Story by Jake Flannick
Since reopening a modest storefront in downtown Asheville a little more than a year ago, Bryan Hudson has curated a remarkable collection of homegrown products. They sit atop dark-stained wooden shelves and are tucked away in coolers, thoughtfully displayed like artwork in a gallery.
His business, Asheville Direct, is rooted in the local economy, serving as a onestop shop for locally made foods, medicines and skin care products. It is the latest reincarnation of a coveted retail space that has remained in his family’s hands for about two and a half decades.
“All of the money that you drop on the counter stays in the mountains,” says Hudson, an imaginative entrepreneur originally from southwestern Ohio. More precisely, its economic impact stays within a 30-mile radius of town, where all of its artisanal products are made.
Stretching only 11 feet wide and 35 feet long, the shop carries a little more than 60 brands, from meats and cheeses to soaps and tonics. Sitting atop tasting tables are things like jams, hot sauces and mustards. Most are organic and contain locally sourced ingredients, and there are also gluten-free and vegan options.
“Whatever you get in there satisfies your body,” Hudson says. More than three fourths of the shop’s inventory is local foods; the remainder are medicines and skin care products. “I really had to dig,” he says of the products, adding, “The first 14 brands were easy to find.”
Nestled amid the vendors of Battery Park in the heart of downtown, the shop has helped a number of small businesses launch new products and expand their customer base. Among them are Waynesville Soda Jerks, Copper Pot and Wooden Spoon, also in Waynesville, and Mimi’s Mountain Mixes of Hendersonville.
But beyond business matters, the place itself holds special meaning for Hudson, whose mother-in-law, Julie Thompson, set up a needlepoint studio there more than 25 years ago—in an even smaller space stretching 5 by 11 feet. Thompson eventually transformed the studio into a storefront, buying and selling art supplies like canvases and threads.
Their paths didn’t cross until years later, after Thompson sold her wholesale business in the late 2000s. Some time after Hudson introduced her to his father—the two became a couple—the space was remade into a clothing and jewelry store, which Hudson ran for six years or so. But before long, the family business fell on hard times, especially after the death of his father, who played a significant role in supporting it.
“We almost lost everything,” says Hudson, who took it upon himself to transform the shop once again no more than a year after being vacated, this time into Asheville Direct. “I had the choice to either rescue it or pass it on.” Financing the venture with a truck title loan from a couple of friends, he spent months working to remodel the space, gutting the interior and fashioning shelves.
Open seven days a week, the business has attracted considerable attention. And with more than half of its sales coming from tourists, it is expected to draw a steady flow of customers once a 12-story Cambria Hotel & Suites opens across the street. Construction of the hotel is expected to finish this summer.
For Hudson, who works on the side as a developer of augmented reality technology, reinventing the space has become an ‘ongoing art project.’
“I had a sense of purpose with it,” he says.
As for his mother-in-law, who offers a helping hand at the shop on weekends, she is sold on its concept. “People are thrilled when they can find local brands in one place,” Thompson says.
Asheville Direct is located at 28 Battery Park Avenue, in downtown Asheville. For more information, call the store at 828.232.7278 or visit facebook.com/ashevilledirect.