Downtown businesses keep traditions of quality and service alive

STAR Intern

Many downtown businesses are an integral part of Elizabethton's history. Trying to imagine downtown Elizabethton without these vital pieces of history is impossible.
   But, as life goes, people move. People retire. People die. Those are the simple facts of life.
   As local businesses have changed hands, today's present owners try to keep their businesses like they were years ago, giving Elizabethton citizens an opportunity to experience a little bit of yesterday as they stroll downtown. Over the years though, one thing has remained the same for all businesses: service and quality will never be sacrificed.
   Kent Williams and his wife, Gayle, purchased the long-standing Elizabethton Italian eatery Dino's Restaurant in 1995 after Dino Senesi, owner and founder, decided to retire.
   Gayle said, "Dino wanted the restaurant to stay 'Dino's.' When we bought the restaurant, we bought the recipes because these were his family's recipes that actually came from the old country. That was actually part of the purchase price."
   The Williamses have gone to great lengths to keep Dino's original wishes for the restaurant alive. "We kept everything pretty much the same, in addition, to what he sold," she said. "Basically, we haven't taken anything away. Kent's specialty was steak and seafood, so that's why he added the prime rib and trout. I think it kind of compliments the Italian."
   Despite owning the business for six years, some people still come into the restaurant expecting to see Dino cooking the food and greeting customers.
   "All the time people still think that Dino owns the business. He still comes in here quite a bit, usually two or three times a week. Mostly the people that think Dino still owns it are people that either used to live here or grew up here and come in from out of town," Williams commented.
   Jennifer and Robert Hughes purchased City Market from Jack and Mary Lou Miller in April 1997. Although the market, a popular downtown establishment for more than 40 years, has been extensively remodeled, the service and quality are still the same.
   "The main thing is taking care of the customer. The customer always comes first. Jack and Mary Lou always took care of the customer; that was their number one priority," said Jennifer.
   She remarked, "Here you can just make yourself at home. We try to make everyone feel welcome."
   Juanita Watson bought Bowers Florist 11 years ago. "The first owner, Beulah Bowers, had owned the business for 20 years, so it has been around over 30 years. I left the name unchanged because it was a well-established business. They had good service and good quality of flowers; I wanted to keep that going.
   "The business was built on service and the quality of the products," said Watson. "I have broadened the gift shop more and carried some different products. We just try to always have the freshest flowers we can have and we strive to please our customers."
   Hooks Restaurant owner Vada Blevins has kept her restaurant unchanged since opening in 1978.
   "I have great customers," she said. "They like the atmosphere and they just keep coming back."
   Barnes-Boring Hardware is the oldest store in the downtown area, first opening its doors in 1892. The hardware store, with a distinct general store feel, was named after the first owners, J.R. Boring and J.M. Barnes.
   "From the moment you walk through the door, you feel like you're walking back in time. The store is very much appreciated in the community. We hear that daily," said Janet Peters, who, along with her husband, Ed, owns the store. "Even if people do not make a purchase, they very seldom leave the store without commenting on the atmosphere.
   "We have tried to make the store more self-service, as far as putting more merchandise out," Peters said. "That's the biggest change we've made."
   Skip Hendrix and Glen McQueen have owned Brummit's Sport Shop for 21 years. Hendrix's uncle previously owned it.
   "When my uncle owned it, it we sold mostly guns, fishing supplies, boats, and motors. Now we sell none of that. It's a team business and a school business," said Hendrix.
   "Quality and service have always been our number one principle and always will be," remarked Hendrix.
   Margo Bentley's father, Ralph X. Ritchie, began Ritchie's Inc., a furniture and appliance store, in 1934. She and her husband, Stan, now operate the store.
   Ritchie entered the business world by selling generators and radios door to door. In 1936, he became the first Authorized General Electric dealer in Elizabethton and, along with his wife, Mary, opened a store selling appliances and furniture. Even during World War II when Ritchie was on duty with the Army, his wife kept the store open.
   As Bentley recalled, "My father maintained an active role in the business until his death in 1993. His interest and personal involvement with his customers has been carried forward by his family and is credited as a large factor in the continued success of the business. My mother, now retired, maintains a keen interest in the operation of the business.
   "Ritchie's has always prided itself in offering solid value with everyday low prices and not succumbing to questionable practices of haggling over prices and discounting off inflated prices," said Bentley. "All customers receive the same personal courtesy and attention.
   "With the third generation of the Ritchie family now actively involved with the operation of the business, the business expects to be an active part of the Elizabethton community for years to come," Bentley told the STAR.
   As these business owners will agree, the best things in life, and downtown Elizabethton, don't change.