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9/11 firefighter, wife to open antique store downtown

Jonesborough’s newest residents — and business owners — John and Karen Cleary, are glad to be coming to a town that honors its history and its country.
The Clearys have fallen in love with the Tennessee’s oldest town and plan to make it their new home. They also will be opening an antique shop at at 109 Courthouse Square, the former Boxcar Betty’s location.
The Clearys said they were drawn to Jonesborough after seeing its display of American flags hanging from light posts throughout the downtown area.
The symbol of patriotism touched the couple — and for good reason.
John Cleary was a firefighter in Manhattan during 9/11.
His face, exhausted and soot-covered, appeared on the front page of the Sept. 13, 2001, edition of the New York Times. The picture was taken as Cleary was leaving Ground Zero to take a short break from digging through rubble in a search for survivors.
He and others were part of a team who rescued Port Authority workers trapped after the attacks on the Twin Towers.
According to a Sept. 12, 2007, article written by Erin James of The Evening Sun, Cleary was one of the workers who helped rescue Port Authority police officers Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, both of whom were buried under 20 feet of debris when the towers collapsed.
Cleary recalled when his excavation team removed one of the officers, who was crying. “The guy was shaking like a leaf,” Cleary told the newspaper.
Cleary was part of Ladder 24, Engine Company 1 on West 31st Street. “We lost eight guys from our station and about 160 others that I worked with,” he said.
About a year after going through that, Cleary left behind both Manhattan and firefighting. He and his wife moved to New Berlin, Pa., where they bought an 1800s home and furnished it with antiques.
It was easy to find their home. The couple was known in the community for flying the American flag every day of the year.
It was when the couple came for visits with their daughter, Erin, a student at East Tennessee State University, that they discovered Jonesborough.
“We were drawn to the town’s history and its beauty,” John Cleary said. “I sent my son pictures of the town and he said it looked fake, too beautiful to be real.”
Currently living in Mooresville, N.C., the Clearys are looking forward to opening their shop and moving to town.
“We just want to redecorate before we open,” he said. “Our store will have art glass, primitive furniture — a really eclectic mix of everything.”
The two haven’t set an opening date yet and though they haven’t completely decided on a name for the shop, they say they are leaning toward “Washington Antiques.”
“We want the store to conform with the look of the town,” he added. “We’d eventually like to have a mural painted on the side of the building, something similar to the old tobacco sign on The Crafty Peddler building.”
No matter what the decision, the Clearys say they will make sure their sign reflects Jonesborough’s patriotic atmosphere.
“Our sign will have red, white and blue on it,” Cleary said. “That’s for sure.”