‘Movin’ on up to the country’

Behind every storm cloud there is a silver lining. The old adage seems to be holding true for the local real estate scene as record numbers of out-of-state residents pack their bags and move on up to the country.

Carl Nichols, who owns The Realty Group, says his enterprise has had a banner year – possibly the best he’s had in the 21 years his office has been open.

“For this to have been one of the most horrible years – there are a lot of people moving out of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas and other states selling their homes and coming here and paying cash,” said Nichols.

His agency has sold not only in Claiborne but also adjacent counties like Hancock and Union.

“Most have been average sales. But, we’ve had some in the million dollar price range. Most are retirees and not moving here for a job. The biggest two reasons we hear are taxes and weather.

“It’s not unusual when we print out the tax card, and they see the taxes are $800 or $900 and they’ll look at us and say ‘now, is that a month?’ and I say ‘no, that’s a year.’ And they can’t believe it,” said Nichols.

While the Realty Group is having a bonanza year, his other enterprise – The Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association, of which he is president and CEO – is faring less well during the pandemic.

His brainchild, which provides all manner of assistance in everything tourism for the tri-state area, encompasses the 10 adjacent counties in upper east Tennessee, southeast Kentucky and southwest Virginia.

Just four years in existence, the CGRTA has garnered a plethora of awards from prestigious tourism associations. However, COVID-19 has all but blunted the remarkable work done by Nichols and his board of directors.

“Everything is on hold. I was talking with Jon Grace (with Bell County Tourism) the other day. And, he said ‘2020 has been like a dumpster fire.’ He said ‘everyone stands around watching it but there’s nothing anybody can do about it.’

“If the vaccine gets here, and enough people take it so that we can make a dent in the affects of the virus, then maybe by May or June things will pick up,” said Nichols.

Hardest hit, he says, is restaurants, hotel/motels and travel services.

“Due to the pandemic, people aren’t traveling because there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do once they get there,” said Nichols.

He says he is unaware of any businesses that have had to close their doors due directly to COVID-19. In fact, the former Pineapple Tea Room in Cumberland Gap has been purchased by a world-renowned chef. The building is currently undergoing remodeling for the planned opening sometime this spring.

Personally, Nichols says he has had no health problems.

“I’m doing well. I’m here at the office only by appointment. Or, if there are only one or two people here, I will come in and stay here in my office working on things. I stay home a lot. I’ve been lucky.

“I feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Nichols.

He did say he wanted to encourage people to get the vaccine when made available.

“It is our hope of getting things back to semi-normalcy. I think it will be a big factor in getting things opened again,” said Nichols.

Looking forward to 2021, he said March will likely be the jumping-off month for rebuilding tourism.

According to Nichols, his contacts are looking ahead by moving forward with various projects that will entice tourists to our neck of the woods.

One expansive project is the eventual connection of a series of hiking trails that will run through most of the counties being serviced by Nichols’ tourism association.

From the outset, he says his vision for the CGRTA has been to strengthen the region and to do away with the “mine and yours” concept of state and county lines.

Using the Association as a clearinghouse to share vital knowledge among the 10 counties and beyond is what the CGRTA is all about, he said.

For more information, log onto: www.cumberlandgapregion.com.