as I am a huge fan of Celtic culture and music.  I was disappointed for a second when I was informed this wasn’t the Celtic band, but that feeling went away quickly when they started singing.  They all have a great set of pipes, and really brought the house down.  I loved the encore song they sang.  I don’t remember the name of it, but it was an accapella number that really showcased the range of each individual ladies voice.  It was incredible.  I recommend their CD to anyone who likes the troubled love songs.  Anyone period, really.  They are a great overall band and were my personal favorite band of the entire weekend.  Another thank you goes out to Red Molly for attending Rhythm & Roots, I hope you all come back next year!  You can visit their website here.

They're not bad to look at either.

In other R&RR news, Whimsical Gems & Treasures had an outstanding weekend, and I would like to thank everyone who played a part in that.  I had a chance to meet with the owner of Shoozies, and we were both interested in me interviewing her for this blog.  Her name is Peggy, and she is a wonderfully nice woman who is very approachable.  She informed me that her and her workers busted their humps to make sure they were open in time for Rhythm & Roots.  I applaud her efforts and will surely follow up with her in the near future.

The vendors this year were fantastic, and there really did seem to be something for everyone.  The atmosphere (as I said) was great.  Especially with the vendors, I usually feel pressured to buy things from vendors in similar situations.  At R&RR though, there wasn’t any pressure, everyone was very friendly, had a lot to talk about, and were interesting people.  I was able to pick up new dog collars and tags for my mutts, and they loved them.  My whole family (minus my brother who’s in the Air Force), my girlfriend and I all had a fantastic time.  The event that capped off the entire weekend was Joe Diffie’s performance at the mural stage on Sunday.  He played a lot of songs from his new bluegrass album (released Sept. 26th), along with a lot of his older hits.  He had a lot of fun with the audience, and the band that accompanied him were fantastic.  It was some of the best Banjo pickin’ I’ve heard live in a long time.  I can’t wait for Rhythm & Roots next year, and the years after.  It has been a blast for me and my friends, and I hope it continues to be.

Thank you to everyone who attended, performed, and participated.  I couldn’t have had more fun.

*All photos are subject to copyright, and are property of their respective owners (I obtained these images off of Google Image Search)*