- Associated Press - Monday, August 31, 2015

FARMVILLE, N.C. (AP) - For nearly 110 years, Farmville Hardware and General Co. endured as part of the foundation of the downtown’s business community. That bit of history has faded away with the store having been scheduled to be shuttered for good.

The closure of the landmark business illustrates the similar challenge confronting many eastern North Carolina communities to preserve their Main Street business and cultural canvas while repainting new development opportunities.

Farmville Hardware and General Co., established in 1897 by the Turnage family and owned through the decades by several people, was schedule to permanently close on July 31, according to Farmville Chamber of Commerce Director Judy Gidley. Interest in the site for other purposes has generated momentum since owner Rod Lancaster’s closure announcement, Gidley said.

Lancaster, who bought the business in 2010 from Harold Ray, cited personal and financial reasons for the action, Gidley said. Lancaster, recently named Merchant of the Month by the Farmville chamber, has not been available for comment while the store liquidates its inventory. He employed eight people.

“Rod is a wonderful man who has done so much to help the Farmville community, including his sponsorship of the Back Alley Bash, which raises money for Relay For Life,” Gidley said. “He has been so generous with his time and expertise for the Farmville Home and Garden Club, which he provided at his own expense.”

The hardware store is one of three retail locations on Main Street to close recently. Main Street Chicken and BBQ and Kue’s Pharmacy closed in June. While the three losses have been regrettable, they have been more closely related to their owners’ personal circumstances than reflective of Farmville’s business climate, Gidley said.

“Farmville is friendly, diverse and open for business,” Gidley said.

Well-established businesses such as the Colonial Inn, Jack Cobb and Son Barbecue Place, Plank Road Steak House and Farmville Furniture Co. continue to draw visitors to the downtown area from Virginia and South Carolina and from Cary to the coast, said Randy Walters, owner of Farmville Furniture Co. for 45 of its 110 years on Main Street.

Walters - a member of the private Farmville Group, which engages in business development efforts - acknowledged the hardware store’s closure as a loss to the community, but pointed to ongoing Main Street additions such as Dapper Dan’s antiques store, relocating from Greenville, as evidence that growth and development continue along the corridor. It will occupy the location formerly owned by Virginia Hicks, but Hicks’ Frame Shop business did not close after Dapper Dan’s bought its building, he said.

“She and her daughter, Geena, just moved to a different location on the street,” Walters said. “They have a terrific trade built up over generations, just like our business does.”

Challenges such as the end of the tobacco boom followed by last decade’s deep recession forced Farmville leaders to push hard to keep the town’s business community vibrant and emerge with its downtown district mostly intact, Walters said. On a walking tour, Gidley pointed out some of the business locations along the street that are empty, but said many of them have pending new ownership.

“Three restaurants opened on Main Street at about the same time last year: La Cabanita, Marabella’s and Main Street Chicken and BBQ,” Gidley said.

A former print shop at 3736 Main St., at the corner of Wilson Street is being sold only because the owner became seriously ill and went to Chicago for treatment, Gidley said. The likely new owner has his eye on it as an art gallery, she said.

At another nearby building around the corner on Wilson Street, not far from the Plank Road Steak House, preparations are near completion for Monday’s opening of a small beauty spa that relocated from Winterville.

Gidley next stepped into Randy Baldwin’s Just Write Laser Engraving print and gift shop on Wilson. The retired government employee chose to settle in Farmville rather than New Bern more than a decade ago following his government service. Baldwin offered his perspective on the upturn of development activity within the Farmville business district following the recession.

“I think recession is a political term to make something very nasty seem more palatable, but it doesn’t describe how people’s lives are affected,” Baldwin said. “We finally got people in this town tired of watching it die and decided to turn it all around themselves rather than wait for someone to do it for them. They’ve gotten off to a good start, although there’s still a long way to go. I’ve been around this country, so I know what a gem Farmville is.”

Walters agreed that having strong business owners and other civic-minded leaders who have kept their development plans anchored on an active Main Street and downtown district has been critical to the town’s success.

“We learned a long time ago that not everything can happen through local government action; it requires some private funds and private participation to make things happen,” Walters said. “Farmville has always been fortunate to have a unique assortment of talented and committed residents who have stayed deeply involved in community affairs with the foresight and vision to prepare for future growth.”

Walters credited the generation of town leaders before his for having the foresight to rebuild the streets, bury the utilities and put in brick sidewalks.

“They did a lot of that with private money and sacrifices by the business owners,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to maintain that level of commitment to this day.”

Current development plans apparently have reached beyond retail and service trades, according to Gidley and Walters.

“We’re on the tip of some major downtown additions,” Walters said. “Individual discussions currently are underway with Pitt Community College and East Carolina University regarding the establishment of satellite campuses along Farmville’s downtown corridor,” Walters said.

The details of those discussions have not been publicized, but announcements by the individual institutions are forthcoming, he said. Many other business projects are privately negotiated, Walters said.


Information from: The Daily Reflector, https://www.reflector.com

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