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Melinda Mason, owner and operator of Nothing Bundt Cakes, displays an M.V.P.-decorated "Chocolate Chocolate Chip" Bundt cake at her store near Hamilton Place mall.

When Melinda Mason retired from teaching last year, she had a plan.

The Texas schoolteacher had fallen in love with Chattanooga after visiting family in Tennessee and knew she wanted to move to the city. Mason also wanted to open a business and had the perfect place for it: East Brainerd.

"This is a great retail area with medical offices and hospitals close by," she says. "It's the right demographics for our product. Busy people are out, and we're in a convenient location where they can stop on their way."

Mason opened a Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise outside of Ruth's Chris Steak House and Embassy Suites on Shallowford Road in August of 2017. She's also in the process of buying a home in East Brainerd.

The area offers close proximity to not only her store, but food, doctors' offices and shopping. East Brainerd and retail are synonymous.

The area is home to the area's largest mall, Hamilton Place, and dozens of businesses surrounding the shopping center.

It makes the area enticing for business owners and home buyers, says East Brained Chamber of Commerce Council President Mark Jones.

Jones doesn't live in East Brainerd; he's from across the state line in Georgia. However, he wanted to get involved with the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, and he knew that East Brainerd's was the right council for him.

"There's more going on here, and the area is growing," he says.

"The East Brainerd footprint has such diverse things to do," adds incoming East Brainerd Council President Deeanna Jeffreys. "There's every type of restaurant, movies and more. We invite everyone to come support the businesses in the East Brainerd footprint."

BY THE NUMBERS

Since East Brainerd is unincorporated, exact growth numbers aren't available. However, there are a number of new developments in the area. For example, The Lakes at Standifer continues to add single-family homes on Standifer Gap Road, while apartment complexes line the roads near Hamilton Place.

Median sales price: $204,000 in 2017; $186,000 in 2016

Percentage change: 9.7%

Number of homes for sale: 163 in 2017; 221 in 2016

Percentage change: -26.2%

Source: Greater Chattanooga Realtors 2017 annual report

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Students congregate in front of Apison Elementary School for student led prayer and song during the annual "See You at the Pole" gathering.

OUR SCHOOLS

East Brainerd is home to a number of private schools, including Grace Baptist Academy, Silverdale Baptist Academy, St. Nicholas Episcopal School and Standifer Gap Seventh-day Adventist School.

Apison Elementary (preK-5)

Population: 559

Proficiency (TVAAS): 5/5 overall, 5/5 in literacy, 5/5 in numeracy

East Brainerd Elementary (K-5)

Population: 1,080

Proficiency (TVAAS): 5/5 overall, 4/5 in literacy, 4/5 in numeracy

Westview Elementary (K-5)

Population: 612

Proficiency (TVAAS): 5/5 overall, 5/5 in literacy, 5/5 in numeracy

East Hamilton School (6-12)

Population: 1,743

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 2/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

ACT scores: 22.2 composite, 22.1 in English, 21.1 in math, 22.7 in reading, 22.4 in science

» The career-oriented applications instilled with the opening of one of several tech-heavy Volkswagen eLabs in fall 2017 will continue as East Hamilton High gains the Tinker, Innovate, Engineer Institute and the Canes Leadership Institute of Marketing and Business in fall 2018 as part of the district's Future Ready initiative. Already suffering from overcrowding after opening in 2009, EHS will be split with the construction of a new middle school expected to be complete in August 2020.

Ooltewah Middle

Population: 727

Proficiency (TVAAS): 3/5 overall, 4/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

» Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, students here will have more hands-on opportunities when the final eight of 16 Volkswagen eLabs open in select schools across the district. Filled with digital fabrication tools, including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3-D printers, robotics and laser cutters, the labs are staffed by well-versed professionals in an overall effort to supply kids with skills directly relevant to the workforce.

Ooltewah High

Population: 1,561

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 1/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

ACT scores: 20 composite, 19.4 in English, 19.1 in math, 20.5 in reading, 20.2 in science

» One of only two schools in the district with an International Baccalaureate program, Ooltewah High, along with Signal Mountain Middle/High, will be the site of the Institute of International Baccalaureate Studies as part of the district's Project Ready initiative. Expected to open in fall 2018, the institute will build on the IB's rigorous academic approach with partnerships with area businesses. The school's principal, Robin Copp, was named Tennessee's 2017-18 Principal of the Year.

Source: 2017 State Report Card

*The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scale runs from 1-5, with 1 denoting the least effective schools/districts and least amount of progress toward the Standard for Academic Growth.

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A plate of Sticky Fingers' ribs.

LOCAL FLAVOR

East Brainerd is home to dozens of restaurants, including many "Best of the Best" winners as nominated and voted on by Times Free Press readers each year.

Best Meal for the Money: Cheddar's, 2014 Gunbarrel Road

Best New Restaurant: Chuy's, 2271 Gunbarrel Road

Best Steakhouse: Ruth's Chris, 2321 Lifestyle Way

Best Pizza: Paisano's Pizza, 2020 Gunbarrel Road#160

Best Thai: Rain Thai Bistro, 6933 Lee Highway Suite 400

Best Greek: Acropolis Mediterranean Grill, 2213 Hamilton Place Blvd.

Best Sandwich Shop: Firehouse Subs, 1820 Gunbarrel Road #700

Best Food Truck: Fat Boy's Roadside Eats, 8106 Standifer Gap Road

Best Business Lunch: J. Alexander's Restaurant, 2215 Hamilton Place Blvd.

Best Ribs: Sticky Fingers, 2031 Hamilton Place Blvd.

*2017 winners

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Isa Hill searches for creatures in a stream at the Little Owl Festival at Audubon Acres.

WHAT WE DO FOR FUN

Audubon Acres: This membership-based 130-acre outdoor sanctuary has hiking trails and beautiful scenery, including a creek for canoe/kayak put-ins and splashing around. In fitting with its mission to promote stewardship of environmental, cultural and historical resources, it hosts a variety of events and has a museum. 900 N. Sanctuary Road. Call 423-892-1499.

Standifer Gap Park: Operated by Hamilton County, it offers a playground and half-mile asphalt walking track along with a sand volleyball court, eight lighted tennis courts, football and baseball fields. 8327 Standifer Gap Road.

Heritage House: Built as a residence for a local family, the stately Greek Revival style home has since been transformed into a civic center that, in conjunction with the surrounding park, serves as a hub for the community. While available for private events, the house holds routine public gatherings, including The Backlot: A Place for Filmmakers, SongWriter's Night, Film Noir screenings, English Country Dance for All, Ambi Artists and Craft 'N' Crop. The park has a daily draw. Between its off-leash dog park, 3,200-foot paved walking trail, bocce ball court, picnic tables, grills and acres of meadows, the 22-acre haven definitely draws a crowd. It's also the site of several popular annual community events. Heritage House is located at 1428 Jenkins Road.

Hubfest: Typically held over Mother's Day weekend, this free event features crafts, vendors, parades and more.

Movies in the Park at Dark: Bridge Christian Church has welcomed local families to a movie showing under the stars for the past six summers.

Bark in the Park: In October, Jack Benson Heritage Park goes to the dogs when canines and their companions turn out for a day of service dog demonstrations, adoption fairs, a costume contest and parade and more.

East Brainerd Community Tree Lighting: For the past three years, the community has come together to celebrate the Christmas season with caroling, free cookies and cider, performances from local school and church choirs and an appearance from Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

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