Downtown Merchants Association hosts first annual Christmas open house

By Julie Fann
star staff

Dreary weather didn't deter the Elizabethton Downtown Merchants Association from holding its first annual Christmas open house Sunday afternoon. In spite of drizzling rain and a cool breeze, families and friends attended the event on Elk Avenue, which also featured holiday music performed by area musicians.
   Pat Green, who owns Duck Crossing Antiques, said most merchants wanted to participate when the Association discussed the possibility of opening businesses for one Sunday afternoon. Duck Crossing Antiques has been opening its doors solo for one Sunday around the holidays for the past ten years.
   "My key motivation is to give back on this day. Of course, we want to sell, but we also want to give a party for our people and hope that new people also discover us. I just believe it will grow and get bigger," Green said while standing behind the counter of her shop surrounded by the smell of cinnamon and the white glow of Christmas lights. A bubble-making machine outside the shop blew hundreds of bubbles onto the sidewalk.
   Most merchants opened their businesses for the open house, which began at 1:30 p.m. and lasted most of the afternoon. The doors of the Elizabethton Alliance Church were wide open and seating was available so that anyone could venture in and listen to holiday music performed by the Elizabethton Choral Club and the Johnson City Community Band.
   Jane Treadway, a vocalist with the Choral Club, said the downtown open house performance was a more inviting experience for residents who may find attending the concert at First Baptist Church a bit too formal.
   "I think it went really well," said Treadway. "This is the first year we've done something like this, and I think more people are likely to come to it than to the one we do at the church."
   Businesses displayed Christmas decorations in shop windows, including Christmas trees and stockings with all the trimmings. Many offered refreshments such as hot cider, cookies and croissants, all artfully presented on tables with decorative cups and napkins. And discounts on merchandise were the rule of the day.
   When asked if she believes the eventual introduction of a Super Wal-Mart to Elizabethton would detract from downtown business, Green said not at all. "I think it's just going to be a plus. I don't see it at all as a deterrent. It'll bring more people to our area and put more tax dollars back in here and hopefully give us more money to spend."
   One woman, Mary Bono, 80, who operates a separate booth inside Duck Crossing Antiques with her husband, Albert, is a Brooklyn, New York native who has lived on Roan Mountain for the past 28 years. The Bonos collect old farm tools and furnishings and sell them as a way to remain active, contributing members of society, she said.
   While sitting at a small table, Mary Bono described her life in the Southeast as peaceful and a "very good life". A retired nurse who worked at the old Carter County Memorial Hospital for 10 years, Bono remains adventurous, open. At the age of 42, Bono had already been a nurse in Manhattan hospitals for several years when she traveled to the West Indies on vacation and met her husband, Albert. The two lived in Africa and Florida briefly before finally settling in Tennessee.
   "It's a wonderful place to live here. The people here are so warm and friendly, and the mountains are like none you'll ever see," she said.
   Outside, the sun shines briefly as shopper Ruby Bennett, who loves antiques, walks down the sidewalk with a friend sipping hot cider and chatting. "I just love antiques; but, you know, the thing is, stuff that is antique now was stuff we used in our house when I was young," she said.