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Tough timing: businesses in Townsend held grand openings just before COVID-19 shutdowns

What a time to open a business in a tourist community! The Healthy Vibes Cafe and the Artistic Bean in Townsend held grand openings in early-March.

TOWNSEND, Tenn. — You don't have to tell Janie Griswold and Devon Leonard the cliché "timing is everything."

The mother and son spent the last year building a new restaurant in Townsend, called Healthy Vibes Cafe and Bakery.  

Griswold and Leonard found a prime location along the busy road to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Townsend's river walk greenway goes by their front door. They developed a healthy menu unlike anywhere else in town.  

And when the big day arrived for their grand opening, it only took one week for the timing to prove unfortunate when the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the economy.

"We opened March 14," sighed Griswold with a smile. "People have said, 'Well, you really picked a good time to open, huh?' Well, who knew?" 

Credit: WBIR
Janie Griswold stands with her grandson Landon and son Devon Leonard on the front porch of Healthy Vibes Cafe and Bakery in Townsend.

"Right when we got the contract signed and ready to go, that's when we [the nation] got hit by COVID-19. We always have a 'plan b,' but nobody could have planned for the majority of the country to shut down," said Leonard.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park began closing its visitor centers on March 17 and shut down the entire park on March 24.

Healthy Vibes isn't the only restaurant to open at a difficult time. The Artistic Bean coffee shop held a grand reopening on March 3 after renovations under new ownership.

The lack of travel during the pandemic is hitting tourist communities around the Smokies hard.  The latest figures for the first three months of 2020 show overall visitation in the Great Smoky Mountains dropped by more than 20 percent compared to the same time in 2019.

Credit: WBIR
Healthy Vibes Cafe and Bakery in Townsend.

Townsend's reduction in visitation is the most drastic of all the major entrances to the Smokies, down more than 36 percent compared to the first three months of 2019. Townsend's visitation was also hurt by the closure of the road to Cades Cove in January and February.

At Healthy Vibes, Griswold remains positive about their product and the support they've received from the community.

"This is something Townsend needed.  People have been wanting healthy options, so we're going to try to fill that niche," said Griswold. "It has actually been okay. We've had a lot of support from our local community. We've done deliveries. We've done carry-out. And honestly it's not been too bad considering [the situation]."

Leonard said they've filed for a small business disaster loan. They are also doing what they can to invest in their community by collecting food for those in need. 

Credit: WBIR
Good Vibes coffee mugs at Healthy Vibes Cafe and Bakery in Townsend.

"We have delivered groceries to people. Basically, anything to get our name out there," said Leonard. "My mom, she always says 'good vibes.' It is even the signature when she sends you a text. That is very important. Probably the most important thing."

For businesses that make most of their revenue serving tourists, neighbors have delivered the best vibes at a perfect time.

"You realize what a close community you have, because people have come out and supported us. We've had people come out and say, 'We just want to support you.' That shows you what the community is made of during difficult times," said Griswold.

LINK:  Healthy Vibes Cafe and Bakery Facebook Page

RELATED: April 10, 2020 - This year tough on Townsend tourism; March visitation nosedives in Smokies

RELATED: March 1, 2020 - 'The best way to get hope is to give it away' | Townsend woman aims to help others heal through coffee

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