She Wins. Now What?

A few weeks ago, Asheville City Council voted to allow food trucks like Suzy’s to sell in the city’s central business district. But sorting out those details has only begun.

by James Shea and Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose

Suzy Salwa Phillips and fellow food truck owners just got a big green light. After a year of lobbying the city to allow food trucks like Gypsy Queen Cuisine to operate in Asheville’s core, the truck owners got their way: An initial Asheville City Council vote on the matter in August didn’t pass by a large enough margin to change city ordinance. But on September 13, the council voted 5-2 to allow trucks to operate in the middle of downtown, provided they follow a few specific rules.

Now, the devil is in the details of those rules. And Phillips will be under pressure to plow through them in coming weeks as prime food-selling season comes to a close and winter approaches.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:08PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment

Mess Marks the Spot

Constance Humphries likes exquisite “wads of things.” See one of them at a prestigious show at the Asheville Art Museum this month.

by Ursula Gullow . portrait by Naomi Johnson

Her paintings—unlike much of the rest of her life—are a total mess. In one of them, Swing, currently on display in the Asheville Art Museum show Color Study, tangles of grey interact with strokes of pink and blue, all bursting onto a field of white. “I find mess really interesting,” says Humphries, 45. “Whether it’s in nature, or whether it’s crowds, or in the thrift store where everything is just in piles. I’m simultaneously interested and really freaked out by disorganization.”

To make her gestural paintings, Humphries, an Asheville native, begins by creating an “under-painting” using relatively random marks and colors. Then, she paints the dominating marks, which takes hours. “I have to do it slowly and carefully or else I’ll create mud,” she says.

It’s a combination of the right brain and left, control and chaos, that seems to run through her entire life. After getting a degree in art from UNC-Asheville, Humphries lived in Chapel Hill and got a master’s degree in information science. Then she moved to New York City for several years, working in digital media and web design for MTV and Nickelodeon’s parent company, Viacom. When she moved back to Asheville in 2000, she signed up to teach digital media classes at A-B Tech.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:07PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References6 References

This Old (Haunted) House

A Saluda woman’s new book is based on a tale about her spooky home.

by H. Byron Ballard . photos by Brent Fleury

In 1991, Corinne Gerwe and her late husband David purchased an intriguing old house in Saluda, North Carolina. The former church has a rich and eccentric history, and now it’s the setting for a new book, The Strange Case of the Doyle Diary Murders.

Construction began in 1888 on the Saluda First Baptist Church, and it was dedicated, appropriately enough, on Halloween in 1894. The congregation eventually outgrew its home, and it was bought by Mrs. J. D. Hunt, who converted it into a private residence. Mrs. Hunt was a spiritualist whose decorating taste ran to the dramatic, including flamingo-pink interior and outside trim.

When Corinne and David bought the house from Mrs. Hunt’s heirs, it was a dusty time capsule with most of the furniture and effects as Mrs. Hunt had left them—“down to the hairpins,” Gerwe chuckles. The couple did extensive renovations, including removing the garish trim and returning the house to a sedate grey. They found all sorts of interesting artifacts from the Hunt days, including a Ouija board and a book by Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. Gerwe, who has a Ph.D. in biological psychology and has taught at Clemson University, is a fan of Doyle’s work but didn’t know this particular book—one of his later works on spiritualism.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:05PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments2 Comments | References1 Reference

Down the Tubes? Nope.

Tommi Crow battled Lowe’s and Home Depot and won. Now, she gets to keep selling her American-made InfoTubes.

by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose

In mid-May, Tommi Crow knew it was some sort of victory when a Hillman Group executive called from Ohio. He said, as she recalls: “There seems to be some sort of confusion here. Our inboxes are filling up so fast we can’t work.”

Crow, 52, lives in South Asheville and is the inventor of the InfoTube. It’s the plastic tube you sometimes see in the yard of a for-sale home, and InfoTubes (along with another of her inventions, the InfoBox), have been used by real estate agents around the country for two decades now, after Crow partnered up with Home Depot and started selling them through the chain in 1991.

After college, Crow, a Missouri native, moved to Dallas and sold real estate. Tinkering in her garage one day, she assembled a crude tube—one she could leave her sales literature in. After a while, people started calling and saying, “Hey, where’d you get that tube?” she remembers. Brokers and customers were often more interested in her tube than the homes she was trying to sell.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:04PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments3 Comments | References7 References

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band?

An Asheville Symphony bassist spends her days playing in the dirt.

by Olivia Springer . photos by Matt Rose

Playing a standup bass isn’t quite the same as playing in the dirt, but Sara Nichols feels lucky that she gets to do both. As a soil conservationist, the 28-year-old works by day with Madison County landowners and farmers. By night, she plays in several area orchestras, and she was one of the Asheville Symphony’s youngest members when she joined it in 2005 at age 25.

On a typical work day, Nichols drives around Madison County talking farming practices and watersheds. A bit of a tomboy, she was raised in Bradenton, Florida, and knew early on that she wanted to work in science. She moved to WNC and majored in biology at Mars Hill College. Now, she’s thrilled to put her skills to use drawing maps and testing air and water quality. She has even come to appreciate the looks she gets as a young woman (occasionally carrying an auger or a shovel) ambling onto a field to talk engineering.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:03PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Bound and Determined

A Hendersonville librarian is a rock star at heart.

by Mick Kelly . photo by Matt Rose

It was clear Martha Huggins had some serious inner cool. When we started talking with the 54-year-old assistant librarian, a few twists and turns in her personal life were quite intriguing. Huggins spends her days at the Edneyville branch of the Henderson County Public Library tending to the stacks and telling people to shush. (Actually, she and her fellow librarians are chatty, and sometimes a crew of elderly library volunteers tells them to shush.) She lives just two miles from the library, where she and her husband Fred raise two goats and ten chickens.

But Huggins also has a bit of a rebellious streak, which started young. The New Jersey native skipped college—too “establishment” for her taste at the time—and moved to northern California at 19 to live on a commune. She never went to college, something her librarian colleagues sometimes hassle her about. In fact, she always wanted to sing on stage like Bonnie Raitt.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:02PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

News That's Fit to Wear

interview by Beth Ellen . photo by Matt Rose

Name: Michelle Karmel Assoian

Age: 52

Lives in: North Asheville

Where did you get your fabulous jacket? In San Jose on a road trip I took to decide where I was going to move after I left New Jersey almost a year ago.

What made you choose Asheville? I’m a painter, and I was looking for a community that I would feel at home in. I love the mountains, so Asheville proved to be a really great place for me.

And how do you get your news besides wearing it? Usually on my computer. My homepage is I get the Sunday New York Times delivered in print too.

What kind of art do you do? Well, lately I’ve been doing more portraits. I’m working on one of my mom and I. I used to do murals, but I decided I don’t want to do scaffolds and ladders anymore. I’m just really enjoying myself right now.

How long have you been dabbling in art? All my life. I was born with a little beret on my head and a French accent. I had two coloring books when I was growing up, one for my friends and one for myself.

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 02:00PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Out of the Woodwork

interview by Olivia Springer . photo by Beth Ellen

Name: Abby Wood

Age: 24

How long have you lived here? Five months. I moved here from Ohio.

Where did you go to school? I went to Ohio University and studied ceramics.

Why Asheville? I needed to get out of Ohio because I had been there all my life. I wanted to get a job at a gallery, so I work at a couple—Woolworth Walk and Ray Pottery in The Grove Arcade.

What do people say when you tell them you’re from Ohio? Ohio doesn’t bring a lot to people’s mind—only football, which I don’t care a lot about.

Me neither. What do you care a lot about? Pretty much ceramics and the art world.

What are your ceramics like? I make non-traditional, non functional, more conceptual work.

You remind me a lot of Audrey Hepburn. Do you get that often? I was Audrey Hepburn for Halloween last year, and I’ve loved her ever since I was young. I watched her movies with my mom.

What do you like about her? She is classic beauty, so charming. I didn’t know there was a thing with art school girls that like her too, but there is.

And weren’t you in a fashion show recently? Yes, for Sew Moe. That was a last-minute thing. A friend of a friend asked me to do it. I felt like I was making faces the whole time.

Were you afraid of falling on the runway? I definitely made sure I wore non-slip shoes. 

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:58PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

The Happiest Hour

An up-and-coming comic likes football and bourbon. But not honking when “puffy people” jog.

by Beth Ellen . photo by Roy Cox

The strangest things can inspire people to be stand-up comics. Thirty-three-year-old comedian Erin Jackson has always loved Bill Cosby and Ellen DeGeneres. But what really convinces her that she can tell jokes for a living are odd little moments in everyday life. Like standing in line at CVS waiting for the cashier to figure out how to give her 15 cents change. (The woman ran out of dimes.) Or that time when she was on a flight to Los Angeles and her plane caught on fire. (No joke.)

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:58PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Keep Love Alive

Local gals (and a sexologist) share their tips.

by Susan Reinhardt . photo by Rimas Zailskas

Let’s face it, ladies: passion wanes. Over time, keeping the romance in a relationship scorching hot is just about the toughest job of all. No time for sex or intimacy? Too much work, not enough play? Too many soccer practices and social events? It’s an old familiar rut.

If all else is going well, though, it’s time to take matters into your own hands (so to speak). At this juncture, says clinical psychologist Kelley Wolfe, a relationship can either fizzle or fire up. You don’t have to settle for humdrum, she says, when a few tweaks can keep your sex life soaring.

Wolfe, 44, is a mother of two and has been happily married for 15 years. She specializes in sex education and finds that relationships lacking hanky panky and intimacy are much more likely to succumb to doom.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:57PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References3 References

Mamas vs. Mental Illness

Hendersonville moms unite. This month, they’re hosting the award-winning author of Crazy.

by Beth Ellen . photo by Matt Rose

In 2008, Adrienne Brady, 63, had a startling thought: “If only I had known about this 15 years earlier, I truly believe that my son...would not be living on the streets.” Brady had just attended her first meeting of a Hendersonville chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Her whip-smart son James was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 26. He started struggling in college and then dropped out, telling his family he was going hiking. After the trip, he lost touch for years. At one time, he reappeared and was treated in a psychiatric ward, but then started wandering again. His mother now believes he is somewhere on the West Coast.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:55PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment | References4 References

Comic Relief

Lauren Johnson will run a new comic-book-themed gallery for geeks.

by Ursula Gullow . photo by Matt Rose

It’s okay to call Lauren Johnson a nerd. But actually, the 33-year-old writer and illustrator prefers the term “geek.” Johnson and her husband Matthew, 35, have always had a fondness for fantasy, sci-fi, pop culture and video games. This month, the two are opening ZaPow!, one of the first galleries of its kind in Asheville, to showcase all original illustrative paintings and drawings, plus merchandise like graphic novels, comic books, T-shirts and prints. You might say it’s a gallery run by nerds, for nerds.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:53PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment | References4 References

Influence? They've Got It.

Lisbeth Riis Cooper and others win the YWCA’s annual awards.

by Tiffany Narron . photo by Justin Belleme

At a packed awards ceremony with much-talked-about stacks of bacon as appetizers, the YWCA of Asheville gave three prestigious awards to Asheville-area women. The 25th annual Tribute to Women of Influence, at the Diana Wortham Theater, honored philanthropist and mental health advocate Lisbeth Riis Cooper, Yaira Andrea Arias Soto of the Center for Participatory Change, and Women for Women, a giving circle that’s part of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

Soto, a Colombia native, works with Latino immigrants through the Center and other grassroots groups. Riis Cooper, cofounder of the nonprofit CooperRiis Healing Community, with her husband Don Cooper, opened their first mental health facility on an 80-acre organic farm near Columbus in 2003. They opened a sleek, light-filled Montford facility last year. Lisbeth was one of VERVE’s 2010 “Women to Watch.”

The YWCA’s 25 honorees (pictured above) were divided into three categories: equality, empowerment and transformation, based on the YWCA’s mission of empowering women and eliminating racism. This year, awards went to both individuals and groups. Proceeds from the event, some $36,000, benefit YWCA programs. Kitty Schaller, former head of Manna FoodBank and the 2010 honoree, handed out the awards. Bacon (and other tasty treats) were catered by Corner Kitchen.

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:51PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Even More Skin in the Game

Kara Errickson won the AdvantageWest-VERVE business plan competition this spring. In six months, her company has taken off.

by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose

In June, Kara Errickson’s startup, Skin Food Topical Nourishment, got one heck of a kickstart. She won our women’s business plan competition, sponsored by AdvantageWest and VERVE. That included a prize package of $10,000 in cash and services, with marketing help from Marilyn Ball of 12Twelve and business coaching from the Asheville nonprofit Mountain BizWorks. Errickson, whose product is an all-organic skin salve that comes in a novel recycled cardboard tube, was also our June cover girl. Her company got a publicity boost after the award and VERVE story, including a June write-up in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

And then the real work of running her startup began. Right away, local stores like the French Broad Food Co-op in downtown Asheville were on board. In her first week, she sold three cases of Skin Food there, and managers said customers were clamoring for more. Other local stores have signed up too, and now Skin Food is sold at Asheville shops like Black Dome Outfitters, Makeup at the Grove Arcade and Sensibilities Day Spa.

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Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:49PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References9 References

Editor's Note

If you find yourself bored in Asheville, it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been ziplining and hiking, watching plays and music, feasting on a Biltmore hillside and sipping moonshine with terrific women friends. We live in a remarkable area with a huge range of inexpensive (or free) activities, and I feel lucky to be able to take advantage of them.

This month, if you are stumped about what to do, turn to our Calendar (page 14). Coming up in October is Asheville’s second Moogfest. The first one, last fall, was the biggest musical event of the year. This year’s fest promises to be hipper still, with a Moby performance, Brian Eno’s artwork and more women rockers and electronic music artists in the lineup. Personally, I’m looking forward to St. Vincent, a New York indie rocker whose guitar playing on her latest album, Strange Mercy, will blow you away. LEAF, the twice-annual Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, also looks impressive for this month, with performances by the a cappella powerhouse Sweet Honey in the Rock and Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, among others.

After living in New York for years, I grew to love Jewish foods like latkes and knishes. You can find plenty of those in downtown Asheville on October 16 at HardLox, the Jewish food and heritage festival on Pack Square. In fact, while there are still some things I miss about New York City, I rarely find myself pining for that place. Asheville and the surrounding area offer more than enough to keep me busy, intrigued, tickled, titillated, and generally on the edge of my seat. I hope it does the same for you.

Happy reading, 

Jess McCuan

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 01:48PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment