by Sara Downing, Business Development Manager
In May, I headed to Scotland Neck (population 1,257) in eastern North Carolina. I had never heard of it and I had no idea what to expect, but I was in good company with ten other volunteers from around North Carolina. We were there with CPNI, an independent research institution, to host community engagement sessions with town leaders and residents to understand the concerns and the vision for the Main Street in this small town.
Driving into Scotland Neck, the flat landscape is dotted with farm houses among fields full of cotton, peanuts or strawberries. It is the kind of place that makes you want to slow down and enjoy the ride. As the two lane highway curves around, I spot the Scotland Neck Inn, my home away from home for the next two nights. The Inn has a very familiar look to it. While I check-in, the owner mentions that the hotel had been a Best Western.
J and her husband, the owners, are originally from Fiji and purchased the Best Western franchise from friends in 2002. After area mills and factories closed, the need for somewhere to stay disappeared. She said the franchise was too expensive to keep up, so they became independent. She says they have seen a decrease in the number of people coming to the town and that it is hard to find good workers.
Her story is one that we heard a few times. The local McDonald’s closed because it was difficult to find people to work and rumors spread of money being embezzled from the operation. The Walgreen’s closed for similar reasons. Hearing about these closings offered a quick insight into the economy in Scotland Neck. However, these chains closing have allowed the local, independent shops and restaurants to thrive. McDowell Pharmacy is a fourth generation family owned pharmacy that is able to serve the needs of the town. La Cassetta Italian, The Freeze and Abram’s BBQ are locally owned restaurants that offer some of the best food with prices similar to the fast food chains.
On day one as the CPNI team gathers with community members for the first meeting, the enthusiasm for the town is encouraging. Individuals that grew up in the area, left to go to school and start their career, have returned to retire where they grew up and are eager to participate in helping Scotland Neck thrive. Participants discuss their concerns and ideas. They refer to downtown buildings, not by an address or a building name, but by the owner, “you know Bobby Ray’s building.” I find this amusing and realize that this is what happens in a small town.
The meeting wraps up and we begin our walking tour of Main Street (Highway 258). The brick buildings lining town have gorgeous details, large shop windows and penny tile vestibules, but look tired and worn, many abandoned and in need of repair. However, if you look hard enough you can imagine the potential. Building after building is crumbling, an outcome of absentee owners and limited resources to fix the problem. During the walk, the team identifies a few assets along Main Street, including several open spaces created by the removal of the old buildings. These spaces are identified as potential community gathering spaces or pocket parks. This town has potential and it has people that want to make a difference.
The CPNI group returns to the hotel to discuss the day and what ideas we have to present to the town and citizens during day two of the public meetings.
Our recommendations include creating “gateway” entrances to the town, creating a downtown district that restricts uses and provides guidelines for building maintenance, and activating the Main Street with pop-up shops, farmers markets or family movie nights. I don’t know what will become of Scotland Neck and how much they will implement. What I do know is that I spent two days in this great small North Carolina town and would love to see it grow and thrive.
To view the final report and photos from the trip, click here.
Videos created regarding the town, can be viewed here.
CPNI is an independent research institution focused on the construction industry and founded by the Construction Professionals Network of North Carolina (CPN), a non-profit membership organization. CPN started the institute in 2006 as a committee effort to expand its mission of service to the construction industry and communities throughout North Carolina. The mission of the Institute if to identify key issues related to industry performance, economic development, and the betterment of CPN members and the communities they serve. Through workshops in communities across North Carolina, members of CPN leverage their expertise to consult with local government and community leaders on redevelopment strategies for their town. www.cpni-nc.org
The Messenger | October 2018 | More from this issue