Alleghany Pop-Up Market

pop-up posterOn March 25 from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm the Blue Ridge Business Development Center (BDC) will host a “pop-up” market for direct sales vendors.  25 representatives will offer a variety of products at this event.  To limit the duplication of products, the event has only accepted one representative per product line.  These representatives are primarily home-based entrepreneurs that normally connect with their customers through parties or small events without the benefit of a traditional store front.  A recent method of supplementing that model is having the businesses “pop-up” at a location for a short period of time.

According to Dale Caveny, director of the BDC, the purpose of this event is threefold.  First, this will offer a physical location for customers to access a wide range of items.  There will be products familiar to many such as Mary Kay, Avon and Tupperware.  These will be joined by a variety of other skin care products, clothing such as LulaRoe, jewelry, handbags and accessories, children’s books, candles, and nutritional supplements.  A representative from Damsel in Defense will be offering basic personal defense items designed for women.  The Alleghany County Farmers Market will also have locally grown items for sale.  The Farmers’ Market is using this event as a means of spreading the word about the products offered each Saturday throughout the summer.

Second, this event is an opportunity for those interested in exploring business opportunities to connect with a product vendor. New representatives usually sign up with an experienced vendor who serves as a mentor for the new entrepreneur.  Caveny points out that many of these direct sales ventures can be quite profitable for the representatives.  And experience gained from these businesses often serves as a catalyst for other business opportunities.

Finally, Laurie Brintle-Jarvis, director of the Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College, will be on hand to talk with established and prospective vendors.  The Small Business Center  offers a multitude of classes for small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Those classes range from how to best market a business to accounting procedures.  Brintle-Jarvis also provides individual, confidential counseling for business owners.

This event is an opportunity for the BDC to explore new ways of supporting small business networks.  “In many ways these direct sales representatives provide a model for how business has to be carried out in a small community,” said Caveny.  “Each vendor has a customer network that they develop and grow.  Social media increasingly plays a role in maintaining those relationships.  At this event, we will bring those 25 networks of customers together for four hours.  That networking model is key to the success of all business in our community.”

“Many of the vendors and customers at this event will be from out of the county,” Caveny continued.  “It is our desire that this experience will introduce a new group of people to Alleghany County and that they take advantage of the dining and shopping opportunities after they leave our event.”


For more information contact Dale Caveny at the Blue Ridge Business Development Center.  336-372-1525 or

For more information on things to see and do in Alleghany County, visit the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce here.

Eric Murphy – Special Olympics of Alleghany County

IMG_4593It only takes a few moments of conversation with Ennice resident Eric Murphy to realize he is passionate about sports.  An avid reader of newspaper sports pages, he is an encyclopedia of statistics on individual players and teams ranging from basketball to NASCAR.  But Eric is much more than a casual observer, he is an active athlete through Alleghany County’s Special Olympics program.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany County High School, Eric became an integral part of Friday night football games when his parents, Larry and Velinda, had a Trojan mascot costume designed and made for Eric.  His contribution to rallying the crowds in support the players on the field helped earn him the Trojan Team Award during his senior year.

Eric 1

The Murphy’s involvement with Special Olympics began when they heard of a bowling program in Ashe County.  Larry is a bowler.  He thought it would be a good activity for him and Eric to do together.  Each Sunday, the family would leave church in Galax and make the drive to the bowling alley in Ashe County.  They came to enjoy the camaraderie with the other families and athletes. When a program was started in Alleghany County, they shifted back closer to home.


photo by Lillis Ward

There are approximately 25-30 athletes in the Alleghany program, ranging from 9 to 65 years of age.  They play Bocce ball (a sport originated in ancient Rome), basketball, bowling, and track and field events.  When asked why he enjoys those activities, Eric said, “I like hanging out with my friends and I love sports.”  He added, “I would be lost without Special Olympics.”

Eric is a fixture around the Sparta Square shopping center.  He is approaching his ninth anniversary of employment with Burger King where works as a cook and helps out with cleaning the dining area.  He said he loves his job and has a well deserved pride in the quality of the food he prepares for others.  Velinda hears from many people in the community that they frequent Burger King just to hang out and talk sports with Eric (Eric spends much of his days off just visiting in Burger King).  She said that Eric knows everyone at Food Lion and Hardees, and that they all know him.  Eric laughed and added that the employees at Hardees tease him by calling him a traitor when he stops by some mornings for gravy and biscuits while wearing his Burger King uniform.


photo by Lillis Ward

As Eric and Velinda describe his day to day life and activities, it is apparent that it requires a community effort to offset the challenges faced by many in our community.  When Eric receives his work schedule from Burger King, he forwards it to Alleghany in Motion who helps with his transportation to work.  The Alleghany Wellness Center welcomes (at no charge) the Special Olympians to their facility each Thursday for nutritional counseling and athletic activities as part of their Healthy Athlete program.  Former Alleghany School superintendent Kim Mattox awarded Eric a lifetime athletic pass to school events, a pass Eric fully utilizes.


Spin class at the Alleghany Wellness Center – photo by Steve Mason

On March 25th our community has another opportunity to assist these athletes.  The 2017 Polar Plunge will be held at Lake Louise in Roaring Gap.  This event is the primary fundraiser for Alleghany County’s Special Olympics.  Those willing to take the plunge or make a donation can do so by following this link.  Eric is looking forward to his first dash into the icy waters and has a goal of raising at least $250.


photo by Lillis Ward

Velinda sums up Special Olympics this way: “It is a blessing that we have this program in our county.  It gives these kids – I call them all kids regardless of age – a way to get together with their peers and have fun in an environment where they aren’t judged by what they can’t do.  Eric is fortunate.  If he didn’t have Special Olympics he would still get to bowl with his dad or go to ballgames.  Many of the others aren’t that lucky.  This program helps keep them active, and provides the social and physical outlets they need for healthy lives.”

polar plunge

Want to help?  In addition to registering for the Polar Plunge or donating online, feel free to contact the following volunteers to see how you can contribute to this program.

BJ Edwards     336-306-4555

Linda Tucker  336-372-5432

Lillis Ward      336-529-3133



Get Outside Mountain Relay

gomrJune 2, 2017 will usher in the inaugural running of the Get Outside Mountain Relay (GOMR).  Runners will be treated to scenic mountain backroads flanked by thousands of Frasier Firs and farms that have been tended by the same families for decades.  The winding route will cover 104 miles of Alleghany County landscape that ranges from the high ridgelines of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the New River bottom lands.

Teams will be comprised of 4 to 12 individual runners.  The 104 mile route will be broken into 18 separate legs with an exchange point at each leg.  Depending on team size, each runner will run 3 to 9 legs.  Teams will cover the course twice for a total of 208 miles.


So, what sets GOMR apart from similar races?  Other relays have a point to point route and requires teams to provide their own transportation during the race.  This leads to team members often being strung out along the length of the relay and spending little time together.  GOMR organizers will provide transportation to and from each exchange point, resulting in cost savings for the team.  Since GOMR has a circular route, teams will be provided a campsite that serves as a hub or base.  This base camp will have a festival atmosphere where runners can interact with local artisans, food vendors, volunteers and other teams.  The desire is to create a strong sense of community between the teams and local citizens as together they form the “GOMR Nation.”

“Community” is a word that comes up often when talking with race organizers Donny and Wendy McCall.  The course covers virtually all communities in Alleghany County.  The McCalls anticipate 300 Alleghany County residents volunteering to make this race a reality.  They want runners to get a feel for the varied landscape of Alleghany County and the warmth of its residents.

Donny is known by many for his appearance on the reality television show, Shark Tank.  As he pitched his idea to the venture capitalists, a recurring theme was his desire to use his business as means of adding to the economic vitality of Alleghany County.  That unwavering commitment to the community and Donny’s unwillingness to outsource production elements of his product frustrated the sharks who were focused on the company’s bottom line.  His refusal to bend led to numerous blogs, articles and this ABC report that debated the merits of his steadfast desire to have his product made in America.  Donny’s focus on social entrepreneurship have carried over to GOMR.

The McCall’s desire is for GOMR to provide an economic “shot in the arm” for Alleghany County.  Their goal is to bring 100 teams – 1000 runners – to Alleghany County for the weekend.  They hope those runners have such an enjoyable time that they return to bike those same backroads, take a float trip down the New River, start a business, or listen to some of the finest traditional music in the region.

The Get Outside Mountain Relay is much more that a race.  It is a chance to be a part of something new and a way to exchange the hot temperatures of the lowlands for cool Alleghany evenings.  It is a way to explore a mountain community up close and personal.  Most of all, it will be a weekend where a new running community formed.


For more information on the Get Outside Mountain Relay, visit their website here.  You can email them at or talk with them by phone at 336-363-4984.  Or you follow them on Facebook.

Click here for registration information and discount deadlines.

For more information on Alleghany County visit their website here.

Material for this blog first appeared in the Alleghany News.


Hannah Brady – Honey Bee Cuttery

img_4572Twenty-six year old Hannah Brady is continuing a tradition as old as the mountains of Alleghany County – the home based business.  Throughout the decades, rural women have supplemented the family income in a variety of ways.  For some it was as simple as selling surplus eggs or freshly churned butter.  Others took in sewing or sold hand-stitched quilts.  It was in this same spirit that Hannah launched her business, Honey Bee Cuttery, in January 2016.  In a short 12 months, she has seen it grow beyond her expectations.

Hannah’s family moved to Alleghany County from Beech Mountain when she was ten years old.  Her father, Troy Ward, is a carpenter and her mother, Andrea, owned a landscaping business and each fall she operated a pumpkin and Christmas tree lot in Wilmington, NC.  Both parents installed a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit in Hannah and her brother, Austin.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany High School, Hannah served as student body president, played volleyball and was on the swim team.  Her next stop was the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill where she received a degree in teaching.  She then returned to Alleghany County where she taught biology and general science at Sparta Elementary School before moving on to the high school as a biology teacher.  She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Appalachian State University.

Hannah’s mom became ill and battled cancer for 13 months.  Andrea had always been active so when she was sick, the family searched for ways to help keep her busy.  One item they used was a borrowed craft vinyl cutter.  Hannah and her mom spent valuable time together focusing their creative energies on intricate paper and vinyl designs.


T-shirt by Honey Bee Cuttery

Hannah’s mom passed away in 2011.  Hannah took over operation of the Wilmington tree lot for two seasons.  There she learned the value of developing networks within the community.  One repeat customer was former Boston Red Sox star, Trot Nixon.  Hannah remains friends with him and his family.  She also gained firsthand experience of the importance of marketing and customer service.

As she developed these business skills, she saw a possibility of taking her hobby of vinyl cutting to the next level.  She invested in a computerized craft cutter.  This enabled her to put her designs in an electronic format which are then sent to an automated cutter.  This process allowed her to do custom work in small quantities.  She began experimenting with apparel, decals, tumblers and Christmas ornaments.


Christmas ornaments by Honey Bee Cuttery


Easter totes by Honey Bee Cuttery

She knew from her days on the tree lot that having great products is only part of a successful business.  She also had to connect with customers.  To do that, Hannah formed an Etsy store so she can sell to customers online.  She pitched her products to the Alleghany High School Athletic Booster Club as a way for parents to promote the school and recognize their individual students. Because of the customized nature of her products, her Facebook page has become her biggest source of orders.  Approximately 90% of her sales are generated online.  10-15% of her customers are from outside Alleghany County and that number is growing.  She sums up her business strategy simply as her desire to, “Have a quality product at a reasonable price so that people can afford to shop local.”

Hannah is quick to give her husband, Chris, credit for much of her success.  Chris is a middle school teacher at Sparta Elementary.  He not only gives moral support to Hannah’s efforts, he often lends a hand to help with orders.



Custom mortar boards for graduates by Honey Bee Cuttery

There is a notion in rural areas that all the best and brightest young people have left for city life.  Hannah embodies the fallacy is that statement.  The former student body president, graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Alleghany High teacher, expectant mother, who will graduate with a master’s degree in education this spring, somehow still finds time to manage her growing business.

Those women who sold eggs and quilts paved the way for contemporary women like Hannah Brady to carry that entrepreneurial tradition forward.  Across our county, young women, as well as men, are taking over family farms and opening small businesses.  They are guiding canoe trips, pouring gourmet coffee, working as welding contractors and tending to our medical needs.  Where some see obstacles, they see opportunities.  These young people are making a difference in our community.  While many of our youth do leave, not all of the best and brightest have crossed the county line.  If we open our eyes, we will see that like Hannah, they have been here all along.


View Honey Bee Cuttery’s products on their Facebook page by following this link

Or contact Hannah Brady by email at


Mitzi Biggins – Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery


Mitzi Biggins

Mitzi Biggins has been baking her entire life.  The Alleghany native enjoys taking a variety of individual ingredients, mixing them together, subjecting the mixture to heat, and then seeing a customer enjoy the new creation. This October she decided to channel her passion for food and people into a business venture, Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery.  In hindsight it is clear that Mitzi’s life journey has set her up for success.

Mitzi grew up just outside of Sparta.  As is the case with many young people, she heeded the siren call to experience life outside her childhood home and ended up in California at age 17.  One day, a friend came up with free tickets to Disneyland.  They spent the day at the park where Mitzi met a young man from nearby Anaheim, Dan Biggins.  After a year in California, Mitzi decided it was time to head home to Sparta.  Dan came with her and they have been married for the last 34 years.

In 2000, Mitzi, began a culinary course through Wilkes Community College.  It seemed a natural fit given her love of cooking. When her father became terminally ill, she had to drop out of the program to help with her dad.  She then spent some time working with the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.  And many Alleghany residents may remember Mitzi from her ten years as the owner and operator of All Things Catering.  These experiences, along with helping Dan with his business, Roupe Brothers Electric, Heating and Plumbing, have given Mitzi and unique skill set to launch a business.  But, starting a new business always comes with challenges.


Rosemary Walnut Cake

First is the challenge of starting a retail business in a small community.  With a population of roughly 11,000 people, Alleghany County presents a retail business with a small customer base.  Second, her business is currently home-based. While working from home can create trials, Mitzi is quick to point out that Martha Stewart got her start working out of her basement.  Finally, Mitzi realizes that her product line contains items that may be new to some residents.  One of her favorite items is Baklava.  Since some people aren’t familiar with the Mediterranean dish, it is one of Mitzi’s staples when sharing samples with various organizations.



Even though she is faced with myriad challenges, Mitzi has well defined business goals.  She envisions growing into a Main Street business with repeat customers who feel satisfied and valued.  She plans to launch a gluten-free product line.  The Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College is helping guide her through the business end of her enterprise through classes, and individual, one on one business counseling.  And she has her eyes set on developing a customer base that extends beyond Alleghany County.  Luna Marketing, an Alleghany based marketing business, will help Mitzi develop her marketing strategy.


Apple Walnut with caramel glaze

A recent exciting development for Mitzi is an invitation to setup a display in Williams and Sonoma.  This national chain based in California, sells kitchenware and home furnishings.  Mitzi will be at the Winston Salem location on December 17 from noon until 3:00 pm in the Hanes Mall.

Baking is a fitting metaphor for how small communities like Alleghany County creates economic vitality.  The mixing of familiar, perhaps even common, individual ingredients to create something new doesn’t just apply to baking cakes – it describes what it takes to grow our local economy.  Both require experimentation and innovation to reach a broader audience.

Mitzi Biggins is doing more than baking delicious cakes and pastries.  She is modeling how to take smart risks and test new ideas.  It is a trait that is Absolutely Alleghany.


For current pricing or to place orders, call Mitzi at 336-830-3735.

Visit her Facebook page at Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery










Guillermo Camacho – OBX Seafood

Sparta is quite a ways from the seafood markets on the Outer Banks – somewhere in the neighborhood of 5½ to 6 hours.  Yet every Friday afternoon, Alleghany County residents can buy fresh seafood straight from the coastal waters of North Carolina.  This rare opportunity is kindled by a friendship that developed at Alleghany High School and a fueled by strong vision for the future.

Guillermo Camacho moved to Ennice in 2004 when he was eight years old.  His dad had moved here in 1989 and worked on a local dairy farm.  Guillermo began fourth grade at Glade Creek School and later attended Alleghany High School, graduating in 2013.

When Guillermo was a junior, Jordan Budd moved to the county and attended Alleghany High.  Guillermo and Jordan became friends.  Their friendship endured despite Jordan moving to Advance in Davie County after only one year in Alleghany.

Jordan’s family hunted and spent time in Hyde County in eastern North Carolina.  An acquaintance from Mattamuskeet Seafood suggested to Jordan that there was an opportunity to begin selling seafood in the Piedmont.  They worked through the details of how to transport the fish so that the product retained its fresh flavor.  Jordan contacted Guillermo and asked if he would like to join him in a business venture – OBX Seafood.


Guillermo Camacho

After initially buying solely from fish wholesalers (fish houses), Guillermo and Jordan began exploring along the coast with the goal of finding the highest quality seafood available.  They have since developed a network of contacts with fishermen from Manteo to Beaufort/Morehead City to Sneads Ferry.  Their weekly schedule is exhausting and illustrates their desire to deliver a quality product to the people of western North Carolina.

Monday:  Handle all the administrative functions, and clean their coolers and truck.

Tuesday:  Head east.  They begin calling their contacts as they travel toward the coast.  They check with the fishing boats to see what they are catching and what will be available.  They send this information out in an email to their customer distribution list and begin taking pre-orders.  Tuesday night they usually sleep in the truck or camp on the beach.  Guillermo refers this this as “getting salty.”


From sushi grade tuna to rainbow trout

Wednesday:  They travel the coast buying straight off the boat whenever possible.


Fresh oysters

Thursday:  They travel home late Wednesday or early Thursday morning.  Once back in Advance, they spend much of the day cleaning fish and preparing them for sale.  They have several restaurants in the Winston Salem/Greensboro area that they sell to on Thursday for their weekend menus.

Friday:  Guillermo sets up at Hawks Produce on Hwy 21 just south of Sparta.  Jordan and his girlfriend sell at the farmers markets in Advance and Greensboro.


“There is nothing like fresh fish,” says Marie Carlson. “It is really great to have them here.”

Saturday:  They setup at three different farmers markets.

Sunday:  They sell at the Greensboro Farmers Market.

On Monday, they start again.

Yet, as Guillermo describes the schedule, he doesn’t focus on the relentless grind or not having days off.  Instead, he is looks confidently to the future.

They are currently making home deliveries of pre-orders in Mooresville, Troutman, Advance and Mocksville.  They hope to expand this service and are exploring how to ship the product in a way that ensures that the fish maintains its freshness.  They want to develop better displays for their stands and hope to build a mobile “crab shack” that can be towed from one site to another.

Guillermo is a confident, 20 year-old young man who communicates well with his customers.  He can offer advice on how to cook a variety of seafood that results in an enjoyable meal.  He speaks of focusing on North Carolina products and protecting the environment.  He talks of growing their business into a large network that furnishes seafood across the state to a broad base of customers.  It would be easy to dismiss it all as a youthful dream, but it only takes moments to realize that this is no simple dream – it is a business plan with growth potential.

What spurs on Guillermo’s entrepreneurial spirit?  One could look to his family moving here to start a new life.  Perhaps, it was a teacher at Glade Creek School who shared with Guillermo that he could achieve anything he set his mind too.  Or maybe, it is something characteristic of Alleghany County where innovation has been a necessity, community relationships are a must, and there is a dogged reluctance to take “no” for an answer.


Go here to register for online purchases from OBX Seafood.  Or email them at for current prices and availability.

Guillermo Camacho can be reached at 336-200-1175

Jordan Budd can be reached at 336-978-8199

Or follow them on Facebook


Looking at Appalachia – One Year Later

It has been one year since Roger May brought the Looking at Appalachia photography project to Alleghany County.  The 75 photos were exhibited in the Blue Ridge Business Development Center for one month and were viewed by people from 12 states and two foreign countries.  The timing of the exhibit coincided with an ongoing effort to engage in economic and community development in Alleghany.  It was hoped that the exhibit would generate conversation about how we, and others, view our county and region.

Since last October, the photos have been shown in at Radford University (Radford, Virginia), the University of North Carolina – Asheville, Adrian College (Adrian, Michigan), Robert Morris University (Moon Township, Pennsylvania), West Virginia University and will be shown at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC this November.  After that showing, the current exhibit will be retired.


Roger May – photo courtesy of Meg Wilson

Roger has also been busy.  He has led an online class with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and taught a class on Multimedia Storytelling at the Appalachian Writers Workshop.  He has also started a new photography project, Laid Bare, which examines the effects of mountain top removal for coal extraction in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

In a recent interview, Roger reflected on the past year and shared insights he has gathered along the way.

When he looks back at the show in Sparta, Roger describes it as exactly what he envisioned when he and others began talking about taking the photos on the road.  “The reception was one of the best attended, and was supported by a cross-section of the community,” he said.  “I’m glad that Alleghany took a chance on us.  At that point, we weren’t completely sure what the trajectory of the project would be.”

Roger said that one of the most surprising aspects of the project is how interest continues to grow in Appalachia.  He said that the region is incredibly diverse and defies broad generalizations.  “When you consider the breadth of culture, economy and even dialect, there are vast differences across Appalachia.  We tend to forget that cities such as Asheville, NC and Chattanooga, TN are in the heart of Appalachia.” He points out that those urban areas are much different that the stereotypical hills and hollows, and th extractive economies tied to coal and timber that we often associate with Appalachia.  And even in the more rural areas, an interstate highway or major manufacturing facility can completely change the socio-economic conditions of a county.

What’s next For Looking at Appalachia? May hopes that the project will continue to evolve and take on new shape and form.  He hopes to expand the website to include audio and video stories.  He has ambitions to start a podcast as a way to amplify voices of those in the region, especially those who seek to document the people and places of Appalachia.

Perhaps his most thought-provoking statement about the future of the project also strikes at the core of any regional social or economic strategy:  “We (Looking at Appalachia) have to be open to change.  We have to be conscious of not only how we view ourselves, but how others see our region.  Once we limit our perspective, we lose the reason for the project.”



Photos from 2015 can be viewed at  Photos for 2016 can be submitted at the same site.