The Breeze continues its “Local history maker” column by introducing Chimney Rock Village mayor and businessman, Peter O’Leary. This is his story as told to Breeze editor, Dave Leestma.
We moved to Chimney Rock in 1990. I came as a bachelor but Ann and I married in October, 1990, and she abandoned Atlanta for the unknown NC Mountains. I worked at Chimney Rock Park for two years with the Morse family, and in 1992 we opened Bubba O’Leary’s General Store with an idea and a dog, Bubba I, our one-year old yellow lab. Bubba’s just celebrated our 26th year in business and the store has grown from about 900 square feet to over 6500 square feet housed in two buildings. In sales we do more during the week of July 4 now than we did the whole first year we were open!
Our family started in 1993 with the birth of our first daughter, Marie Claire O’Leary. She is now a 3rd year law student at American University in Washington, DC. Our second daughter, Erin Whitlock, is one class shy of graduating from UNC-Asheville and is expecting our first grandchild, Everly. She is married to Ethan Whitlock. Our youngest son, AJ, is a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill and is spending the summer as a crewman on a whale watching tour boat in Alaska.
Operating a retail business in Chimney Rock Village is a challenge because of the seasonality of the business but it is also very rewarding. The river, the mountains surrounding us, the old timey feel of Main Street, and the friendliness of the tourists all combine to make it a wonderful job. We have tried to make Bubba’s a welcoming environment and our customers make us feel successful and appreciated from their kind comments and positive reactions to the store.
Ann and I love to travel and see how other tourist areas operate. We have also gotten into bicycling and have done several Cycle NC Coastal rides (no hills!). Every where we travel we appreciate the natural beauty but it is always amazing to come home and realize we live in an area that compares to any where in the world. What a blessing to live in this beautiful area and call the Village our home.
I am on my second term as Mayor, having served from 1995-2005. I took a sabbatical to coach my girl’s middle school basketball team (3 straight years in the finals!) and cheer them on through their high school athletic careers. I was reelected to the Council in 2016 and reappointed Mayor.
Chimney Rock Village has retained its charm and authenticity while achieving some major changes and improvements. 25 years ago, we had no river access, an ancient spring fed water works and several empty buildings. The community needed a boost. Since the Village incorporated in 1991 the sense of community has been strengthened and so many positive things have happened. We have a Riverwalk, several riverside parks, more public parking, a modern water system with fire hydrants, the Gathering Place Amphitheatre, Music Thursdays, zoning, pocket parks and very few empty storefronts.
We are currently working with the Rutherford County TDA to develop our future tourism infrastructure needs and are planning better sidewalks, more parking, more parks, pedestrian connections to Lake Lure, more river walks, new and larger public spaces in the Village Center, and other improvements to better facilitate the pedestrian experience in our Village.
None of this would be possible for me without the support of my wife Ann and my family (including Bubba III). We love it here and couldn’t imagine a better place to live. When you live somewhere else this is the place you dream of moving to, if only you could.