Lewisburg looks at its heart…And finds a pulse

Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Photo by Greg Lowe Ron and Rita Maggi work on the face of their building at 214 West Commerce, now the home of Tone Fitness Studio.

Take a walk around the Lewisburg Square and you might see that it is a shell of its former self with empty buildings and building fronts showing age and decay. But take a closer look and you might find that the heart of Lewisburg is still beating and yearning to return to its former glory.

It is with these contrasts in mind that the Lewisburg Community Development Board began discussions on creating an organization that will focus solely on revitalization around the square. Community Development Board Chairman Edmund Roberts called on former JECDB Director Jamie Stitt, now working with the State Economic and Community Development Office, to help organize a first meeting. Stitt brought in Michelle Williams, Director of the Tennessee Leadership Center, to serve as moderator for the meeting and consultant on the process of creating an alliance of business owners, property owners, officials and anyone interested in reviving the Lewisburg Square. Forty to 50 concerned citizens filled the chamber at Lewisburg City Hall for that first meeting on June 3 to air their grievances, illustrate the challenges facing the square, and voice their hope and willingness that the square can be the healthy heart of the city once again.

There were already believers. Some were business owners who have been selling their wares on the square for decades. Some were developers looking to invest in the buildings and businesses on the square and others were new businesses looking to move forward from the center of town.

Beverly Brown of The Bee Hive made the move to the square after working up her business for the past five years and things could not be going better for her.

"We've had a lot more walk-ins since moving to the square," Brown said.

Brown started her embroidery and monogram business in her home 4 years ago before setting up her first shop last year next to the bowling alley on West Commerce. Five months ago, she started looking to the square and found a building next to the Dixie Theatre.

"We made the move because we felt we could be seen," Brown said. "And being next to the Dixie Theatre gives us a good landmark to reference for people."

"Things are definitely better here on the square," said Kelli Jo Fuller, Brown's daughter and right-hand, well, daughter.

The building on the square is allowing The Bee Hive to look toward growing their business through the internet with space in the back perfect for shipping to far-away places. They still will provide service to walk-in customers on the square and they will still host Home Shows where sales consultants from Lewisburg, Chapel Hill and Shelbyville provide samples of the many custom-made items The Bee Hive creates.

"When we get our website up and running, we will be able to ship our custom-made embroidery or monogrammed items anywhere in the world," Brown said.

Another newcomer to the square is looking to get you Tone. Leslie Wiser is a certified personal trainer who's been teaching fitness for more than five years. Best known for her classes at the Lewisburg Recreation Center, Wiser made the move to the Lewisburg Square on June 1 and business is healthier than ever.

"I knew I needed a place and wanted to get out on my own," Wiser said.

Fortunately, Ron and Rita Maggi had just the spot at 214 West Commerce, right down from the Tennessee Technology Center. The couple saw potential in a couple of buildings on the square and right away spruced up the building at 214 West Commerce. Several tenants looked at the building but were not sold on the location until Wiser came along. Now, three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Wiser can be found huffing and puffing to the beat along with a full class of fitness junkies looking to keep themselves in tone.

"I have a lot of newcomers since moving to the square," Wiser said. "It's very surprising."

Cecilia McLean of Your Wedding, Your Way is also making a move, albeit a short one, to the square. Her shop of wedding apparel and accessories has been doing quite well just off the square on 2nd Avenue but she will soon be right in the thick of the square in the former Lewisburg Jewelry building. Not exactly a newcomer, McLean is also hoping better visibility on the square will mean better business and her new building will provide a great store front to show off her wedding dresses and other apparel.

It seems the visibility of being on the square is paying off for The Bee Hive, Tone Fitness Studio and soon Your Wedding, Your Way. The hope is that more stores and businesses on the square will catch on to the trend.

The Bee Hive, Tone Fitness Studio and Your Wedding, Your Way represent the goal of the organizational meeting coming up on July 22 at 5:30 p.m. in Lewisburg City Hall. Business and property owners around the square along with officials and interested citizens are encouraged to attend this meeting and help shape the organization that will focus solely on revitalizing the square. One day, the organization hopes to become a full-fledged Main Street Program; but in the meantime, the group hopes their efforts will give the Lewisburg Square a healthier, more attractive face from the beautiful buildings to the hustle and bustle of people doing business downtown.