Monday, September 21, 2009

First Fridays Logo Unveiled

The new First Fridays logo was created by Clyde Beaver.
Thursday, September 17, 2009

FLORENCE - Clyde Beaver is facing some pressure now that he's been declared the artist for the artists.

The marketing consultant bested more than a dozen other artists who wanted to design the logo for First Fridays, the monthly downtown event where local jewelry makers, musicians and artists line the streets to show off and sell their work.

"Hopefully, all the artistic people involved won't sneer at it," he said, jokingly.

Clyde's logo, which shows the flor de lis broken into pieces and set against four lightly-colored background panels, was unveiled at Downtown Florence Unlimited's Wednesday meeting.

Beaver said he examined logos used by bigger cities for similar artistic events and merged that with his personal style - having created nearly 50 logos in his career - to come up with the final design.

His first logo, in fact, was for Lewis Electric Supply Co. in Muscle Shoals when he was 16. Beaver recently relocated to Florence after working in Atlanta.

The logo will be used on promotional materials for the event, and DFU members tossed around the idea of putting it on a banner.

DFU President Van Morgan said the logo won because it "captured the whimsicality of the event."

Despite being a relatively new gathering, First Fridays has already become a monthly must for some locals. At the initial event this month, hundreds attended and were treated to everything from belly dancers to twang music.

This will not be an annual contest. Morgan said they will use the logo until "they get tired of it."

And Beaver's wallet isn't any thicker for his efforts, as he won't be compensated for the work.

"It was an honor just to be considered," he said. "It never gets old - when you're able to match a logo with a vision."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

City Leaders Compose a Downtown Wish List

By Brian Hughes
Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, August 29, 2009

FLORENCE - Some downtown leaders made their Christmas lists early this year, as they've compiled what they most want regardless of cost.

At the urging of Councilman Dick Jordan, downtown groups and members of Downtown Florence Unlimited (DFU) and Florence Main Street sent him their top priorities for the evolution of the downtown scene.

They range from bank-busting projects - downtown trolleys, a new science building at the University of North Alabama and replacing College Street with greenery - to philosophical changes - easing up on parking tickets downtown, encouraging more street parties and taxing buildings that remain vacant for a prolonged time.

As with almost any Christmas list, however, respondents acknowledge they can't get all these requests.

"What we're trying to do is distill a whole lot of suggestions and pick one or two things to focus on," said DFU President Van Morgan.

The thinking is it will give Jordan more authority when he tries to get funding for projects during a time when there is less money to spend on such ideas, Morgan added.

For Morgan, however, plenty can be done without spending a dime.

"The state of empty buildings downtown needs to be addressed," he said. "I'm not sure the city is enforcing the current ordinance."

A city ordinance sets standards for the upkeep of empty downtown buildings.

In addition, Morgan said they still need to evaluate whether it is in the city's best interest to have parking meters downtown.

For Ashley Winkle, director of Florence Main Street, a major necessity is the renovation of Mobile Street Plaza.

Redone more than three decades ago, she said the stamped concrete is breaking apart and causing problems for pedestrians and vehicles. Winkle also wants to eliminate the curbs to enhance accessibility.

"We want to be sure that the plaza gets taken care of," she said.

Jordan said money has already been set aside for that project and he anticipates work there in the near future.

Winkle also tossed out the idea of setting up automated machines downtown for parking so drivers without change could swipe a card to pay.

Additional suggestions from the groups include: revamping Wilson Park, establishing entrances to UNA's campus from Pine or Court Street, offering free parking in the downtown deck and connecting McFarland and River Heritage parks to downtown through walking trails.

City officials are still forming the budget for the next fiscal year.

Without reservation, Jordan said he felt the downtown area should receive more funding for projects than other districts.

"The downtown affects your whole city," he said. "You've got to keep a viable downtown. That's your first impression and that means so much to the direction of a city."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

Local Business Bucking Area Trend

By Trevor Stokes
Staff Writer
Published: Monday, September 7, 2009

A half hour after closing time for most businesses, Danny Vaughn is opening his shop.

Daniel Giles/TimesDaily Surrounded by comic books, Nate Bivens and Ryan Vines contemplate strategy as they play a miniature battle game at of House of Heroes in downtown Florence.

Two years ago, Vaughn opened House of Heroes, a comic book store on Mobile Street in downtown Florence. Instead of the regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. of many nearby retailers, Vaughn opens from 5:30-9 p.m. most days.

"Most folks who have money have jobs," Vaughn said on a recent Wednesday - the day of the week when new comics are released. Some of these workers are customers who cannot shop until they get off from work.

Vaughn is bucking the trend of neighboring business owners, who can trace their store hours to the 19th century.

The 1880s not only produced the Labor Day holiday, the decade also marked a movement for workers to shift from 12-hour, six-day work weeks to a 9-to-5, five-day work week. It's a time frame many local businesses still follow.

"Work often began at sunrise and ended at sunset," said Richard Greenwald, dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Trained as a social historian, Greenwald's work focuses on both American and global labor issues.

The 9-to-5 work day started in the 1880s among the skilled artisan members of the American Federation of Labor, he said.

The union argued that instead of working 12 hours, six days per week, a worker's day should be split into three: eight hours each for work, sleep and "for what we will."

The 9-to-5 standard also has roots in the agricultural economy before reliable sources of electricity, when sunlight dictated a worker's schedule.

It wasn't until the 20th century that 9 to 5 became a mainly white-collar work pattern - a predominant one by the 1930s and 1940s. One potential reason was that the stock market fit the 9 to 5 pattern, which banks followed, then retailers.

Now that there's the Internet, 24/7 superstores and flexible work scheduling, why do local retailers open during hours when their customers are potentially at work?

"Or why are they opened for the unemployed?" joked Ashley Winkle, director of MainStreet, a downtown advocacy group.

"More of them need to be opened at odd hours to generate more business," said Joann Maxwell, program coordinator for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. "It would be good if some of them did stay open until 7 or 8. There are a lot of places I would like to go, but they're closed at 5."

Winkle said several downtown Florence stores are open until 6 p.m., giving a narrow gap for 9-to-5ers.

Winkle, citing data from the national MainStreet organization, said for a business to break from traditional hours, it would need to adhere to the non-traditional hours for at least a year for customers to make the adjustment.

"They may lose money for a year, but the return on it could be great," Winkle said.

El Sol, a barbershop in downtown Russellville, had 9 to 5 hours when it opened in late June, but by mid-August, owner Juan Sanchez shifted hours later in the day and into the evening.

Sanchez said he started his day at 9 at the beginning, but no one showed up until after noon.

Now, he not only can grab customers up to 8 p.m., but he has mornings free to do chores and other work.

"Business is better," Sanchez said at his two-chair salon that also includes a variety store in the front. "It's better than staying here doing nothing for several hours."

Leslie Cassady, owner of Audie Mescal Clothing, in Tuscumbia, said her trial with later hours wasn't as successful - so she now stays open until 5:30 p.m.

"If we did it on a regular basis, I might have to hire additional employees," Cassady said. "If it was regular, I wouldn't want to be here at 8 o'clock every night."

Others say the tradition is strong enough that to switch hours would mean lost business, even if more shoppers could browse. Many argue that customers can zip in during lunch or work break or wait until Saturday.

"As far as the business hours, it's the way it's always been for me," said Angie LeMay, owner of Village Florist Flowers and Gifts that opens 9 to 5, and mornings on Wednesday and Saturday. "My customers are used to these hours, so why change?"

Many larger national chains have eliminated 9 to 5 - some to the extreme of 24/7. For smaller, locally owned shops, however, that is nearly impossible because of staffing and insurance expenses.

Coldwater Books is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and until 9 p.m. weekends.

"A bookstore isn't a place where you just run in," said Debbie Malone, general manager.

For the hours to work, Malone said, "We all work crazy hours. Employees know they are subjected to working these hours - it's understood in the hiring process," she said of the evening workers, many of whom are college students.

The future of 9 to 5 is questionable since workers are now connected beyond the office.

"In some ways, the notion of a 9-to-5 job is an illusion," said Greenwald, who is working on a book on the rise of the freelance economy.

Americans are now working more than 40 hours and "the challenge will be that there was a vibrant labor movement that made the work day 9 to 5 and eight hours for leisure," Greenwald said. "There really isn't any compatible labor movement.

"The challenge will be for this coming generation - what they define as normal when it comes to work," Greenwald said.

Back at the comic store, Vaughn works a 9-to-5 day as a medical sales representative before opening his shop.

Around eight guys - and one female - spent Wednesday evening at the shop that is more of a collective, where both customers and owner spend time behind the register.

"Basically, we built this thing to be a hangout," said "Big Dan" Nichols, one of the regulars who was involved in the business from day one.

Trevor Stokes can be reached at 740-5728 or

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Walnut Street

Holiday block party brings back fond memories for residents

Thaisi Da Silva/TimesDaily
Jenny Ozbirn and her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie, share a kiss Thursday night during a block party in the Walnut District in downtown Florence.

By Brian Hughes
Staff Writer
Friday, July 3, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

FLORENCE - Mason Ingram, spry at 88 years old, took in a block party Thursday, reminiscing on the street he lived on as a boy back in the 1920s.

Scanning over Walnut Street, now part of a historic district in downtown Florence, he pointed to the bungalow he lived in for 17 years before joining the military.

"The children who live here now, they don't realize that when I was their age I took my cow to school," he said of the former Coffee High School. "I would leave it outside and it would cut the grass."

Flash forward seven decades, and it's apparent why Ingram proclaimed, "My, how things have changed."

The first sign? The artificial snow machine that spit out white flurries behind him as he spoke about his days spent there during the Great Depression.

But that's what the organizers of this block party wanted - a tribute to the history of the street and appreciation of its evolution.

When Billy Ray Warren, a Florence historian and Walnut Street resident, moved here in 1971, there was only one child on the street. Now, there are 22.

"There was a 50-year gap in the time it took to build this neighborhood," he said, standing in front of a cornucopia of American flags. "Because of that, there's a lot of diversity in the homes and makeup of the neighborhood."

That diversity was on full display this pre-holiday night.

A few children rode tricycles less than a football field's distance from an old shuffleboard court recently discovered by the neighborhood. Back then, kids weren't allowed to play there, said Walnut resident Jimmy Hill, who co-wrote a book with Warren about the history of the street.

In a way, the Walnut Historic District looked like a mini-city, as police barricades blocked off the party from incoming traffic.

Lisa Beumer, another home owner there, said they paid a $10 fee for the permit.

"They used to have these Fourth parties all the time but they stopped having them a while back," she said over the phone. "A few years ago, we started it back up again as a way for everyone to come together."

Ingram approved of the move.

"It looks great," he said. "It's certainly different, but it's amazing what they've also been able to preserve here."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

20 Things Every Shoals Resident Should Do, See

Visiting University of North Alabama mascots Leo III and Una made the list of 20 things every Shoals resident should experience.

By Bernie Delinski
Staff Writer
July 6, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

They're all around us: Pieces of history and parcels of fun.

Heart-tugging scenes, breathtaking views, lip-smacking treats and quirk-filled traditions are part of the Shoals.

They are what make us unique - and bring tourists to the area.

Yet, many of us live here our entire lives and pass up chances to experience these opportunities.

Killen resident Justus Cole said he and his family have gone to many local attractions but still have more to see.

"I don't think we've been to Helen Keller's home or saw 'The Miracle Worker' play," Cole said. "We intend to do that some day.

"In most cases, you take for granted where you're at and tend not to appreciate your home. I think that's true of pretty much anywhere people live," Cole said.

Muscle Shoals resident Jewell Howell said her grandchildren enjoy playing at Spring Park in Tuscumbia, and she enjoys W.C. Handy Music Festival events. She's seen a lot of local attractions but wants to see the Indian Mound in Florence - a place she's never visited.

"A lot of people are like me; maybe they never have the time to go to these places," Howell said. "There's a lot of tourist places right here in this area."

Debbie Wilson, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Office, has heard residents comment on area attractions they see for the first time when they take visiting relatives there.

"A lot of people don't know what's in their own backyard," Wilson said. "You hear, 'Oh, I didn't know this had that. I've been meaning to go here all these years.' "

With that in mind, here are 20 things we recommend every Shoals resident experience before they die:

1. Get a close-up look at Wilson Dam by locking through the structure.

2. Touch a miracle by feeling the water pump at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia that enlightened Helen Keller to the world of communication. If the season is right, you can experience a re-creation of that miracle during the summer production of "The Miracle Worker."

3. See the trumpet at W.C. Handy's Home in Florence, which was one of the instruments Handy used to earn the nickname "The Father of the Blues."

4. Imagine the horrific scene where countless brave, mortally wounded Confederate and Union soldiers died at a hospital and stagecoach stop that today is the historic Pope's Tavern Museum in Florence.

5. Slowly circle around and get a 360-degree bird's-eye view of the Shoals without leaving your seat atop the Renaissance Tower in Florence.

6. Sip on a milk shake at the Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop in Tuscumbia.

7. Enjoy the scenic route along Waterloo Road, ultimately ending up in the beautiful town of Waterloo. You can even make a turn along the way onto the Natchez Trace Bridge.

8. Attend a funeral - or at least read the clever and heartwarming inscriptions on the tombstones - at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Colbert County.

9. Purchase something you can't find anywhere else at a local shop in one of the Shoals' historic downtowns.

10. Read the autographs from legendary musicians on the bathroom door at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. For that matter, check out FAME and other area music studios where world-famous performers have recorded.

11. Got a pair of shoes you don't need? Travel along U.S. 72 to Cherokee, where you'll find the "Shoe Tree." Nobody is certain how it started, but it's a tradition to toss a pair of shoes in the tree. Occasionally, people in need of shoes even pick off a pair.

12. Record a song at an authentic music studio at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

13. Visit Leo III and Una, the live lion mascots at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

14. Marvel at the craftsmanship of our earliest residents by checking out arrowheads at the Indian Mound and Museum in Florence.

15. Enjoy a sandwich and dessert at Trowbridge's Ice Cream and Sandwich Bar in downtown Florence.

16. Grab a rod and reel and experience the thrill of landing a bass at Pickwick Lake, the "Smallmouth Bass Capital of the World."

17. Ride the small train and check out the waterfall and evening water show at Spring Park in Tuscumbia.

18. Take in the view from the 18th hole of the "Fighting Joe," one of a set of twin 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf courses in Colbert County.

19. Enjoy a dinner cruise along the Tennessee River aboard one of the Shoals' newest members, the Pickwick Belle steamboat.

20. Walk alongside the Tom Hendrix Wall in Lauderdale County, built by Hendrix as a monument to his great-great-grandmother, a Yuchi Indian who was among American Indians forced to leave for an Oklahoma reservation when she was 14.

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or

The Map

Sannoner’s Vision Preserved in Granite

On any given day Downtown Florence can be seen bustling with life. The many stores and events paired with the energy of UNA college life give the area a vibrant flow of activity. This is due in large part to the work of Florence Main Street.

Main Street organizations were funded across the country by grants approximately two decades ago. Their purpose? To bring interest back to the downtown area and help the community to thrive, which is exactly what Ms. Hester Cope dedicated her time and energy to from 1992-2007.

On July 17 Florence Main Street presented a piece of art to the people of Florence in honor of Cope’s commendable service. The art was a 4’ x 6’ granite map of Florence copied from a drawing rendered by Ferdinand Sannoner in 1852. The granite copy was commissioned by the Design Committee of Florence Main Street and retains the original spellings, which differ somewhat from the current spellings.

Said Shaler Roberts,“We celebrate the day that we can never lose the last copy of this map.”

The granite map cost an astonishing $8,000 to re-create. The money for this historic artwork, which is now embedded in the sidewalk on the corner of Tennessee and Court Streets, was raised through the sale of the annual Downtown Florence Historic Homes Calendar.

“At five dollars a throw, (per calendar) it takes awhile to present the kind of art we want to present,” said Billy Warren, President of Florence Main Street, at the presentation.

The hard work and dedication that went into the creation and placement of the map is a direct result of the team work demonstrated inside of the Florence Main Street organization. Every speaker at the presentation–including Warren, current Director of Florence Main Street, Ashley Winkle, Kevin Jangaard, Roberts, John Harris and Hester Cope herself–gave credit for the astounding piece to other members of the team.

“Everyone involved in this did it with love,” said Jangaard.
Cope was the name in every speech, however brief. She was repeatedly thanked, honored and applauded.

“This is a unique occasion and such a great idea,” said Mayor Bobby Irons. ”I really want to thank the Design Committee, and thank you, Hester, for what you’ve done for our city.”

“She is beautiful. She is strong. She is immoveable,” Roberts said, warranting a round of appreciative applause.

As she stood before the crowd with her grandson and granddaughter, Cope praised the map and the layout of downtown Florence, from the wide, four-laned roads to the abundant parallel parking spaces available, and thanked the members of the committee, “I cannot say thank you enough to them,” she said. “It was my privilege to work with Main Street. You do not need to thank me - I thank God every day.”

Indian Mound and Museum

South Court Street
Florence, AL 35630

The Indian Mound and Museum is the largest domiciliary mound in the Tennessee Valley Region and was built by mysterious early Indians who discovered Alabama before Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek nations inhabited this region. The mound, which measures 310Hx230Wx42D (feet) and named "Wawmanona" was built circa 500 A.D. and is thought to be locale for tribal ceremony and ritual.

The museum houses many fascinating Native American artifacts dating back 10,000 years. The museum is operated for the purpose of showing, teaching, and interpreting the cultural and natural history of the native Americans who inhabited this area within a 200-mile radius of Florence.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Outdoor Dining a Growing Trend in the Shoals

Jim Hannon/TimesDaily
Published: Saturday, June 6, 2009

Linda Austin and Marilyn Lee, co-workers on a lunch break, sat across from one another and discussed health care reform.

They're both professors at the University of North Alabama College of Nursing and opted to eat outdoors as they nibbled quiche and drank sweet tea at McGraw's Coffee Shop in downtown Florence.

"We hate it indoors," Lee said. "How many months do you have to sit indoors during the year? Any chance we get to go outside, we'll take. Plus, we like people-watching.

"Everybody should have outdoor seating. Ideally, you'd have it in the back (of a restaurant) so you don't have to smell the fumes from the cars."

"Right now, it's nice out here - in another month, it will be miserable, so we're enjoying it," Austin added.

Outdoor dining, also known as al fresco from the Italian "in the cool," has become increasingly attractive to eateries and diners alike throughout the Shoals.

On Tuesday, the Florence City Council approved a plan for Legends Steakhouse to build an outdoor dining patio that extends the restaurant onto the sidewalk of Mobile Plaza.

Tray Tittle, general manager of Legends, said the new patio would seat about 40-50 people.

"We're trying to grow this downtown area," he said. "Obviously it's going to be good for us, too."

A preliminary drawing shows a walled-in patio that leaves 6 1/2 feet of sidewalk on Mobile Plaza. Legends has proposed changing the existing water fountain in front of the restaurant into a rock waterfall. Existing planters will remain and outdoor diners will have access to the interior through a patio door.

Legends hopes to install a canopy or umbrellas to protect diners.

Al fresco's numero uno enemy is weather - the summer heat and the winter cold. Other common complaints include traffic noise, pollution and the sense that you may be dining on unfortunate bugs that land in your dish.

But that doesn't detract outdoor diners and restaurants from offering the option.

"Outdoor dining is a must for any downtown to thrive, and downtown Florence is no exception," Ashley Winkle, director of Florence Main Street, wrote in an e-mail response. "We are fortunate enough to currently have seven locations where patrons can enjoy our beautiful weather and a fabulous meal. We want to continue to see restaurants open their businesses up to outdoor seating as it is a favorite for locals and tourists alike."

"It's one of those features that restaurants really try to play up; it's an asset to them," said Jennifer Price, communications director for the Alabama Restaurant Association.

Many new restaurants seek outdoor dining as a hook for their patrons, she said.

When the proposed statewide smoking bill came up that would restrict smoking to 10 feet from the restaurant door, it included patio areas, which caused an uproar from restaurant owners.

"Part of the reason people go out to the outdoor patio areas is to drink and smoke and have a good time," Price said.

Downtown Florence in particular has several outdoor dining areas, from the elaborate bricked patios of Rosie's Mexican Cantina and Quiznos to the casual cafe setup of The Chicago Cafe and Dish.

Outdoor dining exists throughout the Shoals region, from Sweet Peppers in Muscle Shoals to the screened-in porch at Claunch Cafe in Tuscumbia to the tacquerias in Russellville.

Margaret Jackson and granddaughter, Megan Saint, sat outside under cloud covered, 86-degree skies at Sweet Peppers.

"I work inside all day - any chance I get I'm outside," Jackson said as a plate of tortilla chips and Rotel arrived. "It's cloudy outside so that's even better."

Megan gave her mother an update via cell phone on how an orthodontist appointment had gone while waiting for her Reuben.

"It's too noisy in there," Jackson said, pointing indoors and laughing.

Inside, conversation from the lunch bunch echoed in the cool air conditioning.

Jim Cobb, who retired from the Air Force, and Don Terry, a retired Muscle Shoals police officer, were having coffee near the door.

"It's too dang hot out there," Cobb said.

Terry said he usually likes eating outdoors.

"If it's got a little breeze - it's great," Terry said.

Trevor Stokes can be reached at 740-5728 or

At Home with Billy Reid


Up in New York, Billy Reid is known for his refined take on a Southern gentleman's (and lady's) wardrobe, his appreciation for bourbon of all proofs, and the consistent hospitality at his Bond Street store. I'm happy to report that down in his adopted hometown of Florence, Alabama, he's beloved for those very same reasons. I spent the weekend in the Shoals—Florence, Muscle Shoals, and its surrounding area, famous for its blues legacy—for the opening of Reid's new store. (The upper floors will house his offices and design studio.) Of course, Billy being Billy, through the weekend, the space did double duty as concert hall and moonshine watering hole, too. In celebration of it all (and of a long-awaited sunny weekend after a week straight of rain), Florence held a party for its adopted son: Bands played on the street and in the office, ranging from Those Darlins to Billy's own the Seersuckers.

As for the new store, it shares a design scheme with the other locations and, as I discovered, the guy's own house. The floors and beams are reclaimed wood; the ceiling is pressed tin; and the decor features an abundance of antique china, taxidermy, and furniture, here complimented by artifacts and family heirlooms from the Florence community. Within walking distance is its inspiration: the 1860's manse Reid calls home, overhauled by the man himself. As Reid said over a dinner of shrimp and cheese grits, "We gutted it, laid everything out in front, and then put it back together." After checking out the town's attractions, from Ye Ole General Store (no, that's not ironic) to the pre-World War II ice-cream parlor, I was half ready to find one of my own and do the same.

Photo: Staff

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Granite Map Will Depict Replica of Early City Map

Published: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

FLORENCE - The original map of Florence, drawn in 1818 by an Italian surveyor who chose to name the city after the Tuscany capital, was tattered and battered before it was ultimately destroyed in a mid-19th century fire, according to Ashley Winkle, executive director of Florence Main Street.

The same surveyor, Ferdinand Sannoner, was given $25 in 1852 to replicate the map before it disappeared a few years later.

The only thing that could threaten the map this time around is a jackhammer.

Construction crews will pour the concrete this morning at the intersection of Tennessee Street Court streets for a 4- by 6-foot granite reproduction of Sannoner's map, said David Koonce, manager of the Florence street and solid waste departments.

If all goes according to plan, the work could be finished by early next week, he said.

It will be embedded in the sidewalk with a bronze plaque in neighboring shrubs detailing the rendering.

A design committee with Florence Main Street used proceeds from calendar sales to pay for the $8,000 project.

After plans for a Mobile Plaza statue or information kiosk were met with reservations, the group decided to turn to the map. It'll look a bit different from what is now known as Florence, said Billy Ray Warren, curriculum director for Florence schools.

"All that was really there was the downtown grid," he explained of the earlier map.

Back then, there was only one house in the area between Tuscaloosa Street and Hermitage Drive, he said.

Words will be displayed in their original American Indian spelling because the language had not been standardized at that point.

For example, Tombigbee Street will appear as Tombeckby Street, Winkle said.

Even with the map's longer lifespan, problems still exist. "Once it's in granite, you can't change it very easily," Warren joked.

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

Friday, May 22, 2009

SnowMasters Buys Park, Plans Upgrades

Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Frankie Guerra blows debris from one of the putt-putt holes at Funland Park. Francisco Guerra, Frankie’s father, has purchased the park and is giving it a makeover to use as a test site for his SnowMasters products, such as Flogos, artificial snow and fog.
Sunday, May 17, 2009

FLORENCE - Imagine skidding down a water slide with snow falling around you.

Or lasers and explosions interrupting your focus on a miniature golf course.

Those are among visions officials with the Lexington-based SnowMasters have for Funland park in Florence.

SnowMasters has purchased Funland, on Alabama 20 near the Florence Harbor, and will incorporate artificial snow, foam, Flogos and other products into a revamped version of the park.

Company officials said they hope to open in early June.

SnowMasters owner Francisco Guerra said Funland will be a testing ground for products and ideas SnowMasters could bring to large theme parks such as

Disney attractions.

"What we're looking to do is put in all our effects into this park," Guerra said. "We're going to make it a lot of fun."

He said Funland will be a family park, but he plans to dedicate Saturday nights to teenagers.

"It's a focus on children and our ability to wow them," Guerra said.

He said his son, Frankie Guerra, a Lexington High School junior, proposed the idea for teen nights on Saturdays. Frankie Guerra will be a manager at the park, which will be run by operations director Max Scott.

"There's nothing for teenagers to do around here, so this will be something for them," Francisco Guerra said.

The park will close at 6 p.m. Saturdays and reopen to teens. Frankie Guerra is a DJ and plans to provide music. He hopes eventually to bring in live bands.

SnowMaster products such as artificial snow, fog and Flogos, which are small clouds made in various shapes, will be common sights at the park. The products are used internationally at various locations, including Disney theme parks.

Funland is a longtime Shoals landmark. The top of its water slides are visible from O'Neal Bridge.

Frankie Guerra said it should be quite a scene when SnowMaster products are added.

"There's no way you'll be able to pass this bridge without seeing us," he said. "People have been ready for this. The park has the potential, especially with the reputation of SnowMasters, of really being something."

SnowMasters has been working on the park for a couple of weeks.

"People have been stopping off, asking what's happening," Scott said. "They get excited when I tell them what we're doing."

He said everything is being upgraded, including arcades, the party room, mini-golf course and go-carts. Scott looks forward to incorporating SnowMasters features such as foam pits.

"I'm real excited about the foam," he said. "I've been wanting to do something with that for a long time."

SnowMasters also will bring some of its inflatables to the park. Those range from trampolines to obstacle courses.

Frankie Guerra plans to bring lasers, shooting water and harmless explosions to the mini-golf course.

"It will be big theme-park attractions in a small park," he said. "We want to make it fun."

Fransisco Guerra said major theme parks and attractions use SnowMasters products, and Funland will provide a means for his business to try out new products and different uses for current ones.

He said the goal isn't necessarily to make a profit but to have something for the local community and test ideas for larger parks.

Francisco Guerra plans to put about $1.5 million into the park, including at least $1 million in equipment. That includes the company's most recent product, which produces scents.

"It'll be snowing when you go down the water slide," he said. "We just took over the property and are ready to do a lot of upgrading. This will be fun for toddlers to 65-year-olds and up.

"Just imagine playing golf, and all of a sudden, it starts snowing, or a layer of fog comes in. Or you smell pizza and decide it's time to eat. Or a golf ball goes in a ceramic monkey's butt and you smell flatulence. We want the kids to laugh and be freaked out."

He said a human slingshot is among new elements at the park.

"You put a person in a ball and shoot them," Francisco Guerra said. "They come unattached and land in a big glove."

He said he plans for costs at the park to be in line with what traditionally was charged at Funland.

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quick History of Florence, Alabama

A mound on north bank of the Tennessee River shows an advanced civilization lived in our area some 2,000 years ago.

Florence is county seat of Lauderdale County.

Seven trustees of a newly organized Cypress Land Company issued a charter to establish a town.

The company had acquired 5,515.77 acres of land for about $ 15.45 per acre for the town.

A first land sale was held in 1818, and a second in 1823.

One Hundred eighty people, including General Andrew Jackson purchased land during the sales

Florence laid out by Ferdinand Sannoner (pictured above), the Italian surveyor who named our city.

Sanonner named the city after his favorite Italian city, Florence, Italy which was built around the River Arno.

The Jackson Military Road was constructed through Florence between 1817 and 1822.

Three hundred workmen improved earlier Indian roads which passed through present day downtown Florence

The city was one of the first textile centers in this part of the country.

A cotton factory was located on a nearby creek in 1818.

Florence suffered greatly during Civil War.

The town repeatedly changed hands, part of the city was burned, and almost all industry was destroyed.

Population of the town jumped from 1,600 to 6,000 people from 1887 to 1890.

Work began in 1831, on construction of a canal to bypass Muscle Shoals. The attempt failed.

In 1875, an new effort to construct a canal was successful.

On November 10, 1890, a steamboat passed through locks on way from St Louis to Chattanooga.

Canal used until completion of Wilson Dam in 1925.

La Grange College moved from Colbert County to Florence in 1885.

La Grange College evolved to the University of North Alabama.

Florence has provided four Alabama governors: Edward A O'Neal, Emmett O'Neal, Robert M Patton, and Hugh McVay

W C Handy, the Father of the Blues was born at Florence in 1873.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Amazing Trace
Dero Sanford

By J. Wes Yoder | Dec 08/Jan 09 | Garden and Gun Magazine

The Amazing Trace

Why drive the ancient route connecting Nashville to Natchez when you can ride?

I’ve never spent much time on a motorcycle, so when I told of my plan to cover almost a thousand miles on the Natchez Trace, my friends who ride told me I was stupid. So did my mother. But I picked up a rented Harley-Davidson one Monday in early fall and stuffed a bag of clothes in one saddlebag and some books in the other. It was a big black machine with lots of chrome and leather. It was wide and heavy, and I didn’t know if I could get it out of the parking lot. The weekend before, I’d taken a motorcycle safety course in which I’d practiced on a toy-size bike and chiefly learned two things: that in educational settings adults are no less socially awkward than children, perhaps more so, and that for some reason a majority of the people who choose to risk their lives on motorcycles are cigarette smokers. It’s just a fact, but not a useful one, I found as I fired up the bike under the watchful gaze of the goateed Harley agent.

Just the word motorcycle has always held romance for me. Like Mexico, it triggers an idea of escape, the fond illusion of freedom. And what better road than the unspoiled, undeveloped Natchez Trace, a 444-mile-long two-lane highway stretching from Natchez, Mississippi (Mile Post 0) to Nashville, Tennessee (Mile Post 444)? Nicknamed the Devil’s Backbone, the trace follows the curves and slopes of an ancient migratory route worn down by bison that drifted from the grazing pastures of central Mississippi, north through Alabama, to the salt licks of southern Appalachia in central Tennessee. Then followed Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians on the “trace” of the hunt, then explorers, traders, trappers, bandits, soldiers, scam artists, bootleggers, and preachers. The route became obsolete in the 1820s with the invention of the steamboat. But the National Park Service toiled for many years (intermittently, from the 1930s to 2005) to complete a scenic parkway that follows the route of the original trace. It was this route that I sought, an unadulterated Southern landscape, free from commercial traffic, strip malls, Cracker Barrels, and mega churches.

The Natchez Trace as a road trip is not for the young man trying to commune with the memory of Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson. There are almost no signs of human life, besides fencerows and the road itself. There are no billboards or roadside motels or beer halls. There is a different kind of sameness, the continuity of a land with more identity oozing from it than anyplace I’ve been. Vast and discordant truth and legend, where the trees can be more frightening than the ghosts, and a storm more spiritual than a baptism. So the adventure and romance are there, if you are open to them.

I started my journey in Nashville at the north end of the trace. Ten minutes after I left the dealership I was on the road, and as I toe-shifted through the gears, it sounded as if I were cocking then discharging a weapon, six rounds in a row. The curves were delightful. So was the sound of the motor mixed with the wind. An hour later I eased up to an overlook, where I found four official-looking Harley riders: two men with Vietnam credentials, and their girls in tank tops.

It was the first time I’d ever parked the thing, and as I went over to their picnic table, they all called, “Your lights are on.” I fiddled with the controls, and a man started walking toward me. I managed “It’s my first day on a bike,” and they all said they could see that. When I told them I was writing a story for a magazine, they offered to help: “Well, set your camera up. If it’s Hustler, we’ll take our clothes off for you.” They were weathered people who knew how to laugh. They might have offered me a Busch Light if I’d stayed awhile, but dark was coming and I needed to make it down to Florence.

On the Natchez Trace, it seems there is a historical marker every other mile. The National Park Service has apparently sifted every bit of folk history that ever mentioned the trace, from settler’s diaries to Native American oral histories to forgotten generals’ memoirs. If I had stopped to read every nugget on every painted plywood sign, I would still be out there. For me, the markers with the most meaning read only, “Sunken Trace.” Here I stopped off at every chance to see where the old road remains. Before the steam engine, any trader who floated goods down from middle America had to abandon his raft and hike home. And so the trace was paved with footsteps. I liked standing between the earthen walls of the old trail, among the roots that reach out from the banks, but not for long. This was a one-way street through the dark forest, a tunnel almost, and some of the ones who longed for home would never make it. In the half-light and shadows I was most struck by how, after all this time, the path refuses to be erased by erosion or undergrowth, as if damp travelers were still coursing through.

In downtown Florence, I pulled into a place called the Veranda on Walnut. Night was falling and the house was empty, so I got back on the bike and found a Mexican restaurant where I ate too much, drank a bit, and watched every last snap of a Monday night football game that I cared nothing about. In the morning the man named Ron who owned the B&B had his breakfast with me. He explained that he was on a diet as he ate eggs and bacon and grits with diet butter. That’s why he held off on the hot banana bread. A nervous white dog was on his lap, but it was me he called “son.”

I headed out that morning toward Tupelo, hoping the autumn chill would make me alert on my machine. In the dappled light on a low flat stretch of highway, I slowed for something dark in my path: a brown bull with straight horizontal horns that were short and sharp. He was a sickly looking creature with a knobby spine that looked as if he might have been cast from the pasture by a herd of put-off females. I revved the motor. He had stupid eyes and would not move. Remembering my horn, I took a while finding it, then in trying to get it to sound, I took my hand off the clutch and the bike lurched and stalled. The bull walked off into the trees. Before I rolled away, I reconciled myself to him. “Poor fool,” I said, “neither one of us belongs on this highway.”

I motored on between the trees and over the Tennessee River and down into the fertile and fabled Black Belt. Here the defining feature of the land is its will to sink into itself. Your eye goes not to what is high, but to whatever has managed to make itself lowly. It is as if that rich, dark soil is so lustful for moisture that it sinks down toward the water table, and when it gets there it becomes a swamp, never to see light again.

In Canton, I stayed in a place called the McWillie-Singleton House, a B&B that was so nice that I felt embarrassed to be sleeping there alone. I took a pecan brew from the fridge, walked across an ancient heart-pine floor under ceilings high enough to squint at, listened to Delta blues, and shot pool until the fridge was empty.

It had been warm. My wrists and nose were sunburned. But in the morning I could see my breath. I rode along one of the more beautiful stretches of the trace, ten or so miles beside a reservoir east of Jackson, and the wind I sucked was as cool as menthol. The land flattened out, and in the swamps there were trees that had no more branches and were white and smooth and stood like crooked pillars of something that had once been great.

I figure I’ll be trying to pen this land to page until the day I die. But the land changes even as we try to stay the same. Once there were swamps with panthers and gators and bears. But men drained and burned that off to farm. Then crops didn’t pay, so they planted ugly pine trees for making cardboard and toilet paper. And they dug lakes to farm catfish. And today they’re draining those because corn feed is too expensive, and people are scared.

I was coming to Natchez, and I wanted to see that river. But first I stopped in Raymond on a tip that I would find a most unusual record store. I pulled up to the old cedar train station just as a hipster girl was pulling a cardboard Elvis out onto the porch. Going in I noticed the peeling paint on the walls and the fading lettering on a side door that read, “Colored.” Inside there were thousands of albums—only good stuff. Lamenting my lack of trunk space, I bought only two. I asked the girl what this place was doing there.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But they come from all over the world.”

Toward Natchez the live oaks draped in Spanish moss were like limbs coming unbandaged. There were lily pads in the swamps, hay in the fields. That evening, after I had checked into my room and walked down to the river, I ate a slab of ribs, drank some bourbon, and went to sleep happy.

I wasn’t planning on burning the highway back in one straight shot. And I can’t recommend that any novice rider sit on a seven-hundred-pound hog for nine hours straight, but I did. For much of the ride home I counted the mile markers. But two or three times that day, and I’m not sure where, I stopped watching my speed, stopped counting the markers. I saw the trees and the light in them. I smelled the fallow fields and the things the vultures circled. The highway carried me nowhere in those long moments. The land was unbroken—it knew no boundaries, no state lines, no mile markers, and at that time, which was no time, I didn’t either.

Home away from Home

Beds and breakfast offer in-and-out-of-towners new scenery
Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exotic vacations and getaways can be expensive with airfare and hotel costs adding to the equation.

Click to enlarge
The Veranda on Walnut Bed
Matt McKean/TimesDaily

But a nice staycation at a bed and breakfast can be an inexpensive way to reach the final destination of R&R.

At The Veranda on Walnut Bed & Breakfast, Ron and Doris Ross welcome their guests with baked pecan brownies. For breakfast, it's Belgian waffles topped with homemade strawberry jam or a traditional breakfast of biscuits, sausage, eggs, ham, bacon and fresh fruit.

The Rosses opened The Veranda six years ago, and according to Doris, the perks of a bed and breakfast include meeting new people.

"It's a very interesting business to be in because you meet so many different people from all over the country," Ross said.

Ross said customers come from as far as Florida and Georgia, but some of their most faithful clients are from the Shoals.

"That makes me feel very good knowing that they picked us over going out of town," she said.

The Veranda features three rooms. The largest room, the Christopher Suite, includes a California king bed, private bathroom and kitchen. Newlyweds often choose the suite, hence the nickname "The Honeymoon Suite."

"It gives them a neat place to stay without staying at a hotel," Ross said.

Ashley Winkle, of Florence Mainstreet, and her husband stayed at the Veranda for Valentine's Day 2008. Winkle said it was their first time doing a bed and breakfast and the stay was great.

"You get to get away from the house," Winkle said. "It's just a change of scenery."

She said the biggest benefit was not being stuck with the daunting task of packing and unloading luggage.

"It was nice to just go and stay somewhere different," Winkle said.

Carolyn Waterman, owner of The Limestone House Bed and Breakfast in Florence, said more people are staying in town for their vacations.

"We've noticed in the last 6-7 months we're getting more people from a 15-mile radius that just wanted to get away," she said. "It's a nice weekend getaway for them."

Attractions such as the theater, restaurants and downtown night life in Florence bring more people to the area, Waterman said. In addition, people often take a weekend to come to the area for the museums including the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts and Pope's Tavern.

"I think the Shoals has a lot to offer," Waterman said. "People are enjoying downtown a little bit more."

The Limestone House opened almost five years ago after Waterman and her husband relocated to Florence from Washington, D.C. The inn features two rooms, The Ford Room and The Edison Suite, both adorned with antiques.

"It certainly is more economical, and it still feels like a vacation," Waterman said. "People like bed and breakfasts because it is not like a hotel."

She said most couples return to the inn after staying there once. "Our business has increased every year," Waterman said.

The Emma House nestled in Killen offers wedding packages and celebratory event planning for anniversaries, parties and romantic dinners. But the Emma House is not a typical bed and breakfast. It features a medical spa that offers hair and nail care and Swedish massages.

Shelbia Brown can be reached at 740-5733 or

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lost Forever

Hawkins-Sample House, 219 Hermitage Drive, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Here is an historic photo of a Florence home we have sadly, lost forever. Pictures like these remind me of why preservation is so important. I can just imagine this house being painted soft, creamy yellow with dark green shutters while bright red geraniums hanging from baskets sway in the breeze and a young family talks to passersby.

Residents of downtown Florence don't just live here they are ambassadors of Downtown! They exude a pride of place not found in newer neighborhoods. Downtown residents know their neighbors and their kids and can tell you more than just a name about the people next door.

I invite you to explore the historic homes of downtown Florence. They are all worth saving! Revitalize YOUR downtown by becoming a resident and save our treasured places.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Visit of the Birthplace of the Muscle Shoals Musical Style

TRACEY TEO / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. – Nashville has long been known as the country-music capital, and Memphis proudly claims to be the home of blues and birthplace of rock 'n' roll. Tiny Muscle Shoals, which spawned the famous Muscle Shoals Sound, was once touted as the "hit recording capital of the world," but it has never had the glamour of more sophisticated Southern music meccas.

It's a world away from the LA music scene, and that's partly what attracted such diverse music legends as Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart during Muscle Shoals' heyday in the '60s and '70s.

The rural area was a refuge from the limelight and gave musicians a place to focus on their work with no distractions. But the main reason artists flocked to this obscure corner of northwestern Alabama was to get that indefinable, funky sound that couldn't be duplicated elsewhere. Many attribute that trademark sound, a confluence of country, rock and soul, to the smoking hot Muscle Shoals rhythm section known as the Swampers.

A tour of the recording studio of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, known as FAME, takes visitors back to a time when a revolution was under way in music. In the '60s, the lines between musical styles were blurred, and FAME became a hit factory for artists bold enough to experiment and find their own sound.

Alabama native Wilson Pickett, a major player in the development of Southern soul music, produced some of his best work at FAME, including the 1966 sensation "Mustang Sally." Many consider his soulful rendition of "Hey Jude," with Duane Allman on slide guitar, to be the birth of Southern rock.

Ben Tanner, a FAME engineer who often conducts studio tours, directs attention to the Wurlitzer electric piano that Spooner Oldham played on Aretha Franklin's 1967 hit "I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)." He says it's still played today.

Old photographs of Otis Redding, Little Richard and Clarence Carter adorn the studio walls, and fans get a chuckle out of the far-out, groovy fashions.

Tanner points out that a number of successful black artists recorded at FAME, and he calls the studio "one of the first racially integrated workplaces in Alabama." While the battle for civil rights was raging in other parts of the state, black and white musicians played side by side in Muscle Shoals.

In 1969, Cher released her album 3614 Jackson Highway, the address of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio where the record was cut. Although that was almost 40 years ago, Cher fans still show up to have photographs made in front of the unglamorous building, imitating Cher's album cover pose.

"It happens all the time," studio owner Noel Webster says. "People make pilgrimages here."

Thanks to Webster, this building that was once vacant and condemned is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fans from around the world arrive clutching albums and CDs by Lynyrd Skynrd, the Rolling Stones and many other bands that made history here. Some seem almost reverential as they check out old sound equipment and the instruments that were played on their favorite classic tracks.

Webster bought the studio in 1999 as a venue where he could record his own music, but with so much interest in the studio's history, he has been thrust into the role of museum curator and tour guide, telling stories of legendary Muscle Shoals jam sessions.

Even the bathroom is a source of fascination. David Hood, a bassist for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, left behind his signature, as did many other renowned performers. Legend has it that Mick Jagger penned "Wild Horses" here.

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is a tribute to Alabama's musical heritage and honors distinguished Alabama music professionals of every genre. On entering the lobby, visitors take the "Walk of Fame," a path inlaid with a series of bronze stars. Each is engraved with the name of a famous Alabama musician.

The Inductee Gallery features portraits of Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and W.C. Handy.

A tour of "Southern Star," the tour bus once used by the country band Alabama, offers a glimpse of what life on the road was like. Band members slept in bunk beds and had a makeshift living room where they could relax between performances.

For aspiring singers with dreams of chart-topping hits, making a CD in the museum's recording studio is a Hall of Fame highlight.

A musical odyssey through northwestern Alabama wouldn't be complete without paying homage to W.C. Handy, father of the blues. The W.C. Handy Home and Museum is a two-room log cabin in Florence that originally stood several blocks from its current site.

A knowledgeable tour guide sheds light on how Handy overcame some of his early struggles and how his most famous composition, "Memphis Blues," became a success. The piano on which Handy composed another famous piece, "St. Louis Blues" is on display as well as his trumpet and other memorabilia.


Note: FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio are both working studios; call ahead for a tour.

•Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Highway 72 West, Tuscumbia; 1-800-239-2643;

•FAME Recording Studio, 603 E. Avalon Ave., Muscle Shoals; 256-381-0801;

•Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, 3614 Jackson Highway. Sheffield; 256-783-2641;

•W.C. Handy Home and Museum, 620 W. College St., Florence; 256-760-6434.


•Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, 800 Cox Creek Parkway South, Florence; 1-800-593-6450.


•On The Rocks, 110 N. Court St., Florence; 256-760-2212; This is a great place to catch the Muscle Shoals Sound. Local bands play here regularly.

Tracey Teo is a freelance writer in Indiana.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Heritage Area Now a Reality

By Bernie Delinski & Tom Smith
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What began as a discussion in 1999 became a reality Monday when President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management, which created the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.

Congressman Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers at The White House on Monday as the bill was signed.

Former Congressman Bud Cramer, who retired in 2008 after serving in Congress for 18 years, first introduced the bill to form the Muscle Shoals Heritage Area in 2001.

"The Shoals has always proven to be a strong driver of our economy in North Alabama," Griffith said. "I am proud to see Congressman Cramer's work to grant National Heritage status to northwest Alabama and its surrounding areas be finalized. The Shoals is home to a rich and unique history that has impacted the cultural, educational and economic development of our entire country."

The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area will include Wilson Dam, the W.C. Handy Home, the birthplace of Helen Keller, as well as the expanse of Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties.

By being named a National Heritage Area, the Shoals can receive funds from the National Park Service to support publications and marketing for tourism, economic development, historic preservation and other related opportunities. There are 37 National Heritage Areas in the country.

The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the first in Alabama.

Colbert County Tourism Director Susann Hamlin said the designation helps bring clout to the area. She said the National Park Service helps market territories that are part of the area.

"It means prominence," Hamlin said. "This will help our museums and any attractions related to arts. We've gotten recognition from various groups, but to be given this heritage area will make a big difference for us."

Hamlin said the designation fits perfectly with the goal of promoting the area's music heritage and projects related to it, such as the Roots of American Music Trail.

Debbie Wilson, director of the Lauderdale County Tourism Office, said many people have worked toward this designation throughout the years. She mentioned Nancy Gonce, a member of the music trail's project development team, among them. Wilson said the University of North Alabama, Griffith and Cramer also were integral to obtaining the designation.

"It's going to open a lot of doors for additional promotion on the national level and make a lot more people aware of the history we have, especially our music heritage," Wilson said. "It'll also bring more opportunities for grants."

Sue Pilkilton, director of the Helen Keller Birthplace museum in Tuscumbia, said Ivy Green is an example of the type of place that benefits from the designation.

"This brings attention to history and brings attention to tourism," Pilkilton said. "That additional tourism means more people eating in restaurants, staying in hotels and buying gas locally, so it really benefits everybody.

"Not everyone can say that they're just so rich in history and heritage, but that's definitely something the Shoals has."

Griffin said the local coordinating entity for the Muscle Shoals Heritage Area is the Muscle Shoals Regional Center at UNA. It will be responsible for preparing a management plan, submitting an annual report of expenses and income, encouraging economic development, serving as a catalyst for the implementation of projects and programs among partners in the heritage area and making grants to and entering into cooperative agreements with the state.

"The heritage area will create jobs and increase property values for our rural economies across North Alabama," added Griffith. "With unemployment numbers breaking 22-year-old records, this is a great opportunity to jump-start the struggling economies of the Tennessee Valley."

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or

Tom Smith can be reached at 740-5757 or

Monday, March 30, 2009

Despite Economy, A Few Local Businesses Expand

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Increased unemployment, decreased consumer spending and tighter credit markets. Sounds like a bad time to expand a business, right?

Wrong. Some businesses in the Shoals are bucking the local and national trend of corporations in holding patterns, waiting for better financial times. From fitness to pharmacy, art to stationery, several business have expanded during the record-long recession.

Printer & Stationers, or PSI, completed renovations to their 75-year-old business in November and expanded their commercial focus to include retail.

"We've had this on the drawing board for months," said co-owner Mike Johnson of the 90-day renovation. "Part of bucking the trend is renovating the store and renewing our commitment to downtown."

The owners hired a retail consultant who advised them on roughly 2,000 items that constitute 99 percent of most stationery businesses.

"We wanted to address the retail segment," co-owner Bob Cox said.

PSI has six copier technicians who maintain thousands of copiers. The store also now sells $200 printers. An open house is planned for Friday.

Steven Barnes, owner of Barnes Health Care, said that his vendors gave him incentives to expand after several local banks turned him down for small business loans.

The new location opened in August near the height of the economic meltdown but still managed to expand the floor space from 2,500 to 14,000 square feet.

He finds ways to keep the business active and current. For instance, Barnes leases a display from foot care specialist Aetrex for $250 per month to exhibit orthopedic shoes, insoles and an iStep station that measures foot size, arch and pressure points and displays results on an LCD TV. Golden Technologies, which produces lift chairs, gave Barnes extended payment terms.

"It is difficult to open a business during a recession. People are not spending as far as your smaller items," Barnes said. "We do a lot of insurance (business) compared to cash (business)."

Barnes also developed an online presence in November, which now constitutes 10 percent of his business with 70 packages shipped daily, many out of state.

"We are trying to grow that now so we are not depending on the person buying that toothbrush," Barnes said.

Barnes said small business is the backbone of the American economy, a claim backed by numbers.

Small businesses, defined as those under 500 workers, employ half of American workers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Other businesses that have recently expanded include:

  • Gold's Gym, which opened a new location on Cox Creek Parkway.
  • Fashion designer Billy Reid will open his Florence headquarters in May after he opened his New York City store in October.
  • McGraw's Coffee House expanded next door into the Artisan Showcase that sells art from 65 artists and offers classes and art demonstrations.
  • Tennessee Valley Printing Co., which includes The Decatur Daily and The Moulton Advertiser, expanded its operation with the acquisition of the TimesDaily.

Expanding businesses are bucking the wait-and-see trend.

"Everybody right now is playing it cautiously, looking for indicators that the economy is showing an uptick," said Steve Holt, president of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. "Businesses can handle positive news, businesses can handle negative news - iffy news or no news, the business community deals cautiously with that."

David Winkle, owner of Winkle World in Sheffield, said the facility will be getting a facelift, including a reintroduction of go-carts and relining the pool in an effort to try "to get our stuff back in shape."

Instead of loans, Winkle said the company will use cash reserves from the business.

One of the main incentives for the renovations: Material costs for amusement parks have dropped, Winkle said.

By the mid-April opening, Winkle expects to have the go-carts up and running, with bumper boats possibly by early 2010, depending on the economy.

"We're mainly trying to get everything back in shape, then look for additions," Winkle said.

Not only retail businesses are expanding.

Margaret Forsythe, a mechanical engineer and founder of Forsythe & Long Engineering, said the business is in the process of expanding.

The expansion was preceded by lean times when work was extremely slow - the slowest in 15 years of the company's history, Forsythe said.

The engineering firm focused on the auto industry, but Forsythe realized the slowdown a year and a half ago and the firm decided to change focus to what Forsythe called a "recession proof" industry.

Forsythe said during the slowdown, the company used reserve funds and a credit line to keep afloat.

"And I didn't get a bailout," she said.

Trevor Stokes can be reached at 740-5728 or

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Replica for Park Fountain Approved

By Trevor Stokes
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

At a glance

The issue: Replacement/repair to the Wilson Park fountain.

What's new: The city council voted at its meeting today, on a plan to replicate the bird bath for $32,800.

What's next: If approved, the fountain will undergo six months of work and is expected to resemble the original 1932 fountain.

FLORENCE - After rejecting a granite replacement for the concrete fountain at Wilson Park, the city council is expected to vote on a replica of the 75-year-old structure at its meeting today.

If approved, The Design Center, based in Franklin, Tenn., will build a scaffolding around the fountain and make a rubber mold of the second tier in order to develop a concrete replica. The bottom tier will have a partial rubber mold made as a safety measure in case the structure is unstable, said Councilman Dick Jordan.

The Design Center made a photo-based replica of the third tier, a picture of which is available on the University of North Alabama archival Web site.

A work estimate of the project, in the best-case scenario, is two months.

In December, the council tabled a decision to buy a $28,935 granite surplus fountain that would have been shipped from New York. Several historians were concerned that it was too unlike the fountain that was originally built in 1932.

Jordan, who represents downtown, presented the plan to members of Heritage Preservation Inc., a non-profit community-based historical group. Since the 1970s, the third tulip-like tier on the fountain has been missing, said Billy Ray Warren, Heritage Preservation president.

"Several people have said they know where (the third tier) is, but no one is telling," said Lee Freeman, a historian at the Florence public library.

Through time, the freeze/thaw cycle and water in the fountain have worn the structure, which has exposed rebar and missing concrete chunks, Warren said.

Members of the historical group, including Brent Wood and Ashley Winkle, said the fountain has undergone several changes including an increased water arch and deepened water pool.

The proposed $32,800 fountain replacement, if approved, will be paid for from capital project funds, Jordan said.

Betty Champion, speaking on behalf of the historical preservation group, said they approved of the repairs and commended Jordan for working with them on the plan.

"This is exactly what we wanted," Warren said. "(Jordan) did what a district rep is supposed to do."

Trevor Stokes can be reached at 740-5728 or