Eric McMillan says he has seen the growing popularity of ax throwing as recreation — and as a business opportunity.

“We see it getting real popular,” said McMillan, who’s owned an air conditioning business for 10 years. “They have one in Shreveport. They have one in Tyler. So, we kind of figured Longview could have used something like that.”

He could have opened the business, called Lumberjacks Axe Throwing, in a shopping center. Instead, he chose downtown in the Knights of Pythias building at 206 N. Center St.

“We like the (downtown) area,” said McMillan, who co-owns the business with Logan Jones. “We like the foot traffic.”

Lumberjacks Axe Throwing and other new businesses that have opened or are planning to do so are helping downtown Longview get back into the swing of things while the area’s economy tries to weather the storm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really exciting,” Longview Main Street Coordinator Melida Heien said. “We have had to basically put our lives on hold, so to speak (during the pandemic). We pressed ‘play’ again, and we are coming alive again. You have been stuck in your house for two months, and now you are coming back out and there are new things that were not there before, and that is kind of exciting.”

Some of the new or coming businesses have been in the works for months but have faced delays since the pandemic arrived in March. The owners said they were attracted by what downtown offers.

McMillan said the Facebook page for Lumberjacks has drawn customers to the venue, which features six targets that resemble large dart boards along with flat-screen TVs and the sale of alcoholic beverages and snacks.

While business varies, he said 20 customers came May 16, just five people less than the maximum allowed under social distancing requirements that limit occupancy to 25%.

“I see it as something to do before you go out to eat and after you go out to eat,” he said. “Instead of dinner and a movie, it’s dinner and ax throwing.”

Little Light Pediatric Therapy

Jenny Williams said she opened Little Light Pediatric Therapy, at 110 E. Tyler St. next to Longview World of Wonders, to treat children with conditions such as autism . She said she formerly visited children in their homes.

Williams, who grew up in the area and graduated from Hallsville High School in 1994, said she returned after living in Dallas for 15 years. The appeal of downtown came after she and her husband, Darren, patronized Silver Grizzly Espresso on West Tyler Street months ago.

“We were very surprised to how downtown Longview was compared to childhood memory,” Williams said. “I instantly fell in love with the community, and the feel of downtown Longview, and I wanted to be part of bringing life back to the city.”

She continued, “I loved that everyone seemed to be on the same team. I can’t tell you how many times I have had somebody offer to hold the door or carry a heavy box in.”

However, timing could have been better. Williams opened before the pandemic led to statewide stay-at-home measures that kicked in March 20. She had planned to conduct a grand opening April 9 during ArtWalk, but the event was canceled.

Optimistic that normalcy will return, Williams said, “I would love to have a grand opening at our first Downtown Live event.”

Wild Honey Creamery

Williams has a new neighbor: Wild Honey Creamery, which opened Monday at 108 E. Tyler St. for curbside service selling half-gallon containers of ice cream under an outside canopy.

Macy Bannert, a beekeeper who uses honey as an ingredient, has said COVID-19 did not influence her plans to open because she and business partner, Sarah Ward, an optometrist, did not set a specific date.

She and Ward started Wild Honey Creamery in July with a cart they took to Downtown Live on Friday evenings and to other events. They also set upat the Historic Longview Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

Bannert said she and Ward chose a downtown location — the former home of the Hick & Frog Bistro — because “we love what downtown is becoming, and we want to become part of that.”

Wild Honey Creamery is open noon to 5 p.m. weekdays and sells as many as eight flavors, such as birthday cake, Irish cream, mint chocolate chip and butter pecan caramel crunch. Bannert said a half-gallon container has enough ice cream for 16 servings, adding she plans to sell pints within a week.

Wild Honey Creamery has been drawing steady business.

Alyce Sparks, who works nearby at the Gregg County Historical Museum shop, dropped by Wednesday out of curiosity because the creamery occupies a building that housed Longview’s first fire station.

“We think it has been really neat that it has been refurnished and turned into an ice cream shop,” Sparks said. “From what I heard, everybody raves about the ice cream.”

Sparks said she planned to buy ice cream at the end of her workday.

Wild Honey has not set a date for opening its dining room to customers, Bannert said.

“We are trying to encourage social distancing,” she said. “We would like to open our dining room for the summer season, but we will not open the dining room if it goes against recommendations from our (state) government.”

While Wild Honey Creamery is strictly curbside, Silver Grizzly Espresso started letting customers inside Monday at 25% occupancy, part-owner Connor Walters said. Silver Grizzly opened in October 2016.

“We are really excited to have Wild Honey Creamery,” Walters said. “First of all, the people behind it are really passionate about making a great product.”

Walters said the 25% occupancy, allowing a maximum of 30 people inside, is better than curbside “but still not easy.”

Judd’s Downtown

Restaurants have been allowed to reopen their dining rooms at 25% capacity since May 8 and were allowed to double that capacity Friday.

However, Judd Byrnes said he does not plan to open Judd’s Downtown in the former Ellie Bee’s building at 117 E. Tyler St. until he can do so at 100% capacity. The city issued a commercial alteration permit April 24 to J. Stone Enterprises to convert the former store into a restaurant that will serve “classic American food” for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We are not in a huge hurry,” he said. “We are at least a month away, for sure.”

Like the other new merchants, Byrnes, who has worked in the restaurant industry for two decades, said he likes downtown.

“I think once it gets revitalized, it can turn into something great,” he said.

Books & Barrels

Books & Barrels, a combination book store and wine bar, plans to open next to Lumberjacks at 206 N. Center St., also in the Knights of Pythias building.

“I just thought that books and wine would go really well together,” said Laura Nevils, who will share ownership with husband Chad and business partner Joanna Burrows, all of Longview.

“Downtown is just really cool, and it is up and coming, and I wanted to be part of it,” Nevils said.

Nevils, who formerly did office work for 10 years, said she had planned to open in March, but the pandemic struck.

“We had to renovate the whole thing,” she said. “We had to put in new shelves and new flooring and a couple of walls.”

Nevils said she hopes Books & Barrels will be ready to open in June. It will have evening hours, like Lumberjacks.

Lumberjacks

Two couples were trying their skills with axes Thursday evening at Lumberjacks.

“I like that it is convenient and cool, and the people that own it are really cool,” said Chelsea Lasick of Kilgore. She came with her husband, Josh, who hit a bull’s eye with the ax.

Lasick said she tried ax throwing in Austin and Tyler but did it for the first time at Lumberjacks on Thursday.

Noting that the school where she teaches has been closed during the pandemic, Lasick said, “This is the most excitement I’ve had in over a month.”

Brandon and Shelby Plaschke of Hallsville tried ax throwing for the first time Thursday.

“It’s fun. It’s something different. It’s kind of a stress reliever,” Brandon Plaschke said.

Lumberjacks is open 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday.