By Connie Denney

What nightlife?

Well, a few nights before Christmas characters of the sacred observance—Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus, shepherds, kings, guiding stars, four-legged creatures—led the candlelight Nativity Parade walking on Main Street to the steps of First Baptist Church. Candle bearers lined the street, falling in to make up the group gathered for the outdoor manger scene and brief service.

This most recent project of RISE Erwin was supported by community churches and individuals.  It brought folks to a well-lighted, decorated downtown.

This bringing together seems to be at least a part of what the organization, which stands for Rejuvenate, Invest, Support and Energize, is about. President Jamie Rice explains that it started over a year ago just after CSX left. Members tend to be folks who have been away and come back, entrepreneurs, professionals, who love the community and see it as the best place to live. They are aged 25-40 mostly, but that’s not required.

The mission statement:  We will collaborate and advocate for a sustainable future-focused community.

When I asked how its projects—many of which center on events downtown—reflect the visioning/planning process organizers went through, Jamie referred to the RISE message, noting, “Every detail and event we are involved with is with these thoughts in mind.  We feel that downtowns are the heartbeat of every community and we are focusing on that…..”  She offered that “a vibrant and livable downtown“ benefits all.  “We want the outside world to see Erwin as an authentic Appalachian experience with an outdoorsy, healthy, active lifestyle. We are on the edge of it all.”  She drew attention to the river and Appalachian Trail, along with proximity to Asheville and the Tri-Cities.

She’s quick to point out the appeal of small, locally-owned businesses.  Further, she’s prepared to give statistics showing a greater percentage of revenue benefiting the local economy when money is spent in locally-owned businesses rather than chain stores.

So, what’s next?  RISE sees building on successes from last year, such as the farmers’ market and outdoor festival.  “RISE also wants to build relationships with existing industries and support them with their needs.  Example, one leading company has expressed interest in getting new hires plugged into the community.  This helps them with retaining their personnel and less employee turnover.  We are very excited about this possibility.”

The passion to do what needs to be done is illustrated in the story of Jamie and Kristin Anders, co-owners of The Bramble, an event venue on Gay Street.  They have something at stake—always a motivator!!

Although their husbands were best friends growing up here, Jamie and Kristin first met at Kristin’s wedding.  “We became fast friends, and God started our path together when she and I worked together in the building industry in Asheville about nine years ago.”  Both lived in Unicoi County and commuted.  “When we started having kids, we knew we needed something closer.”

Sharing an entrepreneurial spirit and a can-do attitude, they saw the A. R. Brown Building, their current business site, as a “once glorious structure on the verge of collapse.”  So with the support of their husbands, they started the renovation process.  “It took two years, but I think our dedication to historic accuracy and eye for detail paid off.”