FLOWERY BRANCH - In Flowery Branch, Planning and Community Development Director John McHenry and candy store owner Karen Ching have the same vision and for Ching, it is a dream come true.
The Liberty Candy Store, in the first floor of a street corner vintage 1906 building downtown, is in fact a childhood dream come true for Ching, a 20 year resident of Flowery Branch, originally from St. Louis, Missouri. She decided to invest in the Historic District right when a downtown re-development effort is getting into full swing, instead of opening in a more modern, higher traffic location.
"It has the old vintage look and it matches my personality more than a new mall or strip mall," Ching said. "I just like the history of downtown Flowery Branch and the community, I just like it here."
Ching wrote a business plan that included the entire building that holds 2000 square feet. She converted the second floor into six office suites, four of which are leased.
"That permitted me to go after the dream downstairs, and that was the candy store," she said. "So we've actually brought four more businesses into the building with the office suites upstairs, and a couple more would fill it up."
Ching said her personal development vision meshed with the city's re-development plan very well.
"The timing was really, really good on my part, it wasn't planned, it was sheer luck" she observed.
The Liberty Candy Store takes visitors and customers back to that special time in their childhood. It's almost like stepping back into the mid-20th century. The walls are lined with jars full of sweet treats, and in the back, there's the kitchen where the homemade fudge is created.
"There's the nostalgic candy, the candy we had in the 50's, 60's and 70's that always brings a smile to people when they come in," Ching said.
But Ching says the main attraction is what comes out of that kitchen.
"I've been making candy for my family for Christmas and Easter and different holidays for the last 20 years and I really like doing it; it was my creative outlet when I was working 9 to 5," according to Ching. "So I incorporated all these little things that I love into one place and everybody else loves it too."
It appears that historic Flowery Branch has become a family affair. Ching's
daughter-in-law works at the new health and wellness center that just opened next door. Her son works at the sales and marketing office for the family steel business, Coppersmith and Liberty Steel Fabricators, just up the street.
As for the Liberty Candy Company, Ching said she surprised her accountant by showing a profit after the first month in business in June.
Karen Ching and her investment is just the kind of development John McHenry wants to see. He just wants to see more of it, and so do the people who attended the August 27th re-development information meeting at the historic Railroad Depot on Main Street.
"There were definitely some common themes in terms of what people want to see in this city," McHenry said. "People want to see retail opportunities, they want to see more 'walkability', better connection between McEver Road and Atlanta Highway and they're looking at potentially where City Hall could go."
McHenry recalled there was a good turn-out at the meeting, around 40 citizens, and one thing they were interested in was what could be done with the city owned property downtown.
"Downtown is almost fully leased at this point, but we do have a bunch of city owned properties and we want to take advantage of the current economic climate," McHenry said. "People want to be in a downtown area where they can walk to things and have shops and restaurants. We want to kick start that."
Keys to developing downtown could include successfully marketing those city owned properties. There are three of them, and moving city services off Main Street and away from prime retail spots would make room for the retailers. Another key could open up downtown with better road connections.
"It could bring in traffic and people could see what a great area this is," McHenry observed. "A lot of folks don't realize there's this awesome, quaint, historic area of Flowery Branch, and they really just need to see it, and once they see it, they'll love it and want to come to it more."