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Christmas Bazaar brings holiday cheer
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Galax Parks & Recreation held its 31st annual Christmas Bazaar on Nov. 26, where 95 vendors gathered in holiday spirit by selling homemade jewelry, Christmas decorations, pottery, crocheted and knitted items, baked goods, candy and other holiday memorabilia. Program coordinators counted over 900 visitors, and gave a special thanks to local craftsmen, rec department staff and photographers Debra Kyle and Teresa Felts.

New restaurant will promote musical heritage
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HILLSVILLE — A new restaurant is in the works at the U.S. 58-Interstate 77 interchange in Hillsville, which will be focused on promoting music heritage and tourism across the area.

Newly founded by local corporate franchising partners The Young Group, the restaurant will be called “Fiddler’s” and will feature a new stage area for live music, as well as a new and unique overall theme and dining atmosphere.

Fiddler’s will utilize the building and property of the former Shoney’s, following the expiration of The Young Group’s current franchising contract with the restaurant chain.

The restaurant will continue to operate as Shoney’s until Jan. 19, 2023, when a celebration will held to celebrate a successful 25 years at the location. Renovations are scheduled to begin after that.

Spencer shared several fond memories of Shoney’s from over the years. “The first thing we did when we moved here — there was no playground, so we started a project called Playground 2000 out of Shoney’s. Out of this restaurant, in a year and a half we raised $121,500 because we wanted a playground for children.” The playground is located off U.S. 58 right across from the restaurant.

During that fundraiser, “we asked the community for help, and now 25 years later, we are asking the community again for help on a new project that brings so much for our local area,” Spencer said. “Instead of building a playground, let’s build a cultural celebration of our musical heritage.”

The restaurant will feature contributions from musical artists in a variety of ways, from music-themed artwork on tables and windows to marketing kiosks at the stage entrances.

“Part of the concept is, I want this to be a directional point for our area,” Spencer said. “We’ve got maps of the music heritage trail, which are going to be at the front entrance. We want visitors to our area to see the wonderful places like [Barr’s] fiddle shop in Galax, the Willard Gayheart Art Gallery [in Woodlawn]. We want to be the directional point for people who love country music and the heritage.”

As president of the Young Group, Spencer spoke from a lifetime of experience in the dining business, from his time as a co-owner of the former Hardware Company restaurant in Hillsville to the present day, when the group now owns franchises for multiple Shoney’s and other well-known restaurants. The Young Group has been operating restaurants in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee for over 50 years.

In a recent announcement about the new restaurant , the group explained the new venture is named Fiddler’s “as a tribute to the rich musical heritage of this region as part of the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, and the Old Fiddler’s Convention held in nearby Galax.”

The announcement continued, “The fiddle was one of the first musical instruments brought to America from Europe, because it was small and easily portable. For example, there are records of the fiddle players in the Jamestown Colony and early Colonial Williamsburg. As we open more locations in the region, we plan to continue to feature the musical heritage of the areas, as well as providing a friendly place for families to father and share a meal, and for travelers to rest and learn a little about this beautiful part of the country.”

In an interview with The Gazette this week, Spencer shared additional details about the transition from Shoney’s to Fiddler’s. “All the employees are guaranteed their jobs. We hope to be shut down for no more than three weeks. We’ve hired a contractor out of Fries, Clarence Funk, who will be starting on outside renovations next week. Our plans have also already been approved by the Town of Hillsville.”

The restaurant will continue to serve classic American foods for all appetites, Spencer said — including things that Shoney’s was known for. “For the menu, we are going to continue our breakfast bar. The salad bar will continue in a different theme. We are going to change it up and offer things like chicken salads. There won’t be a large dinner buffet, and instead all the food will come fresh out of the kitchen. We will still have all the favorites — such as the catfish, meatloaf, fried chicken — and now its going to be fresh dinner platters. We are also looking to do hot seafood boils out of the kitchen on weekends. We will also have a prime rib night. We’re going to have two wood smokers to do baby-back ribs, pulled pork and brisket. We will be doing signature subs and sandwiches, where we will make our own bread.”

The restaurant will be expanding its dining hours, and will also have a beer and wine license.

“We are really excited. I’ve been with the company for 35 years. This is re-energizing the passion,” Spencer said. “I’ve got 64 tables, and want to feature a band, or part of our local history on each and every one of them. I want this to be a community-built restaurant. I want it to be about what people have contributed and are contributing now.”

The Young Group plans to feature authentic memorabilia from the local area. In a message to the community this week, Spencer wrote, “We would love for you to share your photos, newspaper articles and stories you may have about the area that feature our bluegrass heritage. We plan to use these in the decor of our new restaurant so everyone stopping in will not only enjoy our great menu, but learn a little about this beautiful region. If you have anything you would like us to include, speak to the cashier or manager.”

As the renovations are completed, additional details concerning business hours, music schedules, house specials and other restaurant features will be announced.

For more information, or to contact the restaurant about potential items to feature in its decor, call the Young Group’s local headquarters in Hillsville, located at the Big Blue House on Main Street, at 276-728-0688.

A slow pace for faster connections


Despite the usual representative for Gigabeam being absent from the November meeting, the Grayson Board of Supervisors still received an update on the county’s broadband project.

At-Large Supervisor John Fant presented information provided by Tom Revels, who has been updating the board on the effort’s progress. Gigabeam is the internet service provider working with the county and Appalachian Power (AEP) to provide high-speed broadband internet service to citizens.

“Currently, as of the end of October, we’ve got 94 customers connected primarily in the Elk Creek, Comers Rock, Carsonville area,” Fant said. Of those, 70 are connected directly via fiber optic lines into the home and 24 have wireless connections.

“To be frank, we’re making progress, but it’s wicked slow, as they say in New England,” he added.

Fant continued, noting that a major frustration for citizens is not being able to enter their addresses on the website to see if they fall on the wireless side or the fiber side of the system. Around the first of December, he said, the county’s webpage should have the capacity to show citizens when Gigabeam will be close by their area.

The capability was in beta testing as of the meeting, he said. “One of the frustrations that I have shared with every member up here and anybody that’s involved with it, is being unable to tell people a window of when [Gigabeam] are gonna be in their area,” Fant said.

He noted that another big challenge needs to be addressed by the citizens themselves.

“They’re struggling to get people to sign up right now. The take rate was about 10%,” Fant said. “The plan was built on [a sign-up rate of] about 60-65%. We think part of that obligation falls on us, the county, to help get that word out there about what they’re doing, where they’re doing it and how they’re doing it and who do you talk to. So these are the frustrations.”

However, a possible solution is on its way. “So, the thought is we’ll have some community meetings going around the county,” he said. “The first one we anticipate some time around the second week in December and it will be focused in... Comers Rock, Elk Creek and Carsonville.”

The meeting’s date, time and location as of the meeting was to be determined, but the purpose is to enable people “to come and talk to the program manager of Gigabeam and just say ‘Hey, this is what we’re at. This is where the frustration is,’ ” Fant said. Meetings will be held around the county “to help inform people what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and also when they could expect to see service in their area.”

He also discussed technical challenges to the project. “Gigabeam is required to use AEP infrastructure to connect the last mile of the home. What that means is, AEP put up the middle mile and then Gigabeam is then connecting to that middle mile at points that have been engineered. But that line that they run from that connection point on the middle mile to the home has to follow the power line to your home.”

For example, Fant said, he can see the fiber line 500 feet from his sheep barn, “but that feed is not how Gigabeam is going to bring service to my location. That route that they have to go is 3,600 feet, because that’s the way the power line is run to get to that location.” However, “the longest connection we have is 2,500 feet,” he said.

Even though a citizen may see fiber strung from a pole on their road, they may not get fiber themselves, depending on the route necessary to get it to their home.

“So that’s a challenge we’re working through,” he said. “The other challenge is that if you are eligible for fiber, the right of way for Gigabeam to run that fiber line from the middle mile to your house has got to be clear... If they can’t run the fiber along those poles; if they can’t access poles because of trees, bushes, briars, all that other stuff; it really impedes.”

An effort between the county, Gigabeam and AEP is underway to find contractors to help with the issue, Fant said, and speed up right of way clearance so more citizens can be connected.

Other challenges only affect some people, but are still being addressed, Fant said. “We recently discovered that the contractor that AEP hired to install the connections that Gigabeam has got to have to connect to the middle mile aren’t being installed, in some cases, at the location that the engineering plan says they’re supposed to be installed... The plan says it’s only going to be 1,200 feet, for example, but the location [of the connection] may be 2,000 feet.”

The result of that different location is that, “Now all of a sudden, somebody that thought they were gonna get fiber service may not because of that, and so AEP is working with their subcontractor to try to get that addressed,” he explained. “I can’t tell you why that happened, but we’re trying to figure out the way to go ahead on that. It’s not a huge number, but it still affects people.”

This explained why citizens checking service options online in their area might have seen that previously available options were gone.

However, efforts towards progress are still being made, he said. “At the end of this month, the DHCD [Department of Housing and Community Development], AEP, the county and Gigabeam are meeting to talk some of these issues through,” said Fant. “We’re committed to keeping Gigabam connecting people. We’re committed to the connection rate being picked up. We’re committed to looking at other options to bring additional broadband capability, cellular, first-responder communications — all that is part of this effort.”

Galax man charged for assault

Galax police charged a man with assault, kidnapping and child abuse last week, and handled three other incidents that involved firearms violations, drug possession and shoplifting.

On Nov. 22, Officer Michael Tozzolo and Officer Amber Miller of the Galax Police Department responded to the 500 block of East Stuart Drive in reference to reports of an assault in progress.

Upon arrival, officers found a woman with obvious assault injuries, and Axel Petatan Sotelo, 20, of Rural Hall, N.C., who had blood on his knuckles, according to a police report.

An infant was located in their vehicle, as well, which resulted in the Department of Social Services responding to the scene. Tozzolo located a firearm in a diaper bag in the backseat of the vehicle, the report said.

Miller charged Sotelo with the following felonies: abuse and neglect of children, kidnapping, assault, and possession and transportation of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was transported to the New River Valley Regional Jail and held with no bond.

Firearms Violation

On Nov. 20, Scott Hampton, 38, of Galax, was under arrest for a misdemeanor when he allegedly admitted to having a firearm, according to a police report.

Officers retrieved the gun from Hampton’s vehicle. As standard procedure, the firearm was run through state and national databases and it came back as stolen out of North Carolina. According to the report, Hampton admitted to stealing the gun from a home in Woodlawn approximately a year ago.

Hampton was subsequently charged with two felonies — possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and receiving a stolen firearm or aiding in concealing of a firearm. He was transported to the regional jail and held without bond.

Drug Possession

On Nov. 22, Officer Holly Campbell was on patrol when she spotted Sheena Marie Thompson, 31, of Independence, walking along the 500 block of East Stuart Drive. According to the police report, Campbell knew Thompson was wanted on charges from another jurisdiction.

Campbell placed Thompson under arrest and conducted a search of her person. Thompson admitted to having meth in her wallet, the report said. Campbell found this, along with two smoking devices, and logged them as evidence.

Thompson was additionally charged with felony possession of a Schedule I or II substance and transported to the regional jail, where she was held without bond.

Shoplifting Charges

Also on Nov. 22, Officer Campbell was called to Walmart for two subjects detained for alleged shoplifting. They were identified as Chelsea Danielle Linville, 25, and Jeffrey Winston Puckett, 50, both of Hillsville.

Linville and Puckett had been detained after they tried to exit the building with a shopping cart and purse full of unpaid items, the report said.

Both were charged with felony shoplifting, as the total amount of those items was $1,290, and both were transported to the regional jail. Linville received a $2,500 secure bond and Puckett was given a $4,500 secure bond.

No photos of Linville or Puckett were available.

Cooley retires from Willing Partners

After 10 years as Willing Partners’ executive director, Kathy Cooley has retired as of Nov. 30. On her exit, she granted an interview to reflect on her career.

The nonprofit on East Stuart Drive in Galax offers a thrift store and a food bank that distributes from its home base every Wednesday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

“I’ve always believed that Willing Partners is not just a job, it’s a mission,” said Cooley. “I’ve always looked at it this way, and I believe God gave me the job… I hope the best for Willing Partners and I pray that whoever gets the job will look at it the very same way I did — that they take it on as a mission.”

Cooley looked back on her time with a sense of both realism and gratitude. “There’s always things we could have done differently or done better,” she said, “but I think the one thing I’m most pleased about is not giving up.”

Their former longtime home next to Rose’s department store in Galax was sold to a healthcare company and they had to scramble for some time to find a new one. “It threw us into a lurch,” Cooley admitted. “We had to look for a different place, and we thought that might be easy because there were so many vacant buildings around, but it was not, by any stretch of the imagination. We looked and looked and looked, and we almost had to close totally.”

For a brief period, Cooley ran the office portion of the organization from her home.

“Something told me — and I think it was the good Lord himself — to not give up, and I told the board that, and it was the best thing I could’ve done,” she said. “I think the board would agree with me that was the best decision that we could’ve made, because look what happened.”

Part of the money to purchase their new building, the former Matthews Five and Dime, came unfortunately from a tragedy — the deaths of Al and Liz Kane, friends of Cooley’s and longtime benefactors of Willing Partners. The Kanes set up a trust fund, and a portion was set aside to help the nonprofit in the event of their passing.

“That is just the miracle that God enables,” she said. “I’m just so grateful for hanging in there and that the board was supportive of all that. I guess that was the biggie during my career at Willing Partners. It was nothing I did, except maybe endurance. There’s a lot of hard, hard times during the 10 years I’ve been there, but I’m so thankful that we as a group endured. I’m so thankful to the staff and volunteers I was given the opportunity to work with.”

The donation from the Kanes, along with an anonymous donation from a local couple, allowed the nonprofit to buy their current building, but they still rely on ordinary donations from the public to do the rest of their work, Cooley said.

As for her retirement, “It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I thought about it for quite a while. My youngest brother came down with health problems five years ago.” He recently developed another illness, prompting Cooley to realize the time had come.

“That kind of sealed the decision that I’d already been thinking about,” she said. “So I needed to dedicate time to my family, and spend time with my children who live in South Carolina. I wanted some time for enjoyment, and sometimes people wait too late for that.”

A month ago, she made her plans known to Willing Partners’ board of supervisors.

Given the need for her work at the nonprofit and for her attention to family, “I want to do my very best at both things and that’s difficult to do,” she said. “So that’s kind of the reason I made the decision that I did.”

Her son, John — hired only a few days after she was a decade ago — will be handling routine bookkeeping, but Willing Partners is still on the lookout for a new executive director.

“They’ve already got the ad out for a new hire, and I’m sure they’ll go into the interview process just as soon as possible to do that,” she said. “They’ll be looking for someone that is nonprofit-oriented and faith-based, because we are a faith-based organization. They’ve got their hands full to do that!”

In leaving, Cooley said to the community at large, “I thank them graciously for the support they have given me. I have enjoyed the association in the Galax-Carroll-Grayson area and enjoyed helping them, and I’m sure that it will continue.”

Board Member Frank Ceary said of Cooley, “Kathy did a good job and really was dedicated to Willing Partners. She really wanted to see it prosper.” He described her as a good employee who “went well beyond her duties for Willing Partners.”

He added, “It’s going to hard to find anyone to replace her.”