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New Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business In Historic Downtown Bristol VA/TN

Why Downtown Bristol?

Historic Downtown Bristol is one city in two states and it is certified as both a Tennessee and a Virginia Main Street Community. In the last decade numerous new businesses downtown have opened and thrived. These firms represent a variety of industries. The businesses are able to take advantage of downtown’s proximity to cultural and tourism assets, to the heavily traveled I-81 corridor, and the clustering of professional services firms, banks, educational institutions, and government agencies with offices in or near historic downtown.

Bristol’s historic State Street is located just minutes from I-81 and annually draws visitors for major events such as the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion (over 30,000 for the multi-day festival), two annual NASCAR races (over 40,000 people over a single weekend), King University graduation and move in day each year (hundreds), and year round tourism to the South Holston Dam, Appalachian Trail, Crooked Road, and other outdoor recreational opportunities. In the next year a boutique hotel called Sessions will open to keep visitors in historic downtown during their visit.

Weekly events throughout the summer months, such as the Border Bash concert series, Full Moon Jam, and the Downtown Farmer’s Market, and events at the Parmount Center for the Arts increase the downtown population as do anchor institutions such as the downtown branch of public library, the Birthplace of Country Music museum, and offices such as the City of Bristol, TN, City of Bristol, VA, and Bristol, Virginia City School Board, and the nearby facilities of UPM Pharmaceuticals and local branches of the YMCA and YWCA. A growing number of residents live in lofts and apartments downtown.

What is the main attraction to setting up a business in downtown Bristol?

  • Future economic growth from tourism is expected due to aligning Bristol as a "Destination" and providing a unique Experience that is desirable and authentic.
  • Strengthening retail sector in both Bristols is a stabilizing force.
  • Ready and willing workforce including excellent training and educational resources. King offers an excellent and accessible MBA program while the Downtown Bristol campus of Northeast State Tech offers advanced classes in technology.
  • New businesses outside of downtown may more frequently select our area for expansion due to the key lifestyle advantagesBristol has to offer. This means further spending power in the hands of customers, who are increasingly aware of the benefits of downtown Bristol, for example:
    • Friendly Southern community "town square" feeling.
    • Pedestrian-friendly.
    • Rich cultural events
    • Great food and night life.

What do we have now?

  • Very solid "anchor" businesses present and on the horizon.
  • The current population of Bristol TN/VA is approximately 54,000 (US Census American Community Survey estimates)
  • Annual and periodic large-scale events that draw thousands of pedestrians.
    • Border Bash: 10,000+ Annually
    • Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion: 50,000+ Annually
    • Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway: Annual Food City Race Night, numerous events that draw in well over half a million people.

Why is (downtown) Bristol a great place to do business?

  • Loyal customers, lots of free exposure to new customers
  • Camaraderie and support systems available to entrepreneurs
  • A great investment — the timing is now.
  • Transportation infrastructure: less than 3 miles from I-81
  • Access to professional services: banks, accountants, real estate, title services
  • Hi-speed Internet: both Bristol Tennessee Essential Services and Bristol Virginia Utilities offer 1G fiber internet access.
  • Bristol is within one-day’s drive of 70% of the US population and within 100 miles there is a population of over 3 million
  • Annual events such as NASCAR races at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and major events at King University or the Birthplace of Country music bring even more people to the city and historic downtown.

Thinking About Relocating to Downtown Bristol to Open or Expand a Business?

[ this section is being expanded 8-5-2014 ]

Bristol, TN
City Govt / Beer Board / Zoning
Sullivan County
Bristol, VA
City Govt

Things to Consider When You're Getting Started

When starting a business you need to ask yourself:

  • Am I willing to make the needed commitment of my time and money to make this business a success?
  • Do I have the skills to operate this business?
  • How well do I know my product?
  • Do I have a written business plan?

Steps to getting started:

  1. Determine your best type of business structure – Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, or Corporation.
  2. Write your business plan.
  3. If your business is a partnership, draw up a partnership agreement.
  4. If you are planning a corporation, file Articles of Incorporation.
  5. For more information on Articles of Incorporation, speak to a local attorney.
  6. Obtain federal, state, and local forms if you employ one or more people (e.g., Worker’s Compensation, Unemployment Compensation, Federal Income Tax Withholding, State Income Tax Withholding, and Social Security Taxes)
  7. Get an accountant and sign up with the Federal Government on the state site.
  8. If you have employees, obtain a Federal Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service.
  9. Determine the location of your business.
  10. Make sure your building has an occupancy permit.
  11. Contact both city inspectors in the Planning Departments.
  12. Check with the local municipalities concerning zoning requirements.
  13. Find out if your business is required to collect sales tax.
    • VA: Commissioner of Revenue
    • TN: Commissioner of Revenue

Government / Regulatory Steps to Opening a Business

All Types of Business

  1. Determine municipal zoning, building permit, and inspection criteria from:
    • The City of Bristol Virginia Building Inspection Department
    • The City of Bristol Tennessee Codes Enforcement Division
    • Sullivan County Division of Planning & Environmental Management
  2. If a Limited Liability Company or a Corporation, register articles of organization or corporate charter with the Tennessee/Virginia Secretary of State.
  3. Register the business with the Tennessee/Virginia Department of Revenue for tax purposes.
  4. If a partnership, LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship with employees, register with Internal Revenue Services for Employer Identification Number.
  5. Any business with employees must register with the Tennessee Department of Employer Services for a Tennessee Employer ID or the Virginia Employment Commission.
  6. Obtain a business license from Sullivan County Clerks Office or if inside the City of Bristol, VA, obtain a license from the Municipal Building


  1. Register business with the Tennessee/Virginia Department of Revenue for sales and use tax registration
  2. Stores selling beer for off-premise consumption must contact the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Commission or the Bristol Beer Board (TN)
  3. Food stores must register with the Tennessee/Virginia Department of Health for annual inspections
  4. Liquor stores must apply for liquor licenses with the Tennessee/Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission


  1. Register with the state Department of Health for 2 annual inspections.
  2. Register the business with the Tennessee/Virginia Department of Revenue for sales and use tax
  3. Restaurants selling alcohol must contact the state Alcohol Beverage Commission
  4. Restaurants selling beer must contact the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Commission or the Bristol Beer Board (TN)

Frequently Asked Questions

I am starting a business in Bristol. What licenses do I need?

It depends on the type of business that is being started. There are five categories of businesses and each has several subcategories. Detailed information about business licenses and gross receipts tax can be found in the Tennessee Department of Revenue Business Tax Guide and from the Virginia Department of Taxation.

Sales and Use Tax is another certificate that may have to be obtained. This requirement applies whether your business is a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation, or any other type of organization including those that are non-profit. Retailers from other states that maintain a physical location, or nexus, in Tennessee or Virginia, whether temporary or permanent, must also hold a Certificate of Registration. A business having more than one location must hold a Certificate for each location. Perhaps the best method of applying for the Certificate of Registration is to visit the Department of Revenue (TN or VA). You may also apply for the certificate by mail.

Partnerships, Limited Liability Companies, and Corporations with or without employees must have a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN). The EIN is obtained by completing IRS form SS-4 and mailing to the appropriate IRS Processing Center (See the form’s instructions for the address), or electronically completing form SS-4 at http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98350,00.html. Sole proprietorships with employees must have an EIN. Sole proprietorships without employees may use their social security number as their taxpayer identification number.

All business entities with employees in the State of Tennessee must have a TennesseEmployer Identification number in addition to the federal EIN.

A “new” employer must complete a Report to Determine Status — Application for Employee Number. If you are liable for unemployment insurance premiums in Tennessee, you will be assigned at eight digit employee account number. . If you are liable for unemployment insurance premiums in Virginia, you will need a Virginia Employment Commission Account Number. Applications may be obtained online or by calling your local Employer Accountants Office. Make sure you specify whether you are a Regular Business, a Nonprofit Organization, or a Government Employer.

Tennessee employers with five (5) or more full and part-time workers (one(1) worker if the business is construction or mining) are required to carry Worker’s Compensation Insurance. In Tennessee, Worker’s Compensation Insurance is obtained through private insurance carrier.

Virginia employers with three (3) or more full and part-time workers are required to carry Worker’s Compensation Insurance.

What are the kinds of businesses that I can locate on property that I recently Purchased in Bristol, VA/TN?

First of all, you should never purchase property until after you have checked the current zoning of the property.

After a customer and competitor analysis is performed, this question becomes a zoning issue. The City of Bristol (VA and TN) has numerous “zones” ranging from pure residential to mixed uses to commercial/business to industrial. Property owners should contact the City of Bristol VA or TN City Planning Department to determine the current zone for the property. A quick review of the city’s zoning ordinance will identify the types of businesses that are permitted in various zones.

  • Bristol’s location near the South Holston Dam, Appalachian Trail and short distance to the Creeper Trail draw outdoor enthusiasts.
  • The opening in 2015 of destination shopping with both a Cabellas (at exit 5 in VA) and a Bass Pro Shop (at exit 74 in TN) will draw more out-of-town visitors to the area
  • Downtown is home to independent professional services, retailers, outdoor and sports equipment outfitters, government offices, restaurants—independent and a national chain, and even a 100 year old textile manufacturer.
  • Employees: Bristol has a workforce including people with experience in a variety of sectors and all ranges of education.

Online Resources

Bristol Entrepreneur Center

People Inc.

Tennessee Small Business Assistance

Virginia Small Business Assistance

Sullivan NETWorks Partnership

National Mainstreet Center