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Downtown Flowery Branch loses 'unofficial mayor' Karen Ching
Liberty Candy Co. owner Karen Ching seals a chocolate heart in this file photo. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The beacon who guided downtown Flowery Branch’s future went out on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Karen Ching died in her Flowery Branch residence at age 60, surrounded by her family.

“I used to call her the unofficial mayor of Flowery Branch,” Valerie Darling, one of Ching’s close friends, said. “If you knew her, you couldn't help but remember her.”

Each morning, Ching would park her pink car near the Antebellum in downtown Flowery Branch.

People couldn’t ignore her car, nor Ching’s vibrant personality.

“Before she walks into a building, you just know it’s her,” Tracy McDaniel, owner of Southern Grace, said. “She was always coming in with something that was going to be helpful or beneficial. She led the charge in downtown and was irreplaceable.” 

Darling said Ching had a passion for restoring downtown Flowery Branch and helped breath life into the buildings with her shops. 

Ching owned Liberty Candy Company, Lakeside Market and Liberty Steel Fabricators.

McDaniel said Ching used her bottomless pit of energy to serve other business owners in town, including her boutique. 

“From day one when Southern Grace was just an idea, she was here,” McDaniel said. “She always knew I worked here late at night and would show up with meat, cheese and wine just cheering us on. She treated us like we were family.”

When she heard the news of Ching’s death, McDaniel said she was heartbroken. 

She describes Ching as a special lady who “had the kindest heart.” Although Ching wouldn't express how she felt about others often, McDaniel said they would see it through her actions. 

“You always knew where you stood with her, there was no in between,” McDaniel said. “When she loved you, she loved you.”

Michael Lancaster, who has known Ching for six years, said he will miss leaning against the pillar of her beloved candy shop. 

“Karen was an amazing mentor and friend,” he said. “She was always available with a smile and words of encouragement.”

Marc Stampfli co-owns Beer Me in downtown Flowery Branch with Ching’s son, Robert Sabbath. 

He said Ching, who owned his business’s building, played a large role in helping him start Beer Me. 

Many who work in the town, like Stampfli, have witnessed the effect Ching had in Flowery Branch and will continue to have after her death.

“She fought for a lot and kind of turned this city from something that didn’t have a whole lot, to something that’s growing and has a bright future,” Stampfli said. 

Darling said Ching brought up downtown with her vision and hard work. 

“One of my coworkers here, a good friend, said ‘I don’t know if ghosts exist or not, but Karen will always be walking these streets,’” Darling said. “She did a lot of amazing things here and still had big plans she’ll never finish. She was bigger than life.”

A memorial mass for Ching will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at St. Monica’s Catholic Church at 1700 Buford Highway in Duluth.