Businesses shuffle in downtown Lenoir

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 02:46 PM

The first few months of 2014 are bringing with them a few changes to the business landscape in downtown Lenoir.

At Carolina Mist Winery, the main wine rack sits empty, and on the counter is a single bottle of white wine – the last available for purchase from Lenoir’s sole winery.

And across the street, a new sign adorns the front of Highland Coffee House announcing a new upstairs tenant: Frye Art Studio, formerly located on West Avenue.

Carolina Mist owners Carolyn and Edward Campbell are closing the winery after six years in business.

“All in all, it comes to this: It’s time for us to retire,” Carolyn Campbell said.

With family in Georgia and South Alabama, including seven grandchildren, the Campbells plan to spend more time visiting.

The Campbells moved to Lenoir in 2004 from Jacksonville, Fla., and started wondering what they could do to give back to the town. After some research, the pair decided that a winery was the way to go. They opened the winery on Mulberry Street in 2009, buying the building the business now occupies on Main Street in 2011.

“North Carolina being the big wine state it is, we felt it’d be a viable business,” Edward said. “If we could get people to the winery, we could send them downtown.”

And it worked. The wine got rave reviews, especially a peach chardonnay that impressed a California doctor so much, that after tasting it at a Charlotte wedding, he came to Carolina Mist to make a special order.

“He said, ‘I absolutely loved it,’ he said, ‘Ship every bottle here to California,’” Carolyn said.

Customers from far-off places like Paraguay have signed the winery’s two guest log books, but for the Campbells, the main joy hasn’t been the visitors from afar, it has been the locals – especially the merchants.

“The main thing is all the wonderful acquaintances,” Carolyn said, adding that all the downtown merchants are close, and that the two will “miss everybody so very, very much.”

Carolina Mist will stay open on Fridays and Saturdays until all the inventory is sold.

Last Saturday, a loyal customer came in to get their last taste of Carolina Mist, buying five cases at one time. Later, two more customers came in, and when they heard the winery was closing, bought four cases.

“Saturday was just a bonus,” Carolyn said. “I just want to say that we so appreciate all of our customers, and (we’re) so pleased to be a part of the downtown.”

The pair hopes that someone can step in and keep the winery open after they leave.

"If somebody walked in and said, 'I want to take it over,' they could," Carolyn Cambell said.

Across the street, the previously vacant upstairs of Highland Coffee House, owned by Don McDonald, now is home to the studio of Charlie Frye. Frye and McDonald said they hope the move will be mutually beneficial, each bringing new customers to the other and splitting some costs.

Now, parents dropping off kids to Frye’s art classes can grab a cup of coffee, and customers coming in for a morning dose of caffeine can browse Frye’s work.

The upstairs room, which looks out over Main Street, has a special connection for Frye, who showed his first artwork as a professional, full-time artist in the very same space nearly a decade ago, when the coffee shop was Java Joe’s.

Even before the move, Highland Coffee featured some of Frye's work on the walls.

“From day one, I’ve always shown his paintings,” McDonald said.

At a time when many businesses are struggling, businesses need to pull together and survive, McDonald said.

“We rely on people’s nonessential spending,” Frye said. “In a bad economy, that’s the hardest thing to maintain. We’ve got to keep what we do relevant – that’s the most important thing.”