By Dave Ongie
When Gregory Isbell decided to rejuvenate a building in the heart of Johnson City’s retail district, it wasn’t the most cost-effective move he could have made.
Overhauling the property – which had been quietly slipping into a state of disrepair for years – required a tremendous financial investment, one that could only be made by someone deeply rooted in the community. There were more economic options on the table, at least in the short term, but Isbell had his eye on the potential long-term returns for both his business and the community he calls home.
“I’m certainly not going anywhere, so we were willing to make that investment and know it’s going to be a two-way street,” Isbell said. “It’s going to serve the customer well, but hopefully it will benefit us in the long run also. We plan on being here for a long time.”
Those who live by the “Shop Local” mantra will cite the renovated building that now houses Gregory Isbell Jewelers as Exhibit A in the argument that money spent at local businesses is reinvested in the community, which benefits everybody. Since 2010, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed “Small Business Saturday,” a move that received a resolution of support that sailed unanimously through the U.S. Senate in 2011.
While Black Friday tends to send shoppers flocking to big box stores and Cyber Monday draws folks to their computer screens in search of savings, Small Business Saturday is designed to provide people with a rich, rewarding shopping experience that can only be found at a locally owned and operated business.
Despite the popularity of online shopping, Isbell is adamant that there is no algorithm that can supplant a personal relationship.
“I preach this – the Internet doesn’t service,” Isbell said. “If you buy something from me and you have a problem or an issue, you can walk right through my front door and we can resolve that issue right away. That’s the whole premise behind the relationship – we want to treat our customers the way we want to be treated.”
In the same way that Isbell and his family have strong ties to Johnson City, Joel Conger and his family are deeply rooted in Historic Jonesborough. Conger spent years on the road as a traveling salesman before purchasing Mauk’s of Jonesborough, where he has cultivated a laidback shopping experience underpinned by excellent customer service.
“It’s the people that make it,” Conger said of the atmosphere he’s tried to create at Mauk’s. “If you don’t have the right employees, you’re not going to make it, and we have the right ones.”
When Small Business Saturday rolls around, Jonesborough will be transformed into Whoville as Main Street is enveloped in Christmas activities that will culminate with a tree lighting that evening. Conger said his business has participated in Small Business Saturday since the beginning, as have the other shops in Jonesborough.
Conger takes note of the folks who find their way into Mauk’s after battling the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, and he takes pride in the oasis his store offers.
“You’re not in a hurry, you’re not pushed, you don’t have somebody grabbing something out of your hand,” Conger said. “It’s just a hometown feeling.”