When I was 23 years old, I went to Dillsboro and opened a store because there were no jobs for a blind person in our area. When the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad came to town, my sales doubled each year for several years. I cannot imagine the impact on businesses located directly across from the train.
Being in Dillsboro opened many doors for me, including meeting the president of J.C. Penny, resulting in me making hammocks for them, often employing eight to 10 people to help weave hammocks. When I bought Bradley’s General Store, I had up to seven employees for several years.
When the railroad left, my sales at Bradley’s fell 55 percent, and I ended up having only two half-time employees and myself in the shop. If I had not been able to have a store in Dillsboro, I would not have had the opportunity to live and work in Jackson County, raising my family here.
When the train comes to Dillsboro, it brings visitors to our area – visitors who buy gas locally, eat in local restaurants, and often stay in local hotels. All businesses in Jackson County benefit from the train, not just the shops in Dillsboro. Having the train adds jobs, not just for the people who work for the train, but also for those working in shops throughout the county. Having the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad improves all our lives, and I commend our county commissioners for supporting this valuable resource.
(Editor’s Note: Gates is a member of Dillsboro’s town board.)