General Store Opens in Former Masengill Space in Downtown Johnson City | News


Bradley and Lora Eshbach plan to open a general store at 244 E. Main St. in downtown Johnson City in the spring.

In 1856, Johnson City founder Henry Johnson built a house and general store at the intersection of a main stagecoach route and a new branch of railroad.

This tiny outpost has turned into a town, and now Bradley and Lora Eshbach hope to honor Johnson City’s roots by opening a general store this spring in the city center. The GP will move into the former home of Masengill’s Specialty Shop at 244 E. Main St.

“I’ve always been obsessed with general stores,” Bradley said. “I think they’re a pretty iconic part of the culture of the South, the culture of the Appalachians. It’s sort of the first business and sometimes the only business to appear in small communities, and it’s sort of a hub of activity.

Bradley said he and Lora hope to transform their space into a community center and a “mini department store,” offering a bit of everything for everyone. The Eshbachs plan to “feed” the general store with a community of local vendors. The site will also serve as a resource for members of The Generalist’s “Retail Collective”.

The monthly fee that sellers will pay to sell in the space will include the ability to list products through The Generalist’s online storefront. Vendors will also be able to use the store’s post office.

“The real selling for sellers is that you don’t just sell your business in person, but you can sell your business online in a bigger network,” Lora said.

The Eshbachs also plan to offer workshops for vendors. These resources will help small retailers with little e-commerce experience learn how to take an appropriate product photo, for example.

“We want to continue to find ways to educate and bring in other experts,” Lora said. “… We want to have ongoing resources for suppliers to come in and learn how to take it to the next level.”

Bradley attended Science Hill High School and East Tennessee State University before finally moving in 2010 to work. He and Lora, who is from California, met in Chicago. The couple have traveled to eastern Tennessee regularly since they started dating and tied the knot in Jonesborough.

In Chicago, Lora co-founded an event space and gallery, which also featured a monthly market. Bradley comes from the advertising industry. When Lora and Bradley moved to Johnson City, it was in an effort to build both a business and a family in the area.

“Downtown has always been where our heart has been, and for my entire life the Masengill building has been an iconic and important part of my life,” Bradley said.

Bradley remembers going to church just 400 yards down the road at Central Baptist, the same church frequented by former Masengill owner Ambers Wilson.

The Masengill specialty store was founded in 1916 by John Masengill and finally closed in 2017.

Downtown Johnson City, Bradley noted, had a solid line of department stores that gradually faded as business attracted to the Johnson City Mall, Roan Street and now Boones Creek. He can’t wait to see this commercial and communal attraction return to the city center.

“I feel like we’re kind of polishing a diamond that’s already in the crown of downtown,” Bradley said of the old Masengill space, “and I really feel like we are stewards of something bigger than us. “

With 4,500 square feet to fill, Lora and Bradley are now hoping to receive community feedback on what they want in a general store. They also want to hear from people who have memories, photos or stories about Masengill’s specialty store.

Contact The Generalist on social media or by email at [email protected]

“We’re very interested in getting feedback from the community as we build this,” Bradley said.

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