New businesses bring life to historic downtown building

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

One of the most recognizable buildings in Black Mountain’s downtown historic district won’t remain empty much longer.

Known as the Brown Livery Stable at 108 Sutton Ave. in the National Register of Historic Places, the formerly-three-story brick structure with commercial space on the top level (139 Cherry St.), will soon be home to two new businesses.

Asheville-based Poppy Hand-Crafted Popcorn plans to occupy the top floor of the building, which is accessible through an entrance on Cherry Street. A bookstore/coffee and gift shop, known as Sassafras on Sutton, plans to move into the bottom floor.

The head chef for Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn, Todd Hogoboom, makes the first batch of popcorn at the business's new headquarters in downtown Black Mountain.

Poppy opened on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville in 2014 as a retail shop for Ginger Frank’s homemade popcorn. She partnered with co-owner Lori Blankenship, and the business “took off like wildfire,” Frank said.

“We started out just selling popcorn to folks in Asheville,” Frank said. “Very quickly we started getting requests for other retailers to carry our popcorn. We did research, changed our packaging and began offering our popcorn wholesale. The retail and wholesale businesses just grew so quickly.”

Originally intended as retail-only space, the location on Merrimon struggled to keep pace with the growing demands of a booming wholesale business that supplies products to more than 300 retailers in 45 states. Rising real estate costs in Asheville shifted the attention of Frank and Blankenship east to the Swannanoa Valley.

“We were originally looking for just a production facility, but we came upon this space that allowed us to do production and, because of its location, retail in Black Mountain,” Frank said. “The minute I drove up to the building I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I really love this building.’”

The top two floors of the building, which have since been converted to a single level,  were constructed in 1915. The stone foundation of the building dates back to 1895, when Jim McKoy redeveloped what was once a general store and post office into the livery stable.  

The building’s owner, Ryan Israel, said considerable renovations were done to the interior of the structure after he purchased it in 2011.

“With it being a historical building it had to be renovated to those standards,” he said. “We had to work on the interior, and that work had to be in-line with the original building..

Wooden structural support beams were removed from the bottom floor, Israel said.

“The top floor had wooden trusses and one of those trusses failed,” he said. “We had to lift the building around six inches and encase that beam with steel, and then encase that with wood so it would remain historically correct. There were a lot of renovations done there from the ground up.”

Using natural ingredients, Poppy began production of its 21 flavors of handcrafted popcorn on Nov. 16. It will open to retail customers for Holly Jolly on Friday, Dec. 1.

“We’re really excited, it’s definitely going to be a beautiful store,” Frank said. “People will enjoy coming by and checking us out, if they’re not familiar with us already.”

Poppy’s location in Asheville will continue to operate as a retail store.

Below Poppy’s, accessible from Sutton Avenue, will be Sassafras on Sutton, owned by author Susanne Blumer and her husband Cole, who are moving to the area from upstate South Carolina, where they’ve owned a farm for more than a decade.

Sassafras on Sutton, a gift shop, coffee shop and bookstore, will open on the bottom floor of the old Brown Livery Stable in Black Mountain.

“My husband’s father was a PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA) minister, so he grew up going to Montreat,” Susanne Blumer said. “We’ve continued coming to the area throughout our marriage and we felt it was time for a change.”

Sassafras on Sutton will feature handmade gifts and coffee, for which Blumer hopes to partner with a local roaster, she said.

There will also be a “substantial selection” of books, according to the published children’s author.

“My daughter and I have a book series called 'Piper Periwinkle,'” Blumer said. “My 13-year-old daughter writes that with me.”

The store will also host events like book signings and provide “a place for local people to come too,” she said.

Blumer and her daughter will be on hand at Holly Jolly, she said, but the business will not open permanently until early February.