Small Tennessee town invigorated with energy-efficient upgrades to empower sustainable growth

Business & Industry, Community Centered Growth

The Industrial Age in America put downtowns on the map. It was a hub of activity – shopping, dining and live entertainment within blocks of each other. Decades later, the suburban sprawl created empty downtown storefronts in its wake. Now, there is a hopeful comeback. In far east Tennessee, downtown Erwin is poised for its next chapter. The city center is nostalgia incarnate, nestled between the college town of Johnson City, TN and Asheville, North Carolina. Roller Pharmacy harkens back to a time when the drug store owner knew everyone by their first name and asked how the extended family was doing. Plant Palace has been a Main Street staple for decades, housed in the old post office building. Flowers, tchotchkes and the owners’ cats have the run of the place. But there is also room in downtown Erwin for new businesses, like Union Street Gallery. The owners host art classes for locals and visitors and sell their unique pieces that involve glass and metal. City leaders had devised a plan to revitalize the area in 2020, but the pandemic forced several businesses to close permanently.

TVA EnergyRight’s Community Centered Growth (CCG) recognizes the struggle of small shop owners. The program is working with local power company partners to stimulate underserved communities across the region— by starting from within. CCG assists small businesses with energy-related upgrades and resources, helping boost their productivity and sustainability.

We were happy to partner with Erwin Utilities to make energy-saving improvements for Plant Palace, Roller Pharmacy and Union Street Gallery. 

An unoccupied storefront in downtown Erwin, TN
Harry Lewis, owner of the Plant Palace holds one of his store cats. Lewis bought the flower shop in 1993 after he was laid off from a fuel services company.
Plant Palace occupies the old post office built in 1936.
New energy efficient HVACs on the roof of Plant Palace have a beautiful view.
Contractors installed a smart thermostat. The Wi-Fi enabled device automatically adjusts temperature settings and can be controlled remotely with a smartphone.
Flat-panel energy-saving LED lights provide a softer glow compared to their fluorescent counterpart. Lewis says it’s also easier upkeep and he won’t have to change bulbs as often.
Terry Roller’s father opened Roller Pharmacy in 1964. He’s carrying on the family business of helping the people of Erwin get the care their need. He hopes to pass that legacy to his daughter.
Older buildings often lack insulation and energy efficient equipment. EnergyRight’s Community Centered Growth, in partnership with Erwin Utilities, installed new HVACs and furnaces to help small businesses save energy and money.
Vincent Bowden welds a piece of artwork in his studio. He says the new heating and cool unit has improved the comfort level.
Jan and Vincent Bowden are recent transplants to Erwin. “It’s a very close-knit, welcoming community.
Preferred Partner Network contractor Phil Allen says he was grateful to be part of the Community Centered Growth project in Erwin. “We’re getting the whole town involved and it’s been wonderful to help these small businesses.”