By Dewayne Bingham, Assistant Photo Editor—
The success of new, locally owned businesses has been a sight for sore eyes in Chattanooga, as many small businesses continue to struggle financially due to COVID-19.
The Chattanooga Hemporium, a bar and concert space which opened next to Stone Cup Cafe on Frazier Avenue this summer, has offered exciting new opportunities for locals and tourists alike to enjoy live music, craft beer and regionally sourced hemp products.
Co-owners Chris Barnett and Carl Pemberton shared that their mission includes educating people about the benefits of hemp-derived CBD, providing their customers with a comfortable and welcoming experience, and tapping into Chattanooga’s diversity to provide enriching cultural experiences through music and conversation.
“There are people who still think this is the devil’s lettuce,” said Barnett, who has worked in the hemp industry for several years and formerly co-owned the Tennessee Hemp Exchange.
“If you get educated and informed, it can actually be used very medically,” he continued. “It can be used on a mental health level, a physical health level, and even on a spiritual level.”
Barnett shared that, in 2018, his father was given a six-month prognosis tied to hepatitis. After experimenting with a combination of medical treatments and full-spectrum CBD isolate, his father’s hepatitis was cured and he’s alive today.
In addition to raising awareness surrounding the medicinal benefits of hemp, the Chattanooga Hemporium has also featured artists with different cultural backgrounds and perspectives who perform vastly different genres of music—from jam-band rock to electronic dance music and everything in between.
“We bring in all these different groups in our society that are so far removed from each other and give them a commonality, a common purpose—which for a lot of us is herb,” said co-owner and music industry veteran Carl Pemberton.
“We break down barriers,” he continued. “We introduce people to things that they might not have been introduced to before by having all those cultures together in one place.”
Educating the community and hosting live shows are just a couple ways the Chattanooga Hemporium has distinguished itself in a market that’s becoming increasingly saturated. Considering the density of CBD retail stores in downtown Chattanooga, the Hemporium’s selection of top shelf, regionally sourced products—though impressive—is not enough.
“The way we separate ourselves from other retail markets is that, of course, we have beer and we have music,” Pemberton said. “We definitely have an experience.”
Barnett argued that even more important than music and beer, though, is the experience of feeling comfortable and welcome at the bar. He emphasized that he and his colleagues try focusing more on getting to know their customers than forcing sales.
“We actually give a damn about you on the other side of the counter,” Barnett said. “I don’t want you investing in something when you don’t know how it works for you.”
“It’s definitely not a ‘get in, get out’ kind of place,” Pemberton added. “More than anything we just want to be a place where people can relax, not have anxiety coming in and feel welcome to ask any questions they have.”
One of the biggest challenges posed by COVID-19 health regulations is having to limit the number of patrons at the bar during shows, the owners shared.
As a former music promoter, Pemberton said he’s had to totally rethink his advertising strategy. To ensure that crowds stay manageably small and socially distanced, their team has opted to announce and promote events the day before, and sometimes even the same day.
They have also held several events outdoors, making use of their large parking area and shared deck space with Stone Cup Cafe.
“Hopefully what we’re accomplishing is keeping everyone safe and still not letting music die,” Pemberton said.
Now especially, small businesses are almost totally dependent on the support of their communities to remain afloat. It’s clear that the folks at the Chattanooga Hemporium feel called to give back through cultural engagement and positive experiences.
“This time is going to be the equalizer among local business owners,” Pemberton said. “While some of them are going to be blindsided and unable to recover—and it’s sad—there will be those of us who, with the true entrepreneur’s spirit in the face of adversity, figure out a way.”