The Town of Buchanan elected a new mayor last November. Tristan Harris, a native of Clinton, Conn., replaced former Mayor Craig Bryant who chose not to run for reelection in 2022.
Harris attended Central Connecticut State University for four years, majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, before moving down to Spring Hill, Fla.
Harris enrolled in some classes at Pasco Hernando Community College focusing in education and received an Associate in Applied Science degree. He moved to Charlotte after earning his Associate’s and began work in the veterinary field. Meanwhile, Harris then enrolled at UNC Charlotte majoring in both biology and psychology.
After a few years working in various positions from kennel and reception to rehab technician at a few different animal hospitals, Harris went back to school at Central Piedmont Community College in a construction management program.
He started a job with Choate construction, an Atlanta-based commercial general contracting company, working on many projects including the Charlotte Premium Outlets and some projects at Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports.
During this period of time, Harris met and married his wife, Kerri. They purchased a house just over the South Carolina border in York, and then he went back to school at Winthrop University to become a biology teacher.
“My wife had a goal to own her own animal hospital, so we kept our eyes open for business opportunities,” Harris recalled in a recent interview. “Shortly after her sister moved to Roanoke, we came across a hospital for sale in Natural Bridge Station. We fell in love with the area when we came to visit the hospital, and, luckily, we saw great potential in the business. We started the long process of purchasing the hospital and moved to Roanoke in July of 2016. We closed on the business purchase in September of 2016 and worked hard to grow the hospital.”
The commute from Roanoke was much more than the Harrises wanted, he added. Tristan and Kerri wanted to be in a smaller community to start a family. After doing some research and exploring the area, they decided that Buchanan was the place they wanted to settle in.
One of their clients from Buchanan told Tristan and Kerri about some people they knew who were going to be selling their property and suggested Tristan contact them.
“It turned out to be exactly what we were looking for, so we worked out a deal and officially became residents of Buchanan in March of 2018,” Harris said. “In the almost five years we have been here, we couldn’t be happier with our decision. We love the community, the landscape, and all that Buchanan has to offer. It’s great how quiet daily life can be, while having so many events throughout the year and activities in the area.”
The Buchanan mayor is currently the practice manager at Natural Bridge Animal Hospital. Tristan is proud that his family worked hard to grow their business from two employees in the beginning to currently having 10 and are currently looking to hire more.
“We are getting ready to start a renovation to improve flow, and allow for more growth while improving the client and patient experience,” Harris added. “Kerri is such a caring and great doctor that I am so proud to support by handling the background operations and administration, while still jumping in as another veterinary assistant, or receptionist, or kennel assistant whenever needed.”
Harris mentioned that working with Buchanan’s Town Council, interim town manager, and town staff has been “great.”
“The council members have been very welcoming and helpful,” he noted. “I’ve had conversations with each of them where they have caught me up on the current issues and recent successes of the town.”
Reese Peck, Buchanan’s interim town manager, has been doing an amazing job town operations, he said, keeping the town council informed, offering advice, and making some major administrative improvements, including moving town investments into significantly higher interest earning accounts to working on increasing the efficiency of operations and town hall.
“Our town is understaffed at the moment,” the mayor said. “I give so much credit and much appreciation to Harry Gleason in Community Development, Town Clerk Claudine Stump, and Brian Simmons in public works for working so hard to keep things going smoothly.”
Harris is an outdoor enthusiast who see what Buchanan has to offer. It’s a “dream” for his family to live in the area. They hike, bike, and float the river, all within minutes of their house.
“The events and festivals are always fun for everyone,” Harris mentioned. “The Buchanan Garden Festival, the Buchanan Community Carnival, the River Farm Truck and Tractor Pull, Botetourt County Fair, Reggae by the River, Beaver Dam Sunflower Festival, Mountain Magic in the Fall, and multiple holiday activities are definitely events to look forward to.”
Harris is excited about the “robustly growing, walkable Main Street, a great draw for residents and out of towners alike.” New retail businesses and restaurants have been filling previously empty storefronts, with more development on the way.
“My wife and I are very happy with the Botetourt County school system, with one daughter in kindergarten, and another soon to start,” Harris said. “We are confident they will get a great and well-rounded education from Buchanan Elementary all the way through James River High.”
Mayor Harris is understanding of the pressing issues with the Town of Buchanan, like bringing in a full-time town manager and filling out the remaining staff members of the town so operations are executed at “peak efficiency and offer the town’s residents an ever-improving quality of life.”
“We need to make some big decisions in the near future to ensure the town’s infrastructure can continue to serve the people of Buchanan and be upgraded, repaired, and maintained as needed,” noted the mayor. “I would love to see more events and increased utilization of the Buchanan Town Park and fairgrounds to bring more people in to experience all our town has to offer and patronize our businesses.
“Mostly, I want to hear from Buchanan’s citizens to find out what will improve their lives in our community. I want to create and work toward a vision, with the rest of council and our town manager, that will benefit the town, its people, and its businesses and increase quality of life in our community while keeping the small-town charm that makes Buchanan so appealing.”
Harris didn’t really consider becoming mayor of a small town specifically, but he claimed to always have a want to serve a community in some way.
“I thought I would start with PTA once my daughters were in school, be a member of some town committees, and be an active volunteer before attempting to campaign for an elected position,” he said. “I did want to eventually be part of the group who helps steer the community I lived in and when the opportunity came to run for mayor of Buchanan, I took some time to consider if I was the right person for the job at this time.
“I had to decide if my life experiences and public interactions had prepared me for the position, if I was familiar enough with the workings of local government and knowledgeable of the Town of Buchanan in particular, and consider if I could garner enough support in the community to win the election. I spoke with friends and family who all believed in me, I researched what aspects I believed I needed more depth of knowledge in, and I spoke to citizens of the town. I have to admit that I was slightly surprised with the amount of support I had in the community, due to the fact that I had only been a part of it for a few years.”
Harris remains grateful for all who helped him with his campaign, showed him support, and who voted. He’s appreciative of the town for trusting him to be the mayor.
“I promise to serve the town and people of Buchanan to the best of my ability and to always do my research in order to be fully prepared to impartially act in the best interest of the town, its citizens, and its businesses,” he concluded.
To learn more about the Town of Buchanan and on-going activities, visit https://www.townofbuchanan.com and keep track of the latest Buchanan event news every week in The Fincastle Herald.
~ Fincastle Herald staff report