Man aims to bring business back to arts and craft loop after wildfires

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- When you buy a piece of artwork from the arts and craft loop in Sevier County, you're getting much more than a keepsake -- you're purchasing a small piece of someone's life.

For Sparky Neumeier, owner of Sparky's Glassblowing, visitors are buying his passion.

His passion first started when he was serving overseas.

"When I was in the military, I was the first group they didn't station in Vietnam and I went to Italy...They've got an Island off of Venice called Merona Island. They're known worldwide for their glass. I used to go down there and watch them at least once a month."

Those visits soon turned into his livelihood, fueled by the flame on his torch. But, it was a different flame that almost broke him.

Neumeier painted the picture of what November 28, 2016, looked like for his community.

"I'm colorblind, so I'm out there and I see all this strange stuff in the sky and I can't tell what color it is, so I call her and she says, 'Let's hurry up and get home. I don't know what's happening, but there's going to be some major trouble. Something is going on.'"

He continued, "We left 2-3 .. the winds picked up at 6 ... You didn't know where it was going to end up."

It took days to see if his shop was still standing after the wildfire. His store and the ones surrounding it on the arts and craft loop were spared.

"But then it was hard to come back, because so many of my friends lost everything. I was like, 'Wow, am I stabbing them in the back?'"

Neumeier went back to work, determined to bring people back to the arts and craft community.

The aftermath proved to be more damaging than the flames for this community. Neumeier told Local 8 News Anchor Casey Wheeless he believes there have been eight businesses already lost on the loop. He said he believes other factors also impacted tourism numbers.

The flames inside his store are aiming to bring new life to Sevier County.

"It's like my Grandpa taught me years ago. You just brush yourself off and keep going. You can't stop, and you stop, you'll get bypassed, he would say," Neumeier said.

Neumeier explained that he and others on the arts and craft loop aren't stopping.

"We're going to survive. We're going to bounce back you know," Neumeier said.