Barbara Hughes Named 2024 Recipient of the Debi Smith “Heart for Hospitality Award”

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – Barbara Hughes, owner of Narnia Studios in downtown Hendersonville was named the 2024 recipient of the Debi Smith “Heart for Hospitality Award,” an award given out by the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority (HCTDA) to honor a Henderson County tourism industry champion.

This award was created in 2022 by the HCTDA’s current Board Chair, Richard Rhodes of WHPK 1450 AM Radio, as a way to recognize the outgoing chair of the HCTDA Board, Debi Smith. The recipient must be someone “who demonstrates the traits of selfless and tireless service to tourism in Henderson County.”

The winner is decided through an open nomination, and submissions are reviewed by the HCTDA Board’s Community Outreach Committee, who recommends a winning nomination to the full HCTDA Board for their approval.

Barbara has owned and operated Narnia Studios for nearly 30 years. Located in downtown Hendersonville on Main Street, she has worked to curate a unique shopping experience where patrons feel welcome and inspired, and where they will find many locally crafted items.

Barbara also organizes the annual Chalk It Up temporary public art event in downtown Hendersonville, as well as the Tulip Extravaganza, (a celebration of the gorgeous blossoming tulips in downtown Hendersonville every spring) the Gingerbread Cookie Contest every December, and a Black History Month Essay Contest for local school children.

Barbara prides herself on how much she cares about Hendersonville, and in working with the other downtown businesses. She helped found an online group for downtown businesses as a way to build community, to stay in communication with one another, and make sure all local business owners are involved and in the know.

“Hendersonville is truly fortunate to have someone with such a creative mind among the shopkeepers downtown,” expressed Michelle Owens, Executive Director of the HCTDA. “Barbara’s distinctive store and events, like Chalk It Up, contribute to what makes Hendersonville so special to visitors and locals alike.  Barbara's dedication stands as a hallmark of our town's identity.”

Barbara was surprised by the honor at the HCTDA’s annual Henderson County Tourism Conference on February 29th, when her adult son, Cody Hughes, regionally known for his stand-up comedy, appeared on stage and spoke about his mother’s commitment to downtown Hendersonville, the community, visitors and the local art scene.

Barbara was nominated for the award by her daughter, Katie Hughes, and in her nomination, Katie wrote: “I am so proud of her and everything she's accomplished and done for Downtown Hendersonville,” said Katie. “I grew up in Hendersonville, spending every afternoon at my mom's store.”

"I feel as the good book says, we pay honor to whom honor is due. It is a pleasure to pay honor to Debi Smith, who invested so much of herself to the TDA, by honoring someone each year that has done the same," stated Richard Rhodes, Board Chair of the HCTDA.

This is the second year the award has been given. Last year’s winner was Mike Burnette of the Waverly Inn. More info on the award can be found at