Kennesaw residents sound off about Wildman’s reopening at City Council meeting

Many of the attendees were sworn in so they could speak about Wildman’s.Many of the attendees were sworn in so they could speak about Wildman’s (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

By Rebecca Gaunt

The contentious topic of Wildman’s CIvil War shop drew a larger-than-usual crowd at Monday’s Kennesaw City Council meeting, despite not being on the agenda.

“Two years ago this month, the leaders of our city made the bold decision to stop flying the Confederate flag in downtown Kennesaw, in what I perceived as an effort to make our city more welcoming to people of all ethnicities and races. And I think we still have work to do as you’ve heard tonight. The establishment of Wildman’s is still an obstacle to downtown Kennesaw being a welcoming environment to all,” Josh Monroe said during public comment.

Jon Bothers described the bad impression the store gave him the first time he visited Kennesaw. (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Monroe said he has an African-American son and he hesitates to bring him downtown, even to grab a burger.

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“I’d love to be a part of the solution. I know it’s a complex issue,” he said.

The debate over Wildman’s heated up again last week when it reopened for business under Marjorie Lyon. The Main Street shop was owned and operated by Dent Myers for 50 years. He died at age 90 in January.

James “Doc” Eaton (with council member Tracey Viars) said the city had failed to address “the moral issue.” (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Lyon, a friend and employee of Myers, was granted a business license from the city last week, which prompted Councilman James “Doc” Eaton to resign in frustration after he was told the city legally had no choice. His daughter, and former city council member, Cris Eaton-Welsh announced she was selling her Main Street building across the street from Wildman’s and moving her chiropractic practice to unincorporated Cobb County.

“It’s killing the economic development,” Eaton-Welsh told the Council. “There have been three developers in the last ten years who can’t make anything work there and it’s not because the staff is not doing their job. It’s because no one will invest next to that shop.”

Eaton-Welsh raised questions on social media about the inspection process for Wildman’s, saying it was not held to the same standard as other downtown businesses. In response, city manager Jeff Drobney called a press conference in which he was adamant everything was done by the book.

Cris Eaton-Welsh is selling her Main Street chiropractic business in response to Wildman’s reopening. (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

She said she resigned all her city volunteer positions and will take the Swift Kids Running Club outside the city limits.

Her husband, Steve Welsh, also spoke during public comment. One of his concerns was the certificate of occupancy (CO) issued by the fire department.

“They denote the building and the space listed on both the CO and the business license as a single-story building. The building at 2879 Main St. is clearly a two-story building…in the past, I’ve seen the previous owner of the business accompany customers upstairs. The flags and signage of the business are also located upstairs in the balcony second floor. They are changed regularly. The second story was never inspected,” he said.

Councilman Trey Sinclair (pictured with council members Pat Ferris and Antonio Jones) suggested the possibility of updating city codes (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Wildman’s drew supporters to the meeting as well. While some expressed concerns about the contents of the store, they said they were worried about the restriction of First Amendment rights. 

Others, like Nicholas Tucker and Brandon Hammer, said they were fully supportive customers of the shop.

“As a conservative Christian, I am offended daily by what I see around me, but I tolerate it because I still believe that those I disagree with have a right to freedom of speech,” Tucker said.

LaTreece Roby asked if it was possible to restrict the signage on the storefront (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Hammer said he knew Dent Myers personally.

“If you asked him if he was racist, he would say ‘I am not.’ He had numerous people who were Black who came into his store all the time,” he said. “If you want diversity and inclusion, it doesn’t entail getting rid of the things that you disagree with.”

LaTreece Roby asked if it was possible to restrict the signage on the building.

“I just want to raise my family and not have to live in fear for what crazy people, or people that  don’t have the best interest of our community in mind, would do to us,” Roby said.

Councilman Trey Sinclair responded to commenters during council member comments. 

“Our staff can only enforce the code with which they are dealt, so to speak. Based on the existence of boarded windows and colored windows, as well as faded paint and faded signs, it’s clear to me that we are working with a code which needs to be updated and bolstered, shuffled and redealt,” he said. 

Councilman Antonio Jones said, “If we take rights away from one individual, do we take it from the other? It’s up to us, as a community, to decide how powerful we want our local government to be…I know these are hard times, but we will move forward.”

Nicholas Tucker spoke in support of Wildman’s reopening (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Eaton read from a statement at the end of his final meeting as an elected official.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I’m stepping down. The city issued a new business license. Now the new owner can perpetuate this blight and bigotry on Main Street,” he said. “Juneteenth was yesterday. Kennesaw Follow the Leader Day is today. In this spirit I must march to the beat of my own drum. As a community, I know we are better than this.”

City Council meetings can be viewed in full on the City of Kennesaw’s Facebook page.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

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1 Comment on "Kennesaw residents sound off about Wildman’s reopening at City Council meeting"

  1. Frank Shirley | June 23, 2022 at 6:42 am | Reply

    It is not an issue of “hate speech,” but of speech that is HATED. Dent was a GREAT AMERICAN.

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