Revitalization efforts are worth supporting

Published 2:38 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Earlier this week, I read the news that the owner of Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue – a well-known restaurant in downtown Raleigh – is looking for a new location outside of the downtown district they’ve inhabited for decades.

The owner cited crime as a factor and also that “downtown does not have a positive, good feeling vibe anymore.”

I usually only get the opportunity to visit downtown Raleigh once a year for a convention, but I like to take the time to walk the few blocks around the convention center to check out the local restaurants if I have time. So I’ve stopped in Clyde Cooper’s a few times, and enjoyed the food during each visit.

I’ll be sad to see one less restaurant around in the future, especially after many of the other restaurants nearby have closed down or moved away as well. I was very upset when I learned that the nearby Plaza Café had also shut down sometime last year, as I always made a point to eat there whenever I was in the area. The staff was always extremely welcoming and friendly.

But this seems to be the trend these days. Businesses decide to leave downtown to find greener pastures in other parts of the town, the newer places where people are flocking to visit.

Understandable, but still a little disappointing for the area which gets left behind.

This news, however, got me thinking more about the downtown districts closer to home. Of course, for many of our small towns in the Roanoke-Chowan area, the “downtown” is really just Main Street and that’s about it. But that still counts!

If you drive down Main Street in many of our towns, you’ll pass by old brick buildings and storefronts with wide glass windows. Some are in better shape than others. But many are empty these days, leaving behind only remnants of the years gone by.

To many people, these sights are disheartening. But for others, they see opportunity.

I’ve been encouraged by revitalization efforts in some of our local towns, such as Conway and Rich Square and Jackson, as a few examples I’ve personally seen. Groups of volunteers have come together to see what changes they can achieve, to see what sort of difference they can make in their communities. You may not see the fruits of their labor immediately, but there are glimmers of change if you take the time to look.

Sometimes, these efforts have been bolstered by grants from the state. A few of our towns received funds from the state’s 2021-22 budget to be used solely for Main Street revitalization projects. I know I’ve written a few articles over the past year about what Murfreesboro used their funds for – which has included purchasing new Christmas decorations, adding new murals, providing funds for business owners to make repairs to their storefronts, and much more. My editor, Cal Bryant, has also covered Ahoskie’s use of their Main Street grant funds for similar projects as well.

Those projects carried out with the state-allocated funds are all finished now, but there is still plenty of work that towns and community groups want to do in the future.

I was interested by Ahoskie’s recent approval of a “social district” that covers a few blocks of Main Street. The district is a specifically-designated area where a person can consume alcoholic beverages sold by ABC-permitted businesses within that district. You often see social districts in larger towns and cities, where it encourages residents and visitors to spend time together and support the local businesses.

It’s a neat idea for Ahoskie, though it sounds like something that we’ll see the effects of in the long-term instead of the short-term. Maybe it’ll even encourage some new businesses to join the ones already on Main Street.

Perhaps something that could help many small towns looking to revitalize their downtown areas: more parking options! I don’t think I have parallel parked since driver’s ed class (oh so many years ago) and I’m not eager to try it again anytime soon. But if there are other options for parking nearby, I’m more inclined to walk and explore what Main Street has to offer. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that.

But another thing that might help revitalization efforts even more: community support and positivity.

You can stay at home and say negative things about the state of our towns. “These buildings are falling down,” “no one wants to come here,” “we will never be as good as things were in the past,” and other similar sentiments. They’re easy to say because they don’t require you to put in any work otherwise.

But if you make an effort to support local businesses (new and established ones), and if you support the people who can help make a change in our downtowns, then we might actually see something different and cool.

Just today, I was reading an article from Our State magazine about the camaraderie formed by people who go to yarn shops. They’re often a nice place for people to get what they need and talk with others who have the same hobby. The article also included a list of yarn shops across the state that people should check out.

None of them, of course, were anywhere near here. But I don’t think we should always have to drive two or more hours to buy yarn, or buy whatever else we need or want. Our little corner of the state deserves to have more businesses too. We shouldn’t have to settle for empty, crumbling storefronts forever.

But that will only happen if we can tamper down on the naysaying, remain open to the possibilities, and work together.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.