Young entrepreneurs keep downtown thriving


By Eva Queen - [email protected]



Ben Webb, left, owner of Old North State Winery, and Luke Morrison, owner of The Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, spoke at a Millennial Panel Discussion during the North Carolina Main Street Conference earlier this year in Morganton.


Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

Luke Butcher is pictured upon announcing plans to open Granite City Brews earlier this year.


Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

Lizzie Morrison, owner of Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, teaches a class in her studio.


Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s an old saying, but an apt description of the downtown businesses that help drive the Mount Airy economy. Entrepreneurs have always seemed to be the reason the downtown region has thrived throughout the years.

While it’s common to sometimes think of a time when downtowns were often filled with small, locally owned businesses at a golden age, today may rival those bygone days when it comes to local entrepreneurs helping to drive the area economy. Recently, Lizzie Morrison, Main Street coordinator with Mount Airy Downtown (MAD) Inc., said there were 20 millennial entrepreneurs running businesses in Mount Airy.

Luke Morrison, Lizzie Morrison’s husband and owner of the Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, is one. He said he feels as though a lot of entrepreneurs are driven by the local job market.

“It used to be when you got out of high school you had 10 jobs waiting on you, now you have a thousand people competing for those same 10 jobs.”

Morrison, a graduate from Auburn University, said he feels flexibility is also a huge reason why opening a business is the route to take among the millennial generation.

“Seeing the importance of a work-life balance and the long-term affects it can have on your family, and possibly realizing that life isn’t about killing yourself at work.” expressed Morrison.

He said he and his wife decided to start their business in Mount Airy after realizing the people of the community didn’t really have a place they could come and create art, even though there was a need — they discovered after visiting different venues who were offering classes.

Lizzie Morrison said she felt as though Mount Airy was a less intimidating, as well as a friendly, area to start a business.

Luke Butcher, co-owner of Granite City Brewery, agreed with Morrison.

Having graduated from Appalachian State in 2014, he thought Mount Airy needed the brewery as a way to explore a different type of culture and broaden the palate of his customers.

Butcher stated it wasn’t just a younger crowd as he anticipated, but a much more mixed crowd who frequents his store.

“I felt like our community really had a need for my business so that Mount Airy didn’t get left behind with bigger towns like Boone or Asheville as tourist destinations. We need to adapt and prosper,” Butcher said.

“We have continuously received requests for a bottle shop and/or tap room in the downtown area, so Granite City Brews has really filled a niche that was wide open in downtown,” said Jessica Johnson, general manager for the Mount Airy Visitors Center.

The idea behind most of the entrepreneurs was to do just what Butcher had said, adapt and prosper as a community to the growing needs of the people.

“Tourism is a vital part of our economy in Surry County, thousands of visitors come here and spend the money they earned elsewhere, and the majority of that money stays right here in our area,”Johnson said.

Jordan Brannock has been a photographer for more than a decade, but about three years ago decided to start her own downtown business, Jordan Brannock Photography.

Brannock said “Mount Airy is such a welcoming community, I just felt as that I would be greeted with open arms; I am so thankful that was the case.”

“Creating your own business, although overwhelming, can be quite rewarding. I love to see new businesses and new creative minds enhancing downtown. Its easy to play it safe. I think taking chances and bringing a new, fresh idea is always the way to go,” she said.

Ben Webb, left, owner of Old North State Winery, and Luke Morrison, owner of The Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, spoke at a Millennial Panel Discussion during the North Carolina Main Street Conference earlier this year in Morganton.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/web1_Mount-Airy-Millennials.jpgBen Webb, left, owner of Old North State Winery, and Luke Morrison, owner of The Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, spoke at a Millennial Panel Discussion during the North Carolina Main Street Conference earlier this year in Morganton. Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

Luke Butcher is pictured upon announcing plans to open Granite City Brews earlier this year.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/web1_Luke-Butcher.jpgLuke Butcher is pictured upon announcing plans to open Granite City Brews earlier this year. Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

Lizzie Morrison, owner of Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, teaches a class in her studio.
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/web1_Entrepeneur.jpgLizzie Morrison, owner of Blue Rabbit Art Gallery, teaches a class in her studio. Submitted photos | Lizzie Morrison

By Eva Queen

[email protected]

Reach Eva Queen at (336) 415-4739 or [email protected]

Reach Eva Queen at (336) 415-4739 or [email protected]

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