Longtime business moving after Civil War store reopens
The Eaton family spent decades running a business in downtown Kennesaw, but the city's decision to allow Wildman's Civil War Surplus, a controversial shop that showcases racist artifacts, to reopen will bring that investment to an end.
Driving the news: Eaton Chiropractic will close its doors on Main Street and relocate outside the city limits. Its owner, Dr. Cris Eaton-Welsh, told Axios she sold the building and will move to a new office off Cobb Parkway.
- A sign in her business window indicates the office will move Oct. 1.
- Her father, James "Doc" Eaton, who resigned in June from the Kennesaw City Council in protest of Wildman's opening, launched the practice in 1992.
What they're saying: Father and daughter both told Axios that Kennesaw ignored its own building codes that would show Wildman's has serious structural issues.
- "I just got…tired of nothing being done," Doc Eaton said. "And when they renewed the business [license]… I just said screw it. I'm done."
Catch up quick: Wildman's Civil War Surplus opened in 1971 and was owned and operated by Dent Myers.
- The two-story shop sells items commemorating the Civil War, as well as World War I, II and the Korean War.
- Some of the items on display are racist, including dolls featuring Black children with exaggerated stereotypical expressions, Confederate flags, pictures of people posing with Nazi flags, and papers and photos with racial slurs.
- The storefront is adorned with several Confederate flags. One sign that reads "White History Year" is affixed on the brick wall next to the entrance.
- After Myers died in January, the business license under his name expired and the shop closed. Marjorie Lyon, Myers' longtime employee, reopened the business in June.
The other side: Kennesaw leaders refute the claims that it ignored its building code in allowing Wildman's to reopen. City Manager Jeff Drobney said during a press conference in June that Wildman's went through the process like any other business.
- Neither Drobney nor Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling responded to multiple requests from Axios for comment.
City Council member Antonio Jones told Axios that Wildman's isn't a "tasteful" venture, but it's not breaking any laws.
- "I think that corner could be used for something a lot better, but I won't trample upon that person's rights to be there," said Jones, who owns a small business.
The intrigue: Wildman's has a dedicated core of supporters, including about 3,500 followers on Facebook.
- It also has its share of detractors. In the days following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, dozens of people — mostly college students from Kennesaw State University — held a demonstration calling for the city to shut down the storefront.
Lyon told Axios that critics of the store and its reopening are like "children stomping their feet because they didn’t get their way."
- "I don't wish anybody any harm," she said. "What they bring on themselves for the hate that they have in their heart and what they're doing, that's on them."
Wildman's existence has been a constant in the once-small railroad town that's seen dramatic change in the years since the business opened. With a population of about 33,000 people, Kennesaw is the third-largest city in Cobb County.
- Aside from Wildman’s, and its proximity to Kennesaw State University and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the city is mostly known for its ordinance requiring every head of household to own a firearm.
- For years, it flew the Confederate battle flag at its Veterans Memorial before Council members in 2020 voted to remove it from public property.
Despite the controversy surrounding Wildman's, downtown Kennesaw is thriving, said Teena Regan, a real estate agent at The Teena Regan Team.
- "I think that this city is such a great city and for anybody to judge a downtown because of one old man that is dead, then it's their problem," she told Axios.
State of play: While many may not like the store's presence, there isn't anything the city can legally do to shut it down, said Mark Allen, owner of Lazy Guy Distillery, which is a few blocks north of Wildman's.
- "I don't think there's anybody that could be in today's mindset that would really … want that type of business,” he said. "However, there's only certain legal means you can do to keep businesses out of cities.”
The bottom line: Eaton-Welsh said she and her supporters will continue to press Kennesaw to address Wildman's presence in the central business district and its "normalization of hate."
- "If I'm 90 years old, I will still fight this," she said. "Just because my business is leaving Main Street doesn't mean I'm going to quit."
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