By Jonna Rae Bartges
Kay McClain is a catalyst.
In an engaging and eclectic boutique at 242 S. Main Street in the heart of Johnson City, Tennessee, just over the mountain from WNC, she’s created a hub for psychiatrists, students, ministers, architects, nurses, teachers and countless others to nourish body, mind and spirit.
Since 1989 she’s been the proprietor and visionary behind Atlantis, a resource center for conscious and beautiful living. She’s dedicated her life to gathering together the books, music, museum-quality furniture and accessories, fair trade products and interactive programs to enrich your home, your business and your life. You’re also enriching the lives of people in other nations with many of your Atlantis purchases.
A Johnson City native, Kay didn’t initially intend to create a spiritual center that’s attracting loyal customers from Nashville to Asheville, and beyond. She worked on a double major in Social Welfare/Social Services and Psychology at East Tennessee State University, and landed a job with the Tennessee Department of Human Services before switching to a career as an investments broker.
“I loved working directly with people,” she said of her stint in mutual funds, “but I was never comfortable having to ‘push’ products to clients. My spiritual life is so important to me, and I wanted to find work that would let me be of service, and continue to learn and grow. That’s when I got the idea for Atlantis.”
The mission for Atlantis is to support everyone’s search for the truth, joy, wisdom and love at the heart of the true self, Kay said. With that goal in mind, she opened the first incarnation of the boutique in the Boone’s Creek area near downtown Johnson City. After several years there and then trying another location, her current space opened up and she jumped at the chance to move Atlantis to Main Street.
“This beautiful old building had been the Nettie Lee Department Store when I was growing up,” Kay recalls. “It was three glorious floors of women’s and children’s clothing, and I loved shopping here with my mother. I remember putting my first item on layaway in this store – a $32 pair of gorgeous Aigner shoes. Iwas only 10!”
The stately front of the onetime department store now features a dynamic, constantly changing window display of exotic fashions, castle-worthy tables and rough-hewn wood sculptures created half a world away from eastern Tennessee.
“I get a lot of unique pieces from vendors who travel the globe to shop,” Kay said. “They go to places like Brazil, where they can buy directly from the huge crystal mines. My husband Gary (Davis) and I also check out tradeshows on the east coast to find a lot of our gemstones and one-of-a-kind statement jewelry.”
Atlantis has life-sized imported statues of Buddha from Bali, room divider screens from Indonesia festooned with flocks of parrots, “tree people” wall hangings from Samoa, and carved wooden faces imported from the Congo. Case after case displays thousands of silver and gemstone necklaces, rings, bracelets and watches, crafted by skilled artisans from Native Americans in the southwest to villagers in Africa and South America.
Racks of clothing feature handcrafted shirts, pants, tunics, hats, scarves and bags from around the world.
“I make sure the clothing and collectables I offer directly give back to the women who make them,” Kay said. Her fair-wage policy in selecting merchandise has helped bring schools, wells and medical supplies to third-world nations.
One of her suppliers is a young woman who recently graduated from college in California, and set up a special “recycling” program in India. The program buys used saris from rich woman and gives them to less fortunate Indian women, who use the lush fabrics to create shirts, dresses, scarves and other accessories.
“Widows in India are frequently sentenced to a life on the streets,” Kay said. “This sari recycling program helps them create a good life for their children and themselves.”
“My personal favorite items in Atlantis are the mineral specimens, and many of the unique jewelry pieces,” Kay said. Although she falls in love with them, she doesn’t regret when a customer decides to purchase one of the creations. “I feel like I just have custody of these beautiful things for a little while, and they’re going to a good home,” Kay reasons.
A quick look at the well-stocked bookshelves reveals everything from Bibles to cookbooks to dream interpretation guides. The air in Atlantis is sweet from the huge selection of essential oils and aromatherapy blends. Tying together the entire experience is a constantly changing selection of engaging music playing throughout the store. The melodies flow from gospel to African drumming to etheric meditation chants to hauntingly beautiful Native American flute selections.
When she first came up with the idea of creating the iconic store, Kay was attracted to the name “Atlantis” because of the legendary city’s reputed beauty, spiritual significance and ability to bring different peoples together. Those are qualities she intended and created for the Johnson City Atlantis.
“We believe that global peace begins with each of us,” said Kay, “with our individual efforts to achieve and to share healing and harmony of mind, body and spirit. Here at Atlantis, we pledge to create a spirit of cooperation, respect and community among all truth seekers, spiritual paths, and people.” As an independent local gift boutique and bookstore in Johnson City,
Atlantis encourages customers to come browse, read and shop the comprehensive, eclectic selection of unique items and current and classical titles. There are one-of-a-kind art treasures from around the world, clever greeting cards, baby gifts and a constantly changing selection of other items.
“We’re also expanding our services,” Kay said. “We have taken over the space next to the original shop, and created a center for classes, meditation, private consulting sessions and celebrations. We’re hosting authors, artists, speakers and healers from around the region and around the country.”
The new Spiritual Center at Atlantis features yoga and kabbalah instruction, and hosts crafts and art shows. Groups can also rent space in this very centralized location for their meetings or classes.
One of the Spiritual Center rooms features a huge copper pyramid perfect for meditation or healing sessions; the larger room in the front of the new space has elegant one-of-a-kind art treasures on display.
In the 15 years Atlantis has been in the Main Street location, Kay said she’s seen a lot of changes to the area. Now, new businesses are starting to migrate into the downtown, and there’s vibrant new life revitalizing the historic district.
“A Tupelo Honey restaurant is moving into the old train station, new restaurants, several art galleries, antique stores and a coffee shop have opened up here,” Kay said. “There’s a new photo studio specializing in capturing candid pictures of infants, and a hands-on museum that’s a big draw for young families, too. It’s really starting to come back in a very positive way.”
“I feel the soul of a city is its downtown,” Kay said. “It’s so exciting to be right here in the middle of it, offering people an opportunity to feed their soul and even help the world. When people discover Atlantis, they can also discover a deep part of themselves.”
Atlantis truly is rising, and taking the whole region with it.
For more information about Atlantis and upcoming events, or to reserve space for your group, please call Kay at 423-926-8884 or contact her through her website at www.AtlantisJohnsonCity.com.
Author, psychic and Emmy-winner Jonna Rae Bartges is a frequent contributor to WNC Woman Magazine. She was executive news producer at WLOS in the early ‘80s and left the mountains to work at TV stations in Miami and Los Angeles, and head up PR for Disneyland and Sea World, before returning to the area in 2005. “I see dead people so you don’t have to” is her slogan, and new next psychic development workshop, Practical Spirituality, is March 16 & 17 at the Integrative Healthcare – Wellness Resource Center, 50 Doctors Drive, 120 West Annex, in Asheville. To register or learn more, visit her website at www.JonnaRae.com.