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Breaking the mold: Downtown development will feature pub - and more

Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Mar 2, 2012

Diana Mandli dusts off the original hardwood floors recently uncovered in this 100-year-old building in downtown Gainesboro. The building is being converted into a Celtic pub.

GAINESBORO - The first time Diana Mandli stepped foot in the former H&H Furniture building, she just knew the space was built for acoustics. As she talks, her voice reverberates off the walls, the floors, the ceilings, winding through the thinly posted pillars seemingly holding the place together.

In just a matter of months, that same building, now emptied of sofas, love seats and dining room sets, will become a sounding board for an entirely different project in downtown Gainesboro – Mandli is planning to open a Celtic restaurant and pub.

The pub is part of a multi-phase project that will start with a women’s boutique on the corner of South Main Street and extend down East Hull Avenue with a property management office and a bakery that, in the future, will be available for lease. It’s also part of a wave of momentum seemingly riding through town right now. For example, Jackson County just recently joined Highlands Initiative, a four-county economic and community development project, and an effort to revamp the town’s once-thriving deepwater port is about to take off.

Mandli, who’s from Florida but has owned a home in Jackson County with her husband since 2006, says that momentum comes from a lot of forward thinking. People around here are “constantly on the lookout for every opportunity to remind people that Gainesboro is a really cool place to come to,” she said.

“The idea of preserving these old buildings was just really exciting to us,” she said, standing inside the gutted and now under construction pub. The first building purchase was made in April 2009. The other buildings were bought that fall.

“We’re so excited about this. We feel the buildings are part of the history of a community, and communities like this are suffering,” she said. “You look around at these great downtown areas, and these buildings are just beautiful, but probably 60 percent are sitting empty. People aren’t coming downtown to shop anymore, there aren’t jobs, and after awhile, the community and the buildings start to die.

“We’d like to see that reverse. And we’re not the only ones,” she continued. “A lot of people are working to revive downtown Gainesboro. And we want to join them in that.”

Celtic vibes

A pub, at first glace, is a seemingly odd standout in this sleepy, small town of about 1,000. The ability to even serve beer by the glass meant changing the town’s ordinance against it.

But to Mandli, it fit.

To be named Bull & Thistle, Mandli sees the pub more as a community gathering place than a bar/brewhouse, more like pubs in Europe, which are known for having the best grub and live music in town. She’s planning for a large stage and dance floor in the 7,900-square-foot space.

“My husband and I travel a lot, so we’ve spent a lot of time in the UK and Ireland and pubs are our favorite places. That’s where you hear the good music and you get the best food,” she explained. “We want this to be a community center in a way. A place where people will feel comfortable coming, having a good meal, hanging out for a few hours listening to music.”

Officials are hoping the economics also fit.

In a past presentation to the Gainesboro-Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Mandli discussed the economic impact the development could have. The storefronts – the boutique and bakery – could bring in an estimated $3,300 per year if gross retail sales reach $10,000 a month. If gross retail sales total $50,000 per month, that would equal $16,500 per year in new taxes for Gainesboro.

The restaurant, meanwhile, could bring in an estimated $8,573-$34,000 per year in new taxes to the city, depending, of course, on the number of meals served per day, a range spanning from 100-400 meals including soft drinks.

Add two beers for 15 percent of the patrons and those figures could bump to $21,906 per year for 100 daily meals and $87,649 per year for 400 daily meals, respectively.

Mandli also pointed out the indirect impacts, like increased traffic to the downtown district. She’s hoping the development will spur Gainesboro’s status as a tourist destination, a draw for people to come “spend the day, shop, have lunch and hang out,” she said.

As for the timeline of the overall development, renovation work has taken some time since the buildings in question are so old – dating from 1910 and above. Most are considered historically contributing, deemed so by the Tennessee Historic Commission, which serves as an additional challenge. Mandli’s been extra diligent when uncovering and/or keeping original features intact.

The women’s boutique, which will feature wares like purses, jewelry and home goods, will open first, likely in March. A former bank, the shop is highlighted by several original features, like wood flooring, brick and heavy-duty safe doors, giving way to the store’s namesake, “The Vault.” In conjunction with the boutique, the on-site management office is nearing completion as well.

About a year out will be the bakery, which Mandli would like to lease to an outside entrepreneur. She’s already shown the space to one interested mother/daughter team.

And July 4 is the target date for Bull & Thistle.

“It’s very time consuming. Honestly, we really didn’t expect to be doing this,” Mandli said.

“But, I’m 50, and you get to a point in your life when you realize you’re ready to do something different, and when something sparks your imagination and you’re drawing inspiration from it and you see the value of it - not just to yourself but to the community - it’s like a new lease on life.”

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Friday, Mar 2, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Thank God that someone can see the potential that Gainesboro has to offer. I LOVE my hometown and miss being there. I hope that is a huge success and can show other people what I have always known, that J-County and Gainesboro are the BEST!!!!
Monday, Mar 5, 2012 at 7:36 PM
So excited about this.... I love the Celtic culture!
Friday, Mar 22, 2013 at 6:24 PM
Its' open now, and definately has not been a disapointment. Food is great, atmosphere is unbelievable, and the beer is cold, with very few glitches. Grand opening scheduled for early April. Come on down and spend some time in Gainesboro.