Gatlinburg reopening a welcome sight for businesses - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Gatlinburg reopening a welcome sight for businesses

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http://www.wbir.com/news/local/wildfire/busy-streets-a-welcome-sight-for-gatlinburg-businesses/367506333

When Gatlinburg officially reopened to the public on Friday morning, visitors from all around drove in to show their support for the community recently devastated by wildfires. 

While most of downtown was spared, the return of guests were a welcome sight for business owners and employees. 

Many visitors said they booked their visits before the fires and decided not to cancel as a way to help get businesses back on their feet. 

"Everybody's going that extra mile, I think, to be friendly to everybody and support them," Nathan Smith, a tourist from Kentucky described. 

"Everybody's always friendly, but they seem even more so right now," Smith said. "We've been to several stores where the registers are down, and people are in line and wanting to check out and the registers aren't working, but everybody's being really nice about it."

The Park Grill in downtown Gatlinburg narrowly escaped damage from the fires. Flames destroyed the restaurant's outback storage facility but the restaurant itself was left untouched.

Owner Geoffrey Wolpert said the first day back has been relatively smooth with a steady flow of customers, but behind-the-scenes business is far from normal. 

"We still have employees that don't have homes, that are living in motels," Wolpert said. "We really didn't know what kind of business to expect today, so staffing was a bit of a problem."

"This is a long way from being over, and we're just happy to have a little bit of normalcy coming back into our lives," Wolpert added. 

Over at the Sidney James Mountain Lodge, Friday marked the return of many of the employees and first time they've been able to book overnight stays for guests.

"We're starting back, and it just feels really quiet and really slow," Owner Sid Maples said. "But phones are starting to ring, people are still calling with lots of questions."

Just across the street, the Park Vista Hotel is still closed for business.

The fire storm that tore through Sevier County destroyed or damaged more than 2,400 structures and killed 14 people. 

At Loco Burro, getting back to work was crucial for 13 workers who lost their homes and 20 who were displaced by the fires. The company began cleanup Monday working together to get the restaurant ready to reopen. 

"It brought us a lot closer as a company, as a family and I think if there's a silver lining, that's it," said Chad Kennedy, owner of Loco Burro. 

Even with the town back open, Kennedy knows there's a long road ahead. 

"It's not over after today. There's a long road ahead and we're committed to becoming the best we can again," he said. 

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