By Dave Ongie, News Editor
All things considered, business was steady last Friday morning at Batteries Plus Bulbs, which is located on Peoples Street.
A steady stream of customers trickled through the door in search of specific batteries, light bulbs and other unique electronic items that are either unavailable or hard to find at your average home improvement or department store. Chase Buchanan, store manager of Batteries Plus Bulbs, said serving a niche market has helped his store weather the vacancy of the property that once housed the Super K-Mart that anchored the cluster of businesses along that particular stretch of Peoples Street.
“We’ve seen the traffic fall off, but where we’re a specialty shop, we still get a lot of regular customers and a lot of regular business,” Buchanan said before glancing across Peoples Street at the construction work being done at the former K-Mart property. “But I think that with the addition of everything going in here across the street, that will definitely help pull in a new customer base into the store and into all the shops here.”
Earlier in the week, a new sign with the name Johnson City Center was raised on the old K-Mart Property, which is currently being redeveloped by Blackwater Resources, a real estate development company located in Birmingham, Alabama. The new sign did not have a list of tenants, but it has been confirmed that Hobby Lobby and At Home will fill two of the three anchor spots inside the existing building on the property, and outparcels are expected to be constructed to accommodate additional businesses.
While the new development is expected to have a positive impact on businesses along Peoples Street, members of the Johnson City Board of Commissioners expect the redevelopment of the property to also help Johnson City as a whole. Commissioner John Hunter described the location as a “gateway property” since it is highly visible to those passing through Johnson City on Interstate 26, and he also touted the potential for increased revenues to go along with the improved aesthetics the new development will provide.
“It’s great to see that we’re seeing development and redevelopment in Johnson City,” Hunter said. “It improves the property tax values, which in turn increases funding without costing individuals more through a tax increase.”
Vice Mayor Joe Wise added that the property caught the eyes of several retail businesses looking to locate to Johnson City in recent years.
“As other retailers would come to town, that was the spot they had interest in because it was so accessible and visible,” Wise said.
With construction of the Johnson City Center underway, the City of Johnson City has made a substantial investment in improving the accessibility of all the businesses located along Peoples Street. Workers are busy adding additional lanes at the intersection of Peoples Street and Greenline Road to help ease frequent congestion that has been a problem even after the departure of K-Mart. A red light will replace the four-way stop that has been a staple of the intersection since the property was first developed.
While other areas have struggled to retain and attract retail business, Johnson City has managed to maintain a reasonably healthy retail sector. Wise said that has created positive momentum that aids in attracting new retailers.
“When the Mall is full and stores are open, that leads to a level of dynamic commerce that feeds each business,” he said. “So I think that’s part of it, and I think that’s what is exciting about At Home, Hobby Lobby and the outparcels.”