Small Tennessee town invigorated with energy-efficient upgrades to empower sustainable growth

This blog was updated on August 9, 2023 to reflect the program’s new name: Small Business Uplift.

In collaboration with local power companies and community partners, Small Business Uplift (formerly known as Community Centered Growth) from TVA EnergyRight® helps business owners with free energy-related upgrades and resources.

The Industrial Age in America put downtowns on the map. It was a hub of activity – shopping, dining and live entertainment within blocks of each other. Decades later, the suburban sprawl created empty downtown storefronts in its wake. Now, there is a hopeful comeback. In far east Tennessee, downtown Erwin is poised for its next chapter. The city center is nostalgia incarnate, nestled between the college town of Johnson City, TN and Asheville, North Carolina. Roller Pharmacy harkens back to a time when the drug store owner knew everyone by their first name and asked how the extended family was doing. Plant Palace has been a Main Street staple for decades, housed in the old post office building. Flowers, tchotchkes and the owners’ cats have the run of the place. But there is also room in downtown Erwin for new businesses, like Union Street Gallery. The owners host art classes for locals and visitors and sell their unique pieces that involve glass and metal. City leaders had devised a plan to revitalize the area in 2020, but the pandemic forced several businesses to close permanently.

Small Business Uplift recognizes the struggle of small shop owners. The program is working with local power company partners to stimulate underserved communities across the region— by starting from within. Small Business Uplift assists small businesses with energy-related upgrades and resources, helping boost their productivity and sustainability.

We were happy to partner with Erwin Utilities to make energy-saving improvements for Plant Palace, Roller Pharmacy and Union Street Gallery. 

Unoccupied brick storefront in Erwin, TN
An unoccupied storefront in downtown Erwin, TN
Gray-haired, smiling small business owner holding orange tabby cat in his flower shop.
Harry Lewis, owner of the Plant Palace holds one of his store cats. Lewis bought the flower shop in 1993 after he was laid off from a fuel services company.
Woman answering phone in flower shop
Plant Palace occupies the old post office built in 1936.
Energy efficient HVAC roof-top units.
New energy efficient HVACs on the roof of Plant Palace have a beautiful view.
Smart thermostat
Contractors installed a smart thermostat. The Wi-Fi enabled device automatically adjusts temperature settings and can be controlled remotely with a smartphone.
LED lighting on ceiling
Flat-panel energy-saving LED lights provide a softer glow compared to their fluorescent counterpart. Lewis says it’s also easier upkeep and he won’t have to change bulbs as often.
Pharmacist working
Terry Roller’s father opened Roller Pharmacy in 1964. He’s carrying on the family business of helping the people of Erwin get the care their need. He hopes to pass that legacy to his daughter.
HVAC fan
Older buildings often lack insulation and energy efficient equipment. EnergyRight’s Small Business Uplift, in partnership with Erwin Utilities, installed new HVACs and furnaces to help small businesses save energy and money.
Artist welding in his studio.
Vincent Bowden welds a piece of artwork in his studio. He says the new heating and cool unit has improved the comfort level.
Gallery owner sitting in her shop in Erwin, TN.
Jan and Vincent Bowden are recent transplants to Erwin. “It’s a very close-knit, welcoming community.
Contractor in sunglasses, smiling at the camera.
Preferred Partner Network contractor Phil Allen says he was grateful to be part of the Small Business Uplift project in Erwin. “We’re getting the whole town involved and it’s been wonderful to help these small businesses.”


The Small Business Uplift Team


Invigorate communities from the inside out. The Small Business Uplift Team assists small businesses in underserved areas with energy-related upgrades and resources, helping boost their productivity and sustainability.