In 1965, two store owners in Gatlinburg had a decision to make: buy the property their stores were located on or hope the next owner allowed them to keep their shops open.
Jim and June Gerding, owners of The Pancake Pantry, and David and Peggy Dych, owners of Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, decided to buy the properties and the next 1.25 acres for $350,000.
In July 1969, the families opened what’s now known as The Village Shops and has since come to be a Gatlinburg staple.
The very first shop to be a part of the iconic Village was The Donut Friar, where Jim and Carolyn Ryan tasty donuts and pastries.
The Donut Friar is now the only original shop still operating in The Village, although, a donut and coffee doesn’t cost 25 cents anymore.
Saturday afternoon the Gerdings and the Ryans celebrated the 50th anniversary with live music and cake in the middle of the original six shops.
Mike Werner, the mayor of Gatlinburg, honored both Jim Ryan and Jim Gerding with proclamations from the city.
New and old visitors enjoyed the celebration with 50-cent donuts from The Donut Friar along with the free cake and live music.
Some visitors went to the celebration because they remembered when The Village and Donut Friar opened.
Billy Seagle said he would walk through The Village every day on his way to school just to grab a donut from the Ryans. He said The Village community felt like a family.
The Village Shops are a collection of specialty retail stores built with unique and historic architectural elements collected from around the United States and Europe, according to Jim Gerding.
Gerding said several pieces came from Birmingham, Alabama.
He also said the original architect got very frustrated with him and Dych because they were very picky with the design they wanted.
After Gerding and Dych bought the property in 1965, they opened the Honor System Parking Lot on it.
For 25 cents, someone could park all day.
Gerding said that when he and Dych checked the coin box, it would have more buttons and bottle caps than quarters.
Shortly after purchasing the property, Gerding said he and Dych thought about long-range development ideas.
It was one of the few large pieces of land left in the heart of Gatlinburg at the time, but was hindered by the lack of visibility from the main stretch of road, Gerding said.
Only 24 feet of the property was visible from the parkway. Most of the shops on the parkway had already been sold.
In 1967, Gerding and Dych leased a parcel of land to Lee Butler, who then built the Two Collectors Shop. They waited to see if the new shop would attract people off the main sidewalk.
After 5 months, the Two Collectors Shop brought in 250,000 people. After that, Gerding and Dych knew their idea of a shopping complex, but it needed to be unique to attract people 100 feet off the main sidewalk.
The Village was taken over by the Gerdings’ and Dychs’ children in 1991.