Student describes Commerce Farms’ impact

By Xavier Smith

Wilson Central High School students, staff, parents and administrators are working on a possible solution to keep an access point to a large industrial development off the school’s only access road.

Wilson Central student Preston George, the school’s student school board representative, updated the Wilson County school board Monday on talks between school officials, school board and school district representatives and developers on the issue.

The Commerce Farms distribution center will be 652,00 square feet and feature 116 truck docks, two drive-in doors and a parking lot for 84 trailers and 257 cars. The access point on Wildcat Way would be available to about 60 employees.

“The largest concern we have as a school is they’re putting an entrance on Wildcat Way. This is an issue because we already have traffic issues because that light at [State Route 109] is the only access point for students, faculty and staff to get into the building,” George said.

The Wildcat Way access point would be about 50 yards from the traffic light.

George said based on conversations with personnel with the Lebanon Planning Department, state law allows the development to feature an access road on Wildcat Way because the property backs up to a city or county road.

George said, however, the group has sought other alternatives to alleviate potential congestion and reduce safety hazards.

He said one of those options included extending Wildcat Way through property adjacent to Connect Church, which currently sits at the end of Wildcat Way. George said that plan was likely not feasible due to grading costs due to hills on the property.

However, George said the parties also discussed taking any excess rock from blasting and use it as a road that would access Wilson Central near its baseball field, which could be used during games and other events.

George also discussed the project’s traffic impact study, which showed the peak access times for employees would be between 6:30-8:30 a.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m.

“Those p.m. hours are not necessarily going to affect us unless we have a basketball or football game. Our primary concern is the morning peak hours,” George said.

George said the Lebanon Planning Department has tried to improve traffic and safety issues on Wildcat Way, but has not been able to find a feasible option.

“We’re working together to find common ground where we all three can benefit,” George said.

Wilson County Board of Education member Tom Sottek has been involved in the conversations and said although one access point will likely be on Wildcat Way, the primary entrance would be through Franklin Road.

“They also have the option to go the other entrance, as well. The expectation is, more than likely, they will adjust,” Sottek said.

Chamber updates businesses

By Xavier Smith

Mt. Juliet and Wilson County leaders discussed several aspects of business and development Friday during the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce development meeting.

Dennis Buchanan, Mt. Juliet public affairs director, Mt. Juliet commissioners Brian Abston and Ray Justice, Rep. Susan Lynn, Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development director G.C. Hixson and Wilson County Tourism Director Jenny Bennett updated business leaders on developments and trends.

“We’re meeting every day with several people who are wanting to come to Mt. Juliet. Our biggest problem is finding locations,” Buchanan said.

“We are seeing some issue with some brick-and-mortar buildings because the e-commerce is making a difference right now. Amazon is busting at the seams. People might go look at what they want to order online, but they don’t buy it in the store. We’re starting to see that, and to be honest, I’m worried about that.”

Hixson said Buchanan described a new trend called last-minute distribution, which means consumers order online and pick up at stores, or purchase at stores and have items delivered to their homes.

“What I see is some of your big boxes becoming less retail sales but more of that last-minute distribution – Uber drivers delivering things, drones someday possibly,” Hixson said. “We see some of those trends going on.”

Justice and Abston discussed business in Mt. Juliet, including HH Gregg, which recently announced it filed for bankruptcy and would close its Providence store.

“It’s such a great location, and I know a lot of people are already looking at that, so somebody will probably go in that real quick,” said Abston, who said he was told Gander Mountain and J.C. Penney would remain open despite recent reports of financial troubles.

“Like a lot of the places in the Providence area, they’re some of the top performing in the country, so those two are safe for now,” he said.

Justice said he is working with city and state officials to bring more sidewalks to the north side of town. He said he has inquired about the possibility of including the sidewalks with state projects.

Bennett introduced herself to the crowd and described her purpose as tourism director, which she became earlier this year. She previously worked for Cracker Barrel’s home office and has lived Wilson County resident for 15 years.

She said she sees the potential for tourism growth in Wilson County, especially with its proximity to Nashville and major highways.

“I just feel like the sky is the limit. We have a lot of opportunity here. I have some big audacious goals and plans, and I’m excited for the future. I feel like we have a lot to offer, and I can’t wait to tell our guests all about it,” Bennett said.

Mt. Juliet’s Providence Marketplace sells for $114 million

Providence Marketplace in Mt. Juliet recently sold for $114.7 million, but city leaders expect little changes to the dominant shopping center.

Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust recently acquired the 830,000-square-foot shopping center and will look to build on the property’s positive aspects and potential growth in the area.

Providence Marketplace features Target, Kroger, T.J. Maxx/Home Goods, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ross Dress for Less and Regal Cinema, as well as 127,000 square feet of restaurants, service uses and specialty retailers.

Ramco-Gershenson officials said they believed the potential future growth in the area would “provide the catalyst to expand and densify the shopping center,” according to a release from the company.

The acquisition makes Providence the Michigan-based company’s first shopping center in the Nashville area, which aligns with the group’s self-described long-term goal of investing in regional dominant centers in large trade areas that are part of high-growth areas.

The company also reported the Providence trade area is expected to grow by 12 percent in the next five years, while the Nashville area is projected to grow by 9.5 percent.

Mt. Juliet led the way with the highest amount of sales tax collections among Wilson County cities with $2.49 million collected in January, an increase of about $800,000 compared to December and $140,000 more than the same time as a year ago. Collections typically run a month behind, so January’s revenues reflect holiday spending from December. Mt. Juliet took the lead in collections in January after unseating Lebanon, which held the top position for several years.

The company reported Providence Marketplace is 98 percent leased.

Mt. Juliet Commissioner Brian Abston, who represents the area, said the acquisition would have minimal impact on residents and shoppers.

“I believe it will be business as usual,” Abston said. “I think as far as the vendors there and in regards to the city, I don’t think it has any change or effect.”

Abston said based on meetings, he believed Ramco-Gershenson would actually make some enhancements to the property.

“I think they’re looking to make some enhancements to the facility and do some nice things that make the area more attractive to everybody,” he said.

As of Dec. 31, Ramco-Gershenson owned interests in and managed 65 shopping centers and two joint ventures, and held a 94.4 percent lease rate on those properties.

For more information, visit

By Xavier Smith

Burger Republic to open this week

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News Burger Republic, which opens Thursday, is the newest addition to Providence Station.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Burger Republic, which opens Thursday, is the newest addition to Providence Station.

Commercial Realty Services, a Mt. Juliet-based developer, announced Burger Republic will open this week in its Providence Station development at 1982 Providence Pkwy. in Mt. Juliet.

Construction was completed Monday, and the restaurant will be open to the public Thursday.

Providence Station is Mt. Juliet’s first mixed-use development with about 45,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and commercial office space with a modern urban design. Providence Station is expected to bring crowds to the Mt. Juliet area.

“We are thrilled to bring a great locally owned and operated neighborhood restaurant to Mt. Juliet,” said Ken Powers, founder and owner of CRS. “Burger Republic is a great example of the type of unique tenants we hope to attract through the Providence Station development.”

Burger Republic has a 4,000-square-feet corner storefront on the first-floor level of the first phase of Providence Station. This is the third location for Burger Republic, which was founded in Nashville and is only available in the Nashville area. The original, hometown concept is best known for its gourmet burgers, American craft beer selection and handspun milkshakes available spiked and non-alcoholic.

Other retail tenants in Providence Station include Three Dog Bakery and Bank of Tennessee. There is about 8,400 square feet of office space available to rent on the second floor, able to accommodate tenants from larger companies to single office units. The second phase of Providence Station will begin development in the fall.

Burger Republic was created to provide the best-tasting burgers and beverages at an affordable price. To make the perfect burger, Burger Republic starts with 100-percent fresh certified Angus beef that is hand-formed into a patty and cooked to order on a flattop grill to sear in the flavor. The beef is ground using a combination of cuts, brisket, chuck and short rib. Local and regional products play a key role in the line-up to further the “better burger” experience, such as Benton’s bacon and Charpier’s brioche buns.

For non-beef eaters, other sandwich possibilities include an all-natural ground turkey burger, an Ahi tuna burger, all-natural chicken breast fillet and a savory vegetarian patty made in-house with red beans. Burgers and sandwiches are paired with a hearty side. Selections include crisp tater tots, French fries, homemade chips and creamy mac and cheese topped with Benton’s bacon. Lighter options include mixed salad greens and vegetable of the day. Several entrée salads round out the menu.

Beverages receive special treatment at Burger Republic, which offers 30 rotating craft beers on tap from America’s best brewers, as well as more than 25 milkshakes – handspun in both spiked and non-alcoholic concoctions.

The first Burger Republic opened May 23, 2012 in the Lenox Village Town Center development, just off Nolensville Road in southern Davidson County. The second location opened Jan. 23, 2014 in the Pine Street Flats building in the Gulch area of downtown Nashville.

Burger Republic is the 2014 and 2015 winner of Nashville’s Battle of the Burger competition, earning a spot in at the World Food Championships. In 2014, Burger Republic placed fifth overall in the burger category of the WFC.

To learn more about Burger Republic, visit

Staff Reports

Industrial Tube & Steel opens new location in Mt. Juliet


KENT, Ohio – Industrial Tube & Steel Corp., a leader in the metalworking industry, kicked off operations at a 40,000-square-feet metal servicing facility in Mt. Juliet.

The new location allows ITS to service businesses in Tennessee, southern Kentucky and northern Alabama.

ITS specializes in supplying custom-cut metals, structural and mechanical tubing and continuous cast iron bar, plate and tube to machine shops, fabricators, OEMs and other manufacturers. The family owned and operated business has served the Midwest for more than 60 years.

Richard B. Siess, company president, said he believes businesses in the expanded service areas will see a significant benefit from working with ITS locally.

“We are known for providing quick turnaround on non-standard sizes, and this location will allow us to offer the same unique service to new clients,” said Siess. “The industries we serve often operate on tight margins, so they don’t like to order a lot of stock to keep on hand. That means our ability to offer fast turnarounds and our extensive stock are very valuable to them.”

ITS has experienced steady growth in the last several years, moving from an older facility in Akron, Ohio, to a new 115,000-square-foot headquarters in Kent, Ohio in 2009. In 2013, they expanded to a new 80,000-square-foot facility in West Chester, Ohio, to better serve the Cincinnati/Dayton market. The company also regularly invests in high-tech machinery and new equipment to improve and expand its capabilities, recently adding a Nishijimax CNC cold saw for production cutting, a HE&M saw capable of cutting up to 26 inches in diameter, a new Amada billet/plate saw for cutting large blocks of continuous cast iron and several deburring machines.

ITS has already started investing in new equipment for the Mt. Juliet location, adding two saws with cutting capabilities up to 22 inches in diameter.

“We are a tight-knit family business,” said Damon Gaynor, vice president of sales. “So building personal relationships with our customers is very important to us. We like to get to know them and to understand their needs and their challenges. It is exciting to see how they take our raw material and turn it into their own unique product, so I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to learn from a whole new base of customers.”

For more information about Industrial Tube & Steel Corp., visit

Staff Reports

Development group updates projects in Wilson County

At newly elected Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash’s first Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board executive committee meeting, committee members brought him up to speed on several new and existing projects across the county.

“We’re glad to have Mayor Ash here with us and look forward to working with you for many years,” said Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings, an executive committee member.

JECDB executive director G.C. Hixson said the office’s pace had slowed lately but should pick up soon.

“It’s slowed down a bit this month as far as prospects, but that gives us a chance to catch up and clean up a bit,” Hixson said.

One new project, however, would be a big boost if it located in Wilson County, committee members said. The project, dubbed “Project Renewal,” would involve a headquarters building to house 700 employees with expansion ability of up to 1,000 at the same facility. The company estimates about a $58 million investment and seeks workforce skills, proximity to a good commercial airport, training resources, incentive support and lower long-term costs versus its current site. Other soft factors would include the ability to attract and retain a professional staff.

Hixson said the project would mean several white-collar jobs, which was attractive to the committee.

“That’s like a new Cracker Barrel coming to town,” he said.

Hixson said Project Renewal is in the early stages of its search and was likely looking at several areas across the U.S.

The committee also discussed an existing project, which is the proposed Sparta Pike Industrial Park.

The Lebanon City Council approved rezoning for the potential industrial park on second reading in December.

The property between Cainsville Road and Sparta Pike and south of Interstate 40 has Tennessee Valley Authority lines running through it and railroad tracks beside it, which city officials have called a prime location for advanced manufacturing jobs.

The two pieces of property, owned by the Shaffer and Edwards families, equals about 330 acres, and the industrial park would be a Lebanon-Wilson County joint venture. The park would alleviate some growth issues with securing land for potential developments.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he recommended an extension to buy the land until the end of February.

“The end of February isn’t going to be enough time,” said board attorney Bob Rochelle. “At some point, the city and county need to put forth some issuance of debt to buy the property.”

Committee members said the site would become one of only four rail service sites in the state.

“Every month, we’ve got people who say they want a rail service site,” Jennings said. “At some point, we thought this was the greatest thing, and it has since slowed to a snail’s pace. I think this is a great project for the eastern end of the county. We’ve had a lot of good things happen in the central and western parts of the county. This is really important to the eastern part of the county.”

Hutto said he planned to email Wilson County commissioners Thursday to bring them up to speed on the project to try and move it along.

Caleb Thorne, a JECDB board member, said his company was working on grading and cost analysis on the site. Rochelle said the city and county needed to come together quickly to put up money to buy the site and then apply for state grants to offset the cost.

Committee members said another extension was likely in order to buy the property, but they hoped to have a better timeline on the project when they meet in February.

By Jared Felkins

Economic injury disaster loans available in Wilson County due to drought

ATLANTA – The U.S. Small Business Administration announced recently federal economic injury disaster loans are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and private nonprofit organizations in Wilson County and across Tennessee as a result of the drought that started Oct. 4.

This disaster declaration includes Anderson, Bedford, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Cannon, Cheatham, Chester, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Coffee, Cumberland, Davidson, Decatur, DeKalb, Dickson, Fentress, Giles, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hancock, Hardin, Hawkins, Henderson, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Loudon, Macon, Marshall, Maury, McMinn, McNairy, Monroe, Montgomery, Moore, Morgan, Overton, Perry, Pickett, Putnam, Roane, Robertson, Rutherford, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Smith, Stewart, Sullivan, Sumner, Trousdale, Unicoi, Union, Van Buren, Warren, Washington, Wayne, White, Williamson and Wilson counties.

“When the secretary of agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers recover from damages and losses to crops, the Small Business Administration issues a declaration to eligible entities affected by the same disaster,” said Frank Skaggs, director of SBA’s field operations center east in Atlanta.

Under this declaration, the SBA’s economic injury disaster loan program is available to eligible farm-related and nonfarm-related entities that suffered financial losses as a direct result of this disaster. With the exception of aquaculture enterprises, SBA cannot provide disaster loans to agricultural producers, farmers, or ranchers. Nurseries are eligible to apply for economic injury disaster loans for losses caused by drought conditions.

The loan amount can be up to $2 million with interest rates of 2.625 percent for private nonprofit organizations and 4 percent for small businesses, with terms up to 30 years. The SBA determines eligibility based on the size of the applicant, type of activity and its financial resources. Loan amounts and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition. These working capital loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred. The loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.

Applicants may apply online using electronic loan application via SBA’s secure website at

Disaster loan information and application forms may also be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or by sending an email to Loan applications can be downloaded from the SBA’s website at gov/disaster. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

Completed loan applications must be returned to SBA no later than Aug. 15.

Staff Reports

Wilson jobless rate shrinks in October

Wilson County’s unemployment rate decreased slightly from September to October and remained lower than the unemployment rate from the same time a year ago.

According to figures released recently by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, October’s jobless rate was 3.9 percent, a 0.2 percent decrease from September and a 0.3 percent decrease from the same time last year.

Rates decreased in 80 counties, increased in seven and remained the same in eight counties in October. Wilson County remained the fifth lowest in the state behind Williamson, Davidson, Rutherford and Moore counties, respectively. 

Lake County had the highest jobless rate with 8 percent. 

Wilson County’s rate in September represented 2,610 unemployed workers compared to a 66,980-person workforce and does not include those who did not file with the labor department or no longer receive benefits.

Lebanon’s rate for October decreased 0.3 percent from September to 4.8 percent. The city’s rate represented 670 unemployed workers, compared to a 14,050-person labor force. 

Mt. Juliet’s rate for October also decreased 0.2 percent from August to 3.7 percent. The rate represented 590 unemployed workers compared to a 15,970-person labor force. 

By Xavier Smith

Culver’s arrives in Mt. Juliet

Submitted to The Democrat Culver’s of Mt. Juliet officially opened its doors to the public Monday at 10:30 a.m. at 35 Old Pleasant Grove Road.

Submitted to The Democrat
Culver’s of Mt. Juliet officially opened its doors to the public Monday at 10:30 a.m. at 35 Old Pleasant Grove Road.

Culver’s of Mt. Juliet officially opened its doors Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Known for its famous butter burger and creamy frozen custard, the restaurant serves fast casual food cooked-to-order. The restaurant is at 35 Old Pleasant Grove Road. Hours of operation are 10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day with the exception of a few holidays.

“We’re thrilled to bring handcrafted, high-quality meals and desserts to the community of Mt. Juliet,” said franchise owner and operator Eric Johnson. “We think it’s a wonderful area, and we are excited to become a contributing and active member of the community. General manager Autumn Holder and the restaurant team are looking forward to introducing Culver’s to Mt. Juliet.”

Johnson is no stranger to Culver’s. After coaching college football his entire life, Culver’s was an exciting change for Johnson, his wife, Patsy, their twin daughters, Jamie and Sydney, and their son, Robert. Two years ago, Johnson and his partners, Jarratt Bell and Ray Render, a native of Mt. Juliet, opened Culver’s of Hendersonville. In March, they also became owners of Culver’s of Franklin.

Johnson is a former Vanderbilt University football player and coach at the University of Iowa. He left the sports scene in early 2014 to be a partner in the Culver’s franchise.

Culver’s signature sandwich and guest-favorite, the butter burger, is made with 100 percent fresh U.S. beef made cooked-to-order and topped with a lightly buttered and toasted bun.

Culver’s fresh frozen custard gets its legendary creamy decadence from high-quality, fresh Wisconsin dairies from which every batch is crafted throughout the day. In addition to making their own creations, guests can customize their desserts with more than 30 mix-ins and toppings. Every day Culver’s offers three flavors of frozen custard, vanilla, chocolate and a flavor of the day.

The restaurant also features many other choices, including real Wisconsin cheese curds, fresh garden salads, as well as chicken and fish sandwiches and dinners. Children’s meals are also available.

“Culver’s was founded on the idea of providing excellent service and high-quality food made with the best ingredients,” said Johnson. “The outstanding people who serve our guests behind the counter have helped us earn our reputation, and we’re excited to have team members from the surrounding Mt. Juliet community as part of our team.”

The 4,300-square-foot restaurant seats around 100 people. The location has an outside patio area to hold the large expected capacity of consumers.

Staff Reports

County grapples with agritourism

The Wilson County Planning Department has found itself in recent months trying to make decisions based on loose state language that could create the same classification for Bonnaroo, a pumpkin patch and a distillery.

Agritourism, which has created an issue with Wilson County Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, came to the state’s legal forefront in 2013 as the Shore v. Maple Lane Farms case reached the state’s Supreme Court. The case involved the appropriate use of about 225 acres of farmland in Blount County.

Robert Schmidt and his family acquired the land in 1980s and began to offer public attractions on the farm to increase revenue. Between 2006 and 2008, these attractions – a multi-week festival, pumpkin patch, hayrides, antique shows, corn mazes and more – accounted for about 75 percent of the total revenue of Maple Lane Farms, according to court documents.

The activities eventually included helicopter rides and music festivals. After a neighbor’s initial letter of concern in 2007, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a majority the farms’ activities did not fall under agriculture entertainment.

In response, the state legislature passed Public Chapter No. 581 that said entertainment activities must be secondary to farm activities and other language.

The state defines agritourism activity as any activity carried out on a farm or ranch, eligible for greenbelt classification that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities or natural activities and attractions.

Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said the problem is definitions are too vague and open for interpretation.

“The problem is that agriculture is defined about four different ways, depending on where you look in the State Code Annotated,” said Brashear, who said a combination of those definitions still doesn’t clearly define agriculture.

“Where it’s started to cause problems in Wilson County is they have a definition that says entertainment shall be considered partial to agriculture and has to be secondary to, but they don’t tell us how we determine what is secondary to the agriculture operation.”

Brashear said the most logical means of determining primary and secondary income streams would be an invasion of privacy. He said the state’s broad definitions have opened the opportunity for someone to violate county zoning ordinances such as dwelling under the guise of agriculture.

“At the end of the day, I’m not, at a personal or professional level, out to get anybody who’s truly farming or out to stop anybody from making money the best way they know how as a farmer,” said Brashear. “What I am very much concerned about is people who may decide that they’re going to fall under the guise of this farming protection just so they can do what they want in spite of our local zoning.”

Brashear pointed to two Board of Zoning Appeals-Planning Commission cases in the last two months, one of which, he believes, highlights the complication in the state’s language and law regarding agritourism. He said the other, along with additional cases, was easier to determine intent.

By Xavier Smith

City tightens checks for wine sales

The Mt. Juliet City Commission on Monday passed on first reading a resolution that clarified the language that allows wine to be sold in grocery stores per state law, which went into effect July 1.

The commission previously cited specific concerns about the state’s language on convenience stores’ eligibility to sell wine, something with which they said they were not comfortable.

Commissioners agreed both Mapco and Aldi were in agreement with the law that allows merchants to sell wine whose taxable sales on food items, excluding gas, were at least 20 percent of total sales.

At Monday’s meeting, city attorney Gino Marchetti said one of the requirements was a criminal background check, but where that background check was to be applied was nearly too complex to be viable because corporations and limited liability corporations are sometimes under the umbrella of other corporations or LLCs.

“So, you can never drill down to find out who the directors are and how many directors there are, so what this amendment does is to provide that the background check be made on the managing partner, managing member, CEO and the person who is actually on site operating the business,” Marchetti said.

District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice said the complexity of who ran what seemed “like a shell game.”

In other business, commissioners also passed a resolution that would open the city up to receive donations for the Ethan Danial Page Memorial Park. Ethan Page, 5, died in a car accident in June 2013 in Mt. Juliet.

City Manager Kenny Martin said an anonymous donor previously donated the land for the park.

“We have a very sweet resident here in Mt. Juliet who was approached about two years ago about donating a piece of land to add on to our city parks system,” said Martin. “This kind individual donated 10 acres of land over off Clemmons Road.”

The property connects with E. Division Street near Mt. Juliet Road.

Martin said the person donating the land “showed up” at City Hall last week to donate $25,000 in seed money to get the park started.

“It just shows you that there are some very generous philanthropic people in our community, and in this particular case, she wished to remain anonymous,” Martin said. “This is absolutely awesome.”

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Local organization provides education, information, grants, funding for cancer research

Joanne Padgett

Joanne Padgett

Joanne Padgett lost her husband to esophageal cancer in March, and her personal loss has become her professional mission – to help fight all forms of cancer and to spread the message of hope to those affected by the disease.

To that end, Padgett, of Hermitage, formed Cancer’s Journey, an organization created to provide education, information, grant programs and help fund cancer research.

Padgett will hold a masquerade ball Oct. 22 to launch the organization. The event will be from 6:30-11 p.m. at the Mitchell House at 106 N. Castle Heights Ave. in Lebanon. Eighty-five percent of the proceeds from the event will support individuals and families who cannot afford their cancer treatment and cancer research grants, and 15 percent will be allocated to administrative costs of Cancer’s Journey.

Tickets can be purchased through for $20 per person, $35 per couple and $120 for a table of eight. The event will include buffet-style dining and a performance by the Vamperettes. Padgett is an author of vampire-themed books.

She is also a cancer survivor.

“We want to create an online community where cancer fighters can learn about various forms of cancer and find the support and encouragement that they need in their fight,” Padgett said. “Our website and organization will be less clinical and more organic. We want to help people while also supporting other cancer-focused organizations, like St. Jude, Sarah Cannon and the American Cancer Society – in finding cures for all forms of cancer.

“Our vision is to spread knowledge on cancer prevention and treatment, garner enough research funding to find cures for all forms of cancer and ensure that no family or individuals are left behind due to financial constraints for the treatment that they need in their fight.”

To understand Padgett’s persistence to form and make the organization a success, someone has to understand the love story that started the journey. The story of her and her late husband, Raymond, is one for the books.

On a brisk morning in New York City, Joanne was walking down Fifth Avenue, as usual, rushing to work when Raymond literally knocked her down. She got up, brushed off, a little irritated and continued on to work. Two days later, Raymond sent her 11 pink roses. She decided to meet him for dinner that evening, and when she arrived, there he stood with a single white rose. 

Raymond said, “The first 11 pink roses were to apologize for knocking you down, but this white rose is with the hope that I can win your heart.” 

Their love story continued. He asked her to marry him for three years. She finally said yes. They were married in three separate ceremonies and were polar opposites – they complimented one another, and it just worked.

The esophageal cancer that cost her husband his life was not well publicized. Padgett feels strongly that if she and her husband had known his preliminary minor symptoms were indications of something bigger, they could have had a fighting chance to beat the disease.

“The symptoms can often seem acute but, according to, 50 percent of cancer cases are preventable with the knowledge that we have today,” she said.

“I am also a cancer survivor. Early detection saved my life, and I hope that it can save yours, too, or the life of your loved one.”

Anyone with comments or questions may connect with Padgett via Facebook, Twitter or on the organization’s website at

Staff Reports

Courtyard hotel opens in city’s mixed-use development

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News The new Courtyard by Marriott Mt. Juliet officially started accepting reservations Oct. 2 with a grand opening slated for Nov. 17.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
The new Courtyard by Marriott Mt. Juliet officially started accepting reservations Oct. 2 with a grand opening slated for Nov. 17.

Commercial Realty Services, a Mt. Juliet-based developer, announced the opening of Courtyard by Marriott Mt. Juliet in its mixed-used development off South Mt. Juliet Road at Providence Station.

“We are beyond excited to see the hotel open up this month as the Providence Station development continues to take shape in becoming a truly great mixed-use project for Mt. Juliet,” said Will Tyner, CRS development partner.

Courtyard officially started accepting reservations Oct. 2, with a grand opening celebration scheduled for Nov. 17.

Featuring an innovative lobby space, as well as Courtyard’s latest contemporary room design, the new hotel provides flexibility and choices that allow guests to optimize and elevate their travel experience.

Located at 1980 Providence Pkwy., the 96-room hotel will operate as a Marriott franchise, owned by Providence Hospitality LLC and managed by Sigma Management LLC in Nashville. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, the Courtyard Mt. Juliet offers guests convenient access to downtown Nashville, the Providence Marketplace and the Nashville International Airport.

“We are thrilled to have opened our brand new hotel in Wilson County, offering upscale service and facilities to both business and leisure travelers,” said Shelly Cieslak, Courtyard Mt. Juliet general manager. “Guests will love our on-site restaurant with full bar and Starbucks, as well as our gorgeous outdoor courtyard oasis, complete with waterfalls and a fire pit. Our expansive ballroom is the largest hotel event space in the county, and is perfect for social and corporate events. We are looking forward to partnering with Providence Station to provide a wide variety of services and amenities to local residents and out-of-town guests.”

Providence Station is Mt. Juliet’s first development project designed with a focus on the fusion of urban design with suburban development. Modern architecture, lighting and other elements, along with a focus on using greater density and mixed uses, bring increased energy and activity to the development.

CRS has started construction on the 45,000 square foot project that will incorporate two “mixed-use” buildings feature office suites on the second floors, with retail and restaurant spaces on the first. As previously announced, Bank of Tennessee, Three Dog Bakery and Burger Republic will be the tenants of the first building that will be completed this year.

“We have always envisioned Providence Station as a unique development that would create an exciting mixed-use environment that would attract people and we are well on our way to achieving that goal,” said Ken Powers, CRS president.

Commercial Realty Services is a real estate development company. To learn more about Commercial Realty Services, visit or contact Tyner at or 615-339-5559.

For more information about the Courtyard by Marriott Mt. Juliet, contact Cieslak at or 615-432-4070.

Staff Reports

Chamber to bring signature event back to Wilson County

Submitted to The Democrat Pictured (from left) are Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Roger Tyo with TDS Telecom, Anita Spicer with the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce, David Gerkin with Edwards Porter Group, Brandon Edwards with Edwards Porter Group and Wilson County Expo Center marketing director Charity Toombs.

Submitted to The Democrat
Pictured (from left) are Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Roger Tyo with TDS Telecom, Anita Spicer with the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce, David Gerkin with Edwards Porter Group, Brandon Edwards with Edwards Porter Group and Wilson County Expo Center marketing director Charity Toombs.

The Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce announced the return of the 14th annual A Toast to Tennessee Wine Festival to Wilson County.

Due to lack of space in Wilson County, which would allow alcohol to be served, the signature fundraiser has been held outside the county at Nashville Shores for several years. 

“We are so excited to host the Wine Festival at the Expo. This is huge for the Expo and Wilson County on many different fronts,” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto. “This will be the first time in many years that the Wine Festival has come to our county, proving that Wilson County is the place to be. I would like to thank [chamber president] Mark Hinesley personally for his leadership and guidance in this project.”

The festival is unique in that it celebrates Tennessee agritourism and is supported by Pick Tennessee Products and the Tennessee Farm Wine Growers Association. With more than 25 Tennessee wineries, more than 40 local artisans and specialty food vendors, plus wine and food experience seminars, the popular event has grown each year with expected attendance in 2017 of more than 4,000 attendees. The 14th A Toast to Tennessee Wine Festival will be April 29 from noon until 6 p.m.

“The Exposition Center is honored to host the upcoming Wine Festival,” said Expo Center marketing director Charity Toombs. “This signature event is key to our community, and we are excited to be a part.”

Mt. Juliet chamber representatives are excited about new plans being developed for the 14th annual wine festival.

“Moving to the Expo Center provides us with a great opportunity to expand and rebrand! Even with our tremendous success in the last 13 years, this change of venue will allow us to make it even better. Festivalgoers will be pleased with the changes we’re planning for the 2017 festival, such as adding a beer tasting area and a row of popular food trucks just outside. The sky is the limit at our new location,” said Hinesley.   

“We would especially like to thank our two returning title sponsors, Edwards Porter Group and TDS Telecom. We couldn’t pull this festival together without their generous support, and we look forward to a continued partnership in 2017. Be sure to check out over the next few months for an updated list of vendors and sponsors, as well as announcements about other exciting changes and enhancements. Plus, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for ticket discounts and promotions.”

Staff Reports

Courtyard Hotel to open in Mt. Juliet

Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Mt. Juliet is scheduled to open its doors Oct. 2.

The 96-room hotel will operate as a Marriott franchise, owned by Providence Hospitality LLC and managed by Sigma Management LLC in Nashville.

At 1980 Providence Parkway, the hotel is accessible to downtown Nashville, the Providence Marketplace, Nashville Shores and Percy Priest Lake.

“From day one, Courtyard has prided itself as a brand that listens to business travelers,” said Callette Nielsen, vice president and global brand manager with Courtyard. “Today’s technology has changed how people travel. Our guests want a room that has purpose and flexibility that enables a seamless transition between relaxing and working. Courtyard is designed to offer them a relaxing and functional space to work the way they want to, when they want to.”

The latest design features in guestrooms include hybrid zones for working, sleeping, relaxing and getting ready, indirect lighting and a neutral, tone-on-tone color palette. Upon arrival, guests can store bags on a luggage drop and plug personal devices into a tech drop ledge for seamless technology integration. Each room features a complimentary wireless network. The Courtyard Nashville Mt. Juliet also offers studio and one-bedroom suites.

Signature furniture and architectural elements replace traditional art in the new guestroom. A lounge around sofa offers a pop of color and an area for relaxing or for working. The new design also features a light desk on wheels, allowing guests to work from anywhere in the room. An upgraded bathroom layout includes a shower nook for housing shampoos and towels.

The Courtyard Nashville Mt. Juliet also offers a refreshing business lobby environment that includes media pods, complimentary WiFi and a variety of seating zones. The lobby also features The Bistro, that will offer casual, flexible seating; easy access to food and healthy menu options for breakfast; and light evening fare, including snacks, cocktails, wine and beer.

Throughout the hotel, there are ample electrical outlets. The business library features several computer terminals, along with a printer and separate computer stations dedicated solely to printing airline boarding passes and checking flight status.

Green has been Courtyard’s signature color since Marriott launched the brand 30 years ago and now it is even greener with the introduction of a guest-recycling program for the environment, according to the company. Receptacles for paper, glass, plastic and metal are located by side exits.

The five-story hotel features a heated indoor saltwater swimming pool, an outdoor patio with fire pit and water feature, a Starbucks, a 24-hour fitness center and guest laundry. The hotel also features 3,200 square feet of flexible space to accommodate functions of up to 250 people, as well as on-site catering.

Staff Reports

Jobless rate remains unchanged in August

Wilson County’s unemployment rate remained unchanged to August from July, but showed a significant decrease compared to a year ago.

According to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, August’s jobless rate remained at 4 percent, a 0.6 percent decrease from the same time last year.

Rates decreased in 26 counties, increased in 58 and remained the same in 11 counties in July. Wilson County climbed one spot to fourth lowest in the state behind Williamson, Davidson and Rutherford counties, respectively. 

Hancock County had the highest jobless rate with 8 percent. 

Wilson County’s rate in August represented 2,700 unemployed workers compared to a 66,930-person workforce and does not include those who did not file with the labor department or no longer receive benefits.

Lebanon’s rate for August increased 0.2 percent from July to 4.9 percent. The city’s rate represented 690 unemployed workers, compared to a 14,040-person labor force. 

Mt. Juliet’s rate for August dropped 0.1 percent from July to 3.7 percent. The rate represented 600 unemployed workers compared to a 15,950-person labor force. 

The Nashville-Murfreesboro metropolitan area, which includes Wilson County, rate remained at 3.9 percent. The rate represented 38,560 unemployed workers compared to a 977,520-person labor force. 

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August came in at 4.4 percent, a 0.1 percent increase from July. The statewide rate represented 138,300 jobless workers compared to a 3.13-million-person workforce. 

The national unemployment rate for July remained at 4.9 percent. The rate represented 7.85 million unemployed workers compared to a workforce of nearly 160 million people.

By Xavier Smith

Mt. Juliet’s Sweet Biscuit Company hits sweet spot

Colleen Creamer • Lebanon Democrat Wendy Nichols and Savannah Weeks work for the newly opened specialty biscuit shop in Mt. Juliet. The Sweet Biscuit Co. is owned by Shannon Gray, and recently opened to bring the people of Wilson County a little something different when it comes to biscuits.

Colleen Creamer • Lebanon Democrat
Wendy Nichols and Savannah Weeks work for the newly opened specialty biscuit shop in Mt. Juliet. The Sweet Biscuit Co. is owned by Shannon Gray, and recently opened to bring the people of Wilson County a little something different when it comes to biscuits.

As biscuits go, most people immediately conjure gravy, butter, jellies and jams, standard-issue condiments.

Not so, at Sweet Biscuit Co., a newly opened tearoom and restaurant at 2654 N. Mt Juliet Road, though gravy and other staples are clearly part of the fare. The litany of biscuit flavors at this shop include three-cheese bacon artichoke, white chocolate raspberry, peach, and key lime, just to name a few.

The Yelp reviews alone are mouthwatering.

Owner Shannon Gray was a pretty good journeyman baker prior to her new venture but had avoided breads and biscuits until fall 2014.

“I wasn’t intimidated by muffins or cookies or brownies,” said Gray. “Then my mother-in-law had given me some magazines. One of them was Southern Living that said it had the ‘best buttermilk biscuit recipe ever.’ It looked so easy. I had all the ingredients, so I made a batch, and they were horrible.”

Gray blames the “fat ratio,” a term with which she previously wasn’t entirely familiar. Now, however, the mechanics of that term she understands well.

“I had researched this quite a bit since that batch,” said Gray. “Those first biscuits were just not good. I knew it wasn’t the ingredients, that it had something to do with the proportion.”

Gray said she trudged along until she perfected the basic buttermilk biscuit, ones that had that “cakey, airy, fluffy” texture that she had wanted.

“It stayed that way for several weeks,” she said. “I just got bored with it. Like I do with anything, I began throwing stuff in.”

The former kindergarten teacher said one day she looked in the fridge and found she had a freshly made batch of homemade spinach dip.

“I was like, I wonder— because it had cream cheese in it — if that would taste good in this buttermilk biscuit. That’s how it started, and it was unbelievable.”

Gray wanted honest-to-goodness feedback, so she went out and got it. Courage she is not lacking in – even if it meant the unvarnished truth.

“Sometimes when people pay for stuff they just won’t honestly tell you. But if they are not paying, I find that people are more honest,” she said.

“What I did was go out and get some feedback when I first started putting new ingredients in the batter. I took them to my friends. I started taking it to my neighbors.”

That feedback was the beginning of an extremely positive whisper campaign — and one that shocked her.

“People were hunting me down,” Gray said. “It was crazy. People started calling me. It was overwhelming. It was approaching the holidays, and I remember one guy that called on Sunday and said that he wanted eight dozen, and he was going to pick them up Wednesday morning. I thought eight-dozen in a residential oven? So, January we started to look around for a place.”

The tearoom sells both sweet biscuits and savory biscuits. Biscuits are made in small batches, with flavors changing daily. The summer menu also includes soups, chicken salad, hashbrown casserole, pimento and cheese, spinach dip and three-cheese bacon artichoke dip.

So, which biscuits are currently most in favor?

“They love the peach, and they love blueberry with the lemon glaze,” Gray said. “Right now, those are the two, but they also love the berrylicious, which is a strawberry blueberry biscuit with a lemon glaze.”

What Gray discovered about her glazes is that they act as a way of insulating the freshness of both the bread ingredients and the added ingredients.

“Bread and air don‘t mix well unless you’re dealing with yeast, then you want a certain amount of oxygen,” said the baker. “ I had always made cupcakes, so I knew that it was going to need something to seal it in, so I just started experimenting with different recipes for glazes.”

She said there’s a perfect window of opportunity when the glazing really does its job.

“When they come out of the oven, we give that biscuit about five-to-seven minutes for that initial heat to get knocked off,” said Gray. “Then when we pour that glaze on, it just goes in all those little cracks, and the biscuit just soaks it up. When you bite into a peach biscuit that‘s marinated in a peach glaze, and already has peach bits in the biscuit, a lot of people tell me that it tastes a lot like a cobbler.”

Homework for her biscuit bistro included making sure her biscuits were both good and original and that had to incorporate some comparison.

“I did go around the Nashville area when we moved here… I did go to Biscuit Love. I did go to Loveless Café. I even went to Kitchen Notes at the Omni Hotel. They were all good in their own way, but they just didn’t compare. I do think very highly of my biscuits,” Gray said.

Originally a “country girl” from Mississippi, Gray said she, her husband, Mike, and son, Evan, who is 10, are busy getting to know the area. They moved to Mt. Juliet last fall to accommodate Mike’s work.

It’s very family friendly here,” she said. “It’s parks; it’s concerts; it’s a lot of culture, and we love it.”

The Sweet Biscuit Co. also serves, and sells, Shineworthy Tea, a Nashville purveyor of fine teas and accessories. The restaurant is the only distributor in Mt. Juliet.

“They are very very picky,” Gray said.

Gray said she has had people coming in from Franklin asking to put a Sweet Biscuit Co. there and also has had queries from other property owners around Nashville.

“There is a guy who came in last week who told me that he owned some property in the Gulch that he wanted to show me,” Gray said.

Nonetheless, she is staying put for the time being, but it won’t be long before she branches out.

“Next year we will definitely hit the ground running with this,” Gray said.

Shannon Gray may be partial to her own biscuits, but she’s not exactly taking the credit for them.

“Mike and I are both Christians, so I have to really give credit where the credit is due,” she said. “God really gave me talent, and all I am doing is being obedient and using it.”

For days and hours of operation, as well as a full menu, visit

Last of a Breed

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News Marynell Breeden sits on her John Deere Gator amidst the rows of her family’s apple orchard.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News
Marynell Breeden sits on her John Deere Gator amidst the rows of her family’s apple orchard.

Mom-and-pop fixtures in the local Mt. Juliet farming community, Tommy and Marynell Breeden, have put their cherished peach and apple orchard on the market and are retiring after 42 years in the business.

Breeden’s Orchard, a family friendly you-pick farm at 631 Beckwith Road, will open for its last apple-picking season Saturday. The last day for their peach season was July 30.

A suntanned and sprightly Marynell Breeden in a blue-and-white summer outfit looks like someone who may have traded in a silver spoon for a pruning knife. She said people sometimes comment on her golden tan.

“I tell them that I work,” she said laughing as she climbed into her small John Deere Gator. “I thought we’d would be there forever. Of course, if every treed died, we just thought we wouldn’t worry about that because we figured eventually we were going to die up on the hill. As it turned out, it just got to the point where Tommy has a breathing problem, and he can’t do any exertion anymore.”

Heading out to Breedens Orchard is a fond memory for many who grew up in the Mt. Juliet area when traffic was slower and life was maybe a little sweeter. Marynell Breeden said she hopes the farm will be sold to those wanting to keep the orchard open for families to come.

“The people that have looked at the property possibly were interested in continuing the orchard,” she said. “Of course, there is so much more potential there than what we have been able to do for the last 11 years.”

Nonetheless, the business is still a growing concern; the Breedens still have regular customers just not the will for the maintenance required any longer for such a large operation.

“The clientele is there,” she said. “We had built up the business for 42 years. Every year, after you hit 50 it seems you start feeling it. I was 74 on the 27th of August and Tommy was 75 in June. We started slowing down when we got to be around 65…We’d even hired a friend to do the mowing because my husband just can’t do it anymore.”

With 400 mature peach trees and more than 250 apple trees, it’s no wonder. At first there were only apple trees, but in 1976, they planted their peach trees.

“Peaches are a hundred times more popular than apples. Peaches sell themselves,” said Marynell Breeden. “I think all the trees have more fruit this year.”

The devoted couple met on a blind date 48 years ago that “really worked out,” according to Marynell Breeden, though, in the beginning, it was like playing musical houses.

“When we married we had a two-story brick house with a front porch big enough for a couple of rocking chairs,” she said. “Then after three years we rented it out and moved to 6 1/2 acres right off of Lebanon Highway. After about three years there we rented that out and bought the orchard.”

When they bought the orchard, Marynell Breeden said they didn’t even know there were young fruit trees on the land. They first intended on having horses, but fate got in the way, and so fruit farmers they became.

She said the reduction in duties came in stages. Tommy and Marynell Breeden gave up hosting field trips in 2004. At one point it was common for Marynell Breeden to dress up as Johnny Appleseed for those local school groups. Back then, she also supplied pies and cakes to local businesses. Generally, her pies at the orchard would sell out after having barely cooled.

The new home the Breedens bought just down the road is considerably larger, but the acreage is also considerably smaller. However, what she wanted, as much as she wanted a bigger kitchen, was sunlight — and a lot of it

“We had spent a lot on it getting the old house maintenance-free,” Marynell Breeden said. “That house was about 1,500 square feet, but you would have to stand up to look out the windows. Here, I have windows that go to the floor practically. The sunlight just floods in. It’s very open.”

For months now, Marynell and Tommy Breeden have been selling off inventory, the jams and jellies, kitchen items and farm equipment . What comes next, she said, is some well-deserved travel and leisure though they both have globe-trekked quite a bit.

“The orchard and rental property have forwarded us a way to travel,” Marynell Breeden said. “I have been all over the world. I think I’ve done like 25 cruises since 1995. I have hiked all over Maccu Picchu in South America. I’ve seen the Maoi statues on Easter Island. I’ve seen the huge turtles at Galapagos Islands.”

She said her husband would not have been able to travel while working a 9-to-5 job, and she thanks peaches and apples – and some considerable rental income – for that. Marynell Breeden said she and her husband plan to take a cruise sometime after the orchard sells.

“Tommy has gotten to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to do if he had stayed in Dupont all of those years,” Marynell Breeden said. “He left Dupont in 1987 with 22 years of service, and we opened the orchard in 1974.”

She said the orchard will be open six days a week during apple season but closed on Wednesdays.

Are they going to miss some of the regulars?

“Oh yes, some of these people who came out as kids are now bringing their own kids out,” she said.

So, what’s next? Somewhat appropriately, she says it’s a visit to tThe Big Apple.” “I’m going with a friend to New York City in late November. I have seen New York before, but I don’t believe she has ever been.”

Traveling the globe is a nice way to wrap up a life’s work, but the world’s gain is certainly Mt. Juliet’s loss.

For more information on the orchard, visit the Breeden’s Orchard Facebook page at

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Getting Nutty

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News The Nutmobile visits Kroger in Mt. Juliet during a yearlong public relations campaign to celebrate Planter’s Mr. Peanut’s 100th birthday.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News
The Nutmobile visits Kroger in Mt. Juliet during a yearlong public relations campaign to celebrate Planter’s Mr. Peanut’s 100th birthday.

The nut puns were on full display Friday at the Kroger in the heart of Mt. Juliet with the arrival of Planter’s Nutmobile, a fiberglass-moving legume the size of an Airstream trailer.

Like the Oscar Mayer Co., Planters is a division of Kraft Foods. Is there a connection between the Nutmobile and the recognizable Weinermobile? That would be yes.

Staffing the event, were three “Peanutters,” Danielle Karnbach, Katie Byrne and Travis Rupp, who handed out small bags of nuts and coupons and generally acted as the fresh-scrubbed nut ambassadors they were. Generally, all of the Peanutters are just out of college, so “sustainable energy” wasn’t lacking.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News (From left) Peanutters Danielle Karnbach, Katie Byrne and Travis Rupp pose for a photo while visiting the Kroger in Mt. Juliet with Planter’s Nutmobile.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News
(From left) Peanutters Danielle Karnbach, Katie Byrne and Travis Rupp pose for a photo while visiting the Kroger in Mt. Juliet with Planter’s Nutmobile.

On the road since June, the Nutmobile and its crew visit a new city each week. While there, they drive the Nutmobile to various scheduled events, including car shows, golf tournaments, retail events, marathons and large-chain grocery stores.

The yearlong cross-country public relations adventure is a celebration of Mr. Peanut’s 100th birthday, the symbol of the Planters brand since 1916. Mr. Peanut was “taking a nap” when the event first opened. Then, Byrne brought out a duffle bag the size of which one could hide a body from the Nutmobile.

“Really, it’s just a whole lot of peanuts,” said Byrne laughing as she clearly was walking to the Kroger bathroom to suit up in the massive peanut outfit.

Some PR campaigns never pull off this kind of silliness, but Planter’s does, particularly when girded by their online television ad campaign, which uses the voice of Saturday Night Live veteran Bill Hader at that of Mr. Peanut.

The Nutmobile will hit Memphis next, then tracks back through Nashville and on through Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News

When one corporate door closes…

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News Kelly Mason recently opened KJ&M in the former two-story pharmacy, grocery store and post office in Mt. Juliet. Mason, a former medical salesman, now sells her own uniquely designed clothing, boots and other goods.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News
Kelly Mason recently opened KJ&M in the former two-story pharmacy, grocery store and post office in Mt. Juliet. Mason, a former medical salesman, now sells her own uniquely designed clothing, boots and other goods.

When Kelly Mason was laid off at her medical sales job, she thought she’d been kicked off a fancy career track, when in fact she’d simply slipped off the hamster wheel in her own personal rat race.

All spinning metaphors aside, Mason solidly landed on her feet and started selling her own, and uniquely designed, clothing, boots and other goods, in what is considered the oldest building in Mt. Juliet. In 1908, the now-rustic, two-story building at 2232 N. Mt. Juliet Road, next to the railroad tracks and across from the train station, had been a pharmacy, a grocery store and a post office.

The inside of KJ&M, Mason’s new store, which opened Saturday, now looks like a brick-and-mortar version of the Etsy online marketplace, the famous website for unique handmade items. However, here shoppers get to see and feel the vintage-style clothing, jewelry and the unique boots.

Even while talking to one customer, Mason makes sure she greets those coming into the boutique.

“Having 19 years sales experience, I think that is pretty unusual for a boutique owner. It definitely gives you a cutting edge, because you understand customer service. And that is what brings people back,” Mason said. “People buy from who they like.”

The layoff from her lucrative medical sales position happened in September. If there was ever a time an old dream beckoned, it was then.

“I had worked since I was 12 years old,” Mason said. “I paid my way through high school and college. When I lost my job, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, you know what? For the first time in my life, I’m going to do what I want to do.’”

She wasn’t messing around. The time she spent on the design of the store’s interior alone took her months. Her dressing rooms are made from plank wood. Guitar necks are door handles. Every small item and its placement has a “shabby chic” look that feels as though it was the product of a lot of work. It’s no wonder she dresses a few country stars. However, she is not prone to easily dropping names, a good public relations move on her part.

After Mason’s sales job ended, she bought a massive moving van, had it retrofitted and took her goods on the road. She traveled with her rolling boutique to flea markets and other venues. However, she could not have predicted what weather would do to her market.

“I did really well in September, October and November because the weather was pretty. Then in December, my income plummeted. Then I put together a boutique in Murfreesboro,” said Mason. “But I live here, and my customer base is really here. I had been looking for a place in Mt. Juliet, but the rent is expensive; it is crazy.”

Somehow a whisper campaign about her scouting for a good spot got some folks in Mt. Juliet involved, and she found the old building, part of which was already done, and the other part in messy disarray.

She wanted the part that hadn’t been touched. She said the floors were dirt, and the place was a wreck, but at least it was her wreck.

“I was like, I want this side,” Mason said. “I just knew that I could do something different with this. I wanted to totally start from scratch, and that is what I did with my truck. I kind of just reinvented the whole mobile boutique market. Everybody else had bread trucks and they just looked like bread trucks. I kind of wanted to use the same principle here that I had done with my mobile boutique.”

She said the market will eventually dictate what she sells, not her proclivities. Currently, she sells clothing, jewelry, some menswear, purses and also handmade body scrubs and lotions and body butters.

“The market determines you,” she said. “You do not determine your market. In three or four months, I will know what is going to sell. There aren’t many boutiques in this area that have clothing for tweens. I am also going to be doing men’s clothing and a lot of organic soaps and things like that.”

Her section of handmade clothing includes some interesting design. It’s easy to see why she curries favor with a few country artists.

“I had been making my own clothes forever, and I had just been saving some of them up,”
she said. “I also made some for the mobile boutique.”

Mason has lived in Mt. Juliet for seven years. She is originally from Carthage. She went to college at Middle Tennessee State University, and then went on to work in medical sales. Her son, Dylan Mason, is quarterback at Wilson Central High School. As a single mom, she knew she had to make money.

“I worked for the same company for 18 1/2 years,” Mason said. “I’m not trying to make a killing, but I am trying to make a living.”

Passion projects like Mason’s have a way of finding their target audience.

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News