Bristol’s State Street closes reopening gap
As Blackbird Bakery owner Randall Perkins watched businesses on the Tennessee side of Bristol’s State Street reopen after mandatory coronavirus shutdowns in April, he wondered why Virginia’s state government didn’t allow Bristol, Virginia, businesses to reopen then too – especially given the fact that the city only logged four COVID-19 cases as of mid-June.
The heart of downtown Bristol is home to more than 150 businesses, and State Street marks the Virginia-Tennessee state line. Normally, that division isn’t very apparent, but it became much more noticeable in April and May as Tennessee restaurants began welcoming customers back into dining rooms and Virginia restaurants were still limited to takeout and delivery.
“Many Virginia businesses reopened later than those in Tennessee … which did result in Tennessee businesses being busier than their Virginia counterparts,” says Perkins, whose business falls on the Virginia side. “Upon reopening, sales at Blackbird are down significantly.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s phased reopening began April 27, but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t launch Phase One of his “Forward Virginia” reopening plan until May 15.
Not every Tennessee business took advantage of the early reopening, however.
“We’re definitely in a unique situation right now,” says Spence Flagg, owner of Cascade Draft House in Bristol, Tennessee. Flagg is taking a cautious approach to reopening after hearing that another local restaurant closed one day after reopening because an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
“Just because we can [reopen] doesn’t mean we should,” Flagg says. “We could have opened right when the governor said we could, but we … wanted to see how it played out. We didn’t want to be the experiment.”
Now that restrictions against indoor dining and retail shopping also were relaxed in Virginia, “that is going to be fabulous for State Street as a whole,” says Kimberly Christner, president and CEO of Cornerstone Hospitality, which owns and operates The Sessions Hotel.
Located on the Virginia side of State Street, the hotel named after the city’s famed birth-of-country music recording sessions pushed its grand opening from April 1 to June 29. With Virginia reopening for business, The Sessions Hotel has seen an uptick in bookings for July, August and September.
“Everyone is ready to get out and travel,” Christner says. “We’re just primed right now for those travelers who are looking for some experiences outside of their home.”