To Asheville with Love: An interview with Local Business Advocate Franzi Charen

Franzi Charen Portrait

Sharing some local love with an Asheville insider

Walking down Lexington Ave. in downtown Asheville is a feast for the senses. The scent of fresh coffee emanates from Izzy’s Coffee Den and classic sweets beckon from Laughing Mask Candies. A slew of wildly creative dresses and shoes peek out from boutiques like Hip Replacements Clothing and Minx Boutique.

Each business is unique, yet unified by a movement that preserves and celebrates Asheville’s local culture. Franzi Charen owns Hip Replacements and is a devoted advocate for local businesses. She’s also the director of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance and one of the masterminds behind the Go Local movement.

ExploreAsheville.com caught up with Franzi to ask her why keeping it local matters and to share her tips for a perfect local weekend.

ExploreAsheville.com: Tell us about your perfect local Saturday. Where would you go, who would you see, and most importantly what would you eat?

Franzi Charen: Sure! I’d wake up and walk over to the North Asheville Tailgate Market where I treat myself to a steaming hot cup of coffee from Asheville Coffee Roasters. We always get a dozen eggs and a freshly fished trout from East Fork Farms. Cecilia's Kitchen has a little seating area where we congregate with neighbors over a crepe or tamale.

Lunch will include a stop in downtown to our neighborhood courtyard eatery, the Creperie Bouchon (some of the best French fries in town). I'll pop by our shop, Hip  Replacements Clothing, to make sure things are going smoothly. If we have friends in town we'll definitely book a Band and Beer Bus Tour with LaZoom and head down to South Slope. My sweetie's band Pleasure Chest often plays on the bus and he is such an entertainer. The bus drops us back off at the South Slope where we must take a tour of the French Broad Chocolate Factory before settling down to raw oysters and live music upstairs at Buxton Hall Barbecue.

We might head over to the River Arts District to take in an art opening and sit outside at The Wedge for a pint of Iron Rail for sunset while watching the train pass by. For dinner we could easily swing over to the Smoky Park Supper Club and enjoy a beautiful locally sourced meal by the river.

What does “Go Local” mean for someone who might be experiencing Asheville for the first time?

When somebody sees a “Love Asheville, Go Local” poster in the window, that’s a locally owned, independent business. Local businesses are part of the reason that so many people fall in love with Asheville because they reflect the culture of our unique city. You can walk into many shops and find artisan goods, locally baked goods and restaurants using local farms’ products. All of this creates a healthier, more vibrant culture.

Let’s say you’re out shopping and see one of the Go Local posters in a store window. What does that say about the type of business or experience you will encounter?

When you see those posters you know that the business is part of our campaign. So you know when you’re walking down Lexington Avenue, you’re not going to see the same brands in every boutique store. You’re not going to smell the same fragrances.

We’re harboring that unique vibe that we all strive for. One of the unique things about Asheville is that so many businesses collaborate and they choose collaboration over competition. Yes, a locally owned business is more likely to hire local artists and use food from local farmers, but they also tend to collaborate within and amongst each other. We do it collaboratively. We work together.

Why did the Go Local movement get started and what were the early days like?

We believe strongly that Asheville is one of the very unique downtowns and people love it and people flock here because it’s so unique. We felt it was imperative that we create a movement and a campaign around advocating for locally-owned businesses and branding locally-owned businesses.

It was December of 2009 and it really started with a holiday campaign. A few of us created an image that at the time said “Asheville Grown, Buy Local.” We had a local printer print the poster and a local t-shirt printer print t-shirts that about 12 downtown businesses purchased at cost. Everybody put in a lot of volunteer hours.

How can people get involved if they’re just in town for a few days?

They can look for our signs and posters in the windows. They can also pick up a Go Local card. The Go Local card offers discounts at over 425 locally owned businesses.

They can also go to www.ashevillegrown.com to find out the businesses that accept the Go Local card and learn more about our campaign and what we do.

Also, look for our partner businesses’ signs like the Just Economics living wage program so you know those businesses pay their employees a living wage. Look for the ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) sign for local food. It really helps to keep an eye out for the branding that highlights which of our businesses are local, so visitors know they’re supporting the local community.

Franzi’s Top 5 Asheville Shopping Destinations

  • Lexington Ave: Vintage shopping, stunning murals, one-of-a-kind boutiques
  • River Arts District: Artist studios of every kind
  • West Asheville: Neighborhood feel, music, shops
  • South Slope: Repurposed buildings, world-class breweries, BBQ
  • Weaverville: Growing destination for food and shopping

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.