City of Rocky Top has potential for growth in business district

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By Crystal Huskey

A few weeks ago, residents of Rocky Top learned that their only grocery store was shutting down. While that has a significant effect on the town, city manager Michael Foster and county commissioner Tim Isbel say that it’s not a sign of the local economy as a whole.

“We’re working on securing another grocery store for where the Shop Rite was,” said Foster. “We’ve had a couple people interested in looking at the property.”

One group, who Foster can’t yet name, is seriously interested.

“When that store had stock on the shelf, you could hardly find a parking spot,” said Isbel. “If it was not a viable option, why would the two store managers we all know so well be willing to go into substantial debt to establish a new grocery?”

Isbel was referring to former managers Patrick Asquith and Tony Daugherty, who are trying to purchase the store themselves. 

Foster cited a few businesses that are all set to open in Rocky Top very soon, including a Little Caesar’s that’s going in on U.S. 441.

“It’s where the old Hillbilly Market was,” Foster said. “The developer is turning that into a three-to-four spot retail location and already has a contract on that.”

According to Isbel, there is a new Y-12 Credit Union ATM going in as well. Clayton Homes has also purchased a site behind the new retail development that will put their trucking division in Rocky Top, according to Isbel.

Two liquor stores are opening up. One is going in where the current Uncle Sam’s fireworks store is at 625 N Main St. The current owners will keep the building and are transitioning to the new store.

The second liquor store has been approved by the city, but the property has not yet been secured, according to Foster. That will be owned by John and Tina Davenport if it opens. (The LaFollette Press previously reported that the Davenports would run the liquor store at 625 N. Main St. We apologize for the error.)

City leadership has worked on improving the town as a whole by applying for and receiving grants for road improvements downtown, updating infrastructure and other projects.

“Any time you update the infrastructure, you improve the chances of retail and business coming in,” Foster said. “We’re always looking at recruiting business here and increasing traffic count.”

The city has approved ATV access from Highway 441 up through close to the entrance of Norris Dam State Park. It is also approved from Highway 116 to Sharp’s Chapel, according to Foster.

“They can travel from Rocky Top to Caryville,” he said.

This area has seen an increase in ATV tourism over the past few years as more cities have allowed ATV access on highways and connected more trails.

According to Isbel, a major project in the works is a 100-home development at Mountain Lake. He still has high hopes for the resort that is being planned near Norris Dam Marina. Gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd had made promises that he would approve the development, but with his primary election loss, the future of the project remains uncertain. Isbel said that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee has said he supports the project and will make efforts to learn more about it. If that comes to fruition, it could possibly bring in millions in revenue to the area.

Whether it’s a big leap or small steps, the city’s leadership has faith that through hard work and careful planning, the city will continue to move forward.