⊕ Ovation Awards 2015: Favorite Retail Establishment


Honoring the various retail outlets in the Upper Cumberland for customer service, varied or unique product selection, convenience and overall value to the community.


FRAGRANT MUSHROOM GALLERY WHITE COUNTY | 12 W. Bockman Way, Sparta | (931) 836-8190

Fragrant Mushroom in Sparta.
Fragrant Mushroom in Sparta.

Homemade, eclectic – and with just a little bit of funk. The Fragrant Mushroom is Sparta’s Mecca for made-in-Tennessee art. Currently, 13 different artists are on display: photographers, woodworkers, jewelers and more, including pottery via Thor McNeal, who owns the outfit with his wife Cherri.

The two founded the Fragrant Mushroom in 1999 and moved their gallery to its current location on Bockman Way six years ago.

“When we first started, it was basically my pottery,” McNeal said. “But I think we’ve given local artists an opportunity to stand out and show what they can do.”

Beer seems to be the biggest boon in business these days. McNeal’s latest project is a series of handmade, wheel-thrown growlers, containers used mostly for holding draft beer, for Calfkiller Brewing Company. He says he’s one of only three potters in the country crafting such creations.

“It’s a market that’s just completely wide open,” McNeal said. “I think we’re going to do fairly well with this, because it’s really an industry that’s trying to give you a taste of their personality; for Calfkiller, the growler is an extension of their personality.”

In the somewhat near future, McNeal hopes to attract other artists to open up shop on the downtown Sparta strip. He’s always looking for more to display their work at the gallery – even an apprentice.

“We’re hoping that we get more into tourism. One of the things most tourists want to see is an art town. It only takes maybe three or four different shops to generate something like that.”


THE PAINTED HOUSE PUTNAM COUNTY | 239 S. Lowe Ave., Cookeville | (931) 854-9599

Kim Johnson.
Kim Johnson.

It started off as hobby. Kim Johnson would spend her workweek lunch breaks junkin’, scouring flea markets, thrift stores, and estate sales for vintage finds. Then, one weekend a month, she’d sell them. But when she got laid off during the recession – after 14 years in the corporate finance world – she turned that hobby into a full-time job.

The Painted House, a retail store that specializes in Southern home furnishings, opened in 2011. There, you can find a variety of home furnishings, like candles, bedding and its most popular item – Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The Painted House is one of only a few retailers in Tennessee to carry the line.

“It’s a good mix of the old and new. When you can mirror those two things together, it gives it a more homier feel,” Johnson said.

In January, The Painted House moved to its current location on South Lowe in Cookeville, the former Beautiful Balloons Giggle Shop. It means more parking, more visibility and double the space – Johnson teaches chalk-painting classes, for example. It’s been a weird turnaround, Johnson admits, but it’s been oh, so fun.

“I always loved it, but I never thought it would turn into this,” she said. “I love it.”


THOMAS SMITH/NAPA AUTO PARTS INC. WARREN COUNTY | 236 Beersheba Hwy, McMinnville | (931) 474-6272

Thomas Smith has certainly climbed the ladder in the auto parts business. He started part time in the industry and worked his way up to a store manager position. Then, in 2007, with 19 years’ experience to boot, he took the biggest leap of all. Owning his own business.

Smith has operated the NAPA Auto Parts store in McMinnville for eight years now and has seen steady growth ever since.

“I saw an opportunity to be independent, to have my own business,” he said. “It’s not been easy, but it has grown each year over the last eight years. A lot of the growth we have has been re-invested back, (with) more inventory, more products, upgrading equipment and things like that.”

Smith says McMinnville market is a “fiercely” competitive one, but that his shop stands out as the only locally owned and operated parts store in town. He makes sure the business maintains a presence in the community, via the local chamber, exchange club, Boy Scouts, church groups and various community organizations.

“To be a good retailer, you need to be tied into the community,” Smith said. “One thing that being a business owner has allowed me to do is better tie into the local community. I think it’s important that you take a percentage of what you’ve been blessed with and give back.”


EB GRAY JEWELRY OVERTON COUNTY | 108 W. Court Square, Livingston | (931) 823-5151

EB Gray also handles engraving.
EB Gray also handles engraving.

Overton County’s oldest family business may also be its most shiny. EB Gray Jewelry celebrated its 100th anniversary last year on Livingston’s downtown square.

EB Gray Jewelry not only sells your standard diamond rings, necklaces, watches and more, but offers services like engraving, repairs, custom design, appraisals, etc. In 2010, EB was among the first jewelers in Tennessee to add a laser welder to its repair department. They try to maintain a social media presence via Facebook and Pinterest.

“While they just celebrated 100 years in business last year, they also do a great job and have loyal, as well as new customers daily,” said Rita Regan-Underhill, director of marketing and tourism at the The Livingston-Overton County Chamber, who nominated the jeweler this year.


About the awards

The Upper Cumberland’s annual Ovation Awards honor the top businesses and individuals in the region. Among the 29 total awardees in 2015, 20 are first timers. Ovations were awarded in seven categories overall, including:


Ovation Award winners are nominated by Upper Cumberland Business Journal readers and selected by the UCBJ staff. The awards were first founded in 2008.

Liz Engel is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at liz@ucbjournal.com

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