Maggie gains, loses businesses

Robotics plant a no-go
By Stina Sieg | Jan 16, 2013
Photo by: Stina Sieg There's been a recent shakeup in Maggie's business community, with some places closing up shop and others opening their doors. Above, Caroline Edwards takes a ride at the new Fie Top Flumes, which she owns with her husband, Burton.

MAGGIE VALLEY — In the Maggie Valley business community, as in life, nothing is ever static. It seems just as a shiny, new business starts up, an old, well-known shop or restaurant shuts down, and thus the cycle continues.

This ebb and flow is as old as the town itself, but after the recent closing of both The Nutmeg Bakery Cafe and Garlic Knots, combined with the loss Hillbilly Grocery a few months ago, it seems Maggie might be on a negative trend. Teresa Smith, however, feels differently. As the executive director of Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, she explained that she's seen this ebb and flow for years.

"Businesses come and go," she said, simply. "And some of it is business reasons and some of it is family things."

While she didn't know of any stores coming in soon to feel the void left by the loss of Nutmeg's donuts or Hillbilly's meat market, she explained that these recent changes are "just a natural business cycle," the kind that occurs anywhere else.

It's hard to imagine, however, that the residents of most towns are as vocal and passionate about the cycle as Maggie's

No robots, really

The recent fight over the question of adding a robotics manufacturing business to Maggie's main drag in a prime example. For months, part-time resident Mick Combs attempted to bring his business, Automation Design Design Tech, to the old Carolina Nights building on Soco Road. After being approved by planning board and famously shot down by the zoning board of adjustment, his business — and light manufacturing in general — was allowed in by the board of alderman in November. Now, only a few months on, it turns out the robots aren't coming to Maggie after all.

The building was recently sold to Phil and Camala Ferguson, who own Smoky Mountain Steel Horses, a motorcycle shop in Waynesville. Though the couple wasn't ready to go into detail about their plans for the building quite yet, it seems they're looking at doing something entirely outside the realm of motorcycles — or robots, for that matter.

As Town Planner Nathan Clark put it, the business won't be making "robots or semi conductors or light sabers. It's definitely going to be an entertainment venue that reflects Maggie's past, present and future."

For the moment, the couple is still "feeling out the demand" as they kick around ideas, he explained. A few options include a music venue or a type of movie theater, though Clark wasn't about to speculate, and the Fergusons could not be reached by press time.

As for Combs, who also could not be reached, the reason behind his change of heart remains unclear. Combs hasn't shared anything about the situation with the town, Clark stressed, though he didn't sound concerned. More than anything, he seemed pleased to see a vacant space downtown finally be purchased.

"We are very happy that there is a new owner of that property," Clark said.

Winter wonderland?

Though Maggie is a historically seasonal town, with many of its shops and restaurants closing down in the winter months, that might be changing soon. Smith explained that next winter, the town is opening an ice-skating rink at the festival grounds, and there could be a campaign afoot to brand Maggie as a "winter wonderland."

"We're trying to gear toward beefing up our winter business," Smith said. "For many years, that's where we saw our most growth."

Cataloochee Ski Area, which had its best year ever last winter, could help the cause, as well as Tony's Tube World. A possible new boon to Maggie could also come from Fie Top Flumes, a year-round tubing spot recently opened on Fie Top Road.

Burton Edwards certainly hope so. Edwards, who owns the business with his wife, Caroline, explained that when he was thinking this new venture, he was reminded of his time studying marketing at Western Carolina University. There, he read the book "In Search Of Excellence," which contained a message he'll never forget.

"You make the kids happy, and the parents will come," he said, paraphrasing.

While he believes, like Smith, that Maggie's business community goes through cycles, he remembers when he was growing up here people to used to stay longer in town. He believes that having more things to do, especially for children and family, would help return Maggie to that former glory. Fie Top, which uses a special kind of plastic to quickly propel tubes down four runs, is an attempt to help it get there. Edwards stressed that he's not trying to be in competition with anyone, but simply add a business to the mix that might help everyone trying to make a living in Maggie.

"The more we can do together as a business community, the more chance we have of getting repeat business or stay over business," he said.

As for the idea of Maggie dropping its whole seasonal image, Edwards seems all for it. In the future, he imagines his tubing business will operate in every season, maybe with only a short break in the spring. This, he believes, might just be the kind of schedule that will help his little hometown come back to life.

"All the businesses in Maggie can help each other — just by being open year round," he said.