Local couple plans to bring taproom to downtown Elizabethton; must wait on city council vote

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Right now, it is a waiting game for Elizabethton’s Cheri Thomas Tinney and Michael Howell.
The young married couple is in the process of opening up Riverside Taphouse, a business that will be located in Downtown Elizabethton and will serve locally brewed beers along with other locally made teas and coffees. The establishment will not prepare and serve food but will have local food trucks on hand as well as menus to Jiggy Ray’s Pizzeria, which is located nearby. The couple also said they hope to have locally made bread and chips available.
“We are a young couple that is getting started in their lives together,” said Tinney. “We can’t afford to open up a restaurant and a tap house at the same time, but we can take the chance at this point in our lives to open up an alehouse.
“We want to support others local businesses too, such as food trucks, and it doesn’t feel like we have that space here in Carter County,” added Tinney.
The two entrepreneurs have a business space on the corner of East Elk Avenue and North Riverside Drive and are in the process of renovations. The couple, however, has hit a roadblock. Before they can move forward and open, the Elizabethton City Council must approve the second reading of an ordinance change that would allow for pub bars to operate in the city limits. Pub bars, also called tap rooms or taverns, only sell fermented alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and cider — but no liquor. So in contrast to a place like Applebees which serves liquor, beers, and food. A pub bar would only sell beers, wines, and ciders while not serving food.
The council was originally scheduled to vote on the second reading during October’s meeting but voted to defer the vote.
Individuals for the ordinance change, such as Tinney and Howell and as well as people against the change believed that the vote would happen during Thursday’s council meeting, but the item is not listed on the meeting’s agenda. This came as a surprise to Tinney and Howell, who are planning a March opening.
“We were disheartened during last month’s meeting,” said Tinney about the outcome of October’s meeting. “We feel that all of the things that were said (against the ordinance change) were by a specific population in the community. We were looking very forward to having the opportunity to show the other side of that this month. We found out last night when it was posted online that this was not going up for a vote.”
What’s the holdup?
According to Elizabethton City Mayor Curt Alexander, the council wanted more time to consider the details of the ordinance change.
“Since the last meeting we haven’t had the chance to get together as a council,” said Alexander. “At the end of the day, what we need is something that works for everybody. At the last meeting, it was obvious that we didn’t have the ordinance one hundred percent the way we want it. Because there were still quite a few questions.
“We wanted to let Jon Hartman, our planning director, tweak it a little bit,” added Alexander.  “We want to take input from people like Joe Alexander who got up and spoke and put that together in an ordinance so that we can, hopefully, get most of what everybody wanted into that ordinance. “
Elizabethton’s Joe Alexander spoke during October’s meeting and said the ordinance should include wording that would relegate the drinking of alcoholic beverages to the inside of the businesses that serve them and off the city sidewalks.
Ordinance change passed its first reading 5-1.
They want to make change
Howell and Tinney met while traveling the country, and it was during their travels that they noticed that micro-breweries and other business like the one they are wanting to open made positive changes in communities. The couple said they hope that their taphouse could do the same for Elizabethton.
“It can help with economic development,” said Howell. “It can also help with community development. That’s what we hope to be apart of down here. We are just one business, but we hope to see a lot more come to downtown.”
Tinney, who started the Elizabethton Farmer’s Market a couple years back, said she hopes their taphouse can be a way to promote other local businesses like food trucks, which she believes doesn’t have a good platform in Carter County and Elizabethton. The couple also said they hope to create a place for people to mingle and hang out while complimenting businesses like Jiggy Ray’s which is located nearby.
Howell and Tinney believe that since the ordinance change references tap rooms as pub bars that businesses like the one they want to open are getting a bad wrap. They said people are confusing the “bar” part of pub bars and are thinking they will bring in rowdy, drunk crowds to downtown. Tinney, however, said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Seeing the word bar is what is causing some people to have negative feelings,” said Tinney. “When you are spending a minimum of five dollars on a beer, how many are you going to buy? How long is it going to take you to consume them? Nothing that we want to do is malicious.”
In Roan Mountain, resident David Magee recently opened the Station at 19E, which can be considered a pub bar. The Station at 19E offers many activities such as trivia nights, open mic nights and live music. Howell and Tinney said they would love to bring something like that to downtown Elizabethton.
Tonight, Jiggy Ray’s Pizzeria will be hosting a support rally for Riverside Taphouse from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Jiggy Ray’s has also put together a petition supporting taprooms in Elizabethton and have collected roughly 300 signatures.
Not everyone is on board
While the ordinance change has its supporters it also has its opponents. Dennis Wilson has been the pastor at Lynn Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethton for 18 years, and he recently encouraged his congregation to attend council meetings and to speak against allowing taprooms to operate in town.
“It is still a bar no matter how you put it,” said Wilson. “I told the city council that last month. We don’t need that in downtown Elizabethton. We have a beautiful city. We have wonderful people in the city. All this will do is bring people in that want to drink.
“I personally don’t think we need that,” added Wilson. “I don’t want to see our city turn from something beautiful to something dirty and nasty. I’m sure the argument on the other side is that they are not going to make something nasty. They don’t intend to, I know that. But someone who comes there to drink is there for a purpose.”

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