Sharon and James Earley had sought unsuccessfully for almost two years to have their property removed from Waynesville’s downtown taxing district, until a recently passed law gave them new hope that their wish would finally be granted.
A new state law calling for more competition and transparency in how Municipal Service Districts are managed sent shudders down the collective spines of some on the Waynesville Town Board when they learned that the contracts to manage such districts would now have to go up for bid.
The same 2015 law that robs local governments of control over how and for how long they can contract with the organizations that manage their Municipal Service Districts also dictates that local governments now formally address requests from property owners who wish to be removed from an MSD.
At least one local property owner plans to take advantage of a new law allowing for withdrawal from Waynesville’s Municipal Service District.
By a 4-1 vote on June 28, the Town of Waynesville finally got around to complying with an Oct. 1, 2015, state requirement that could potentially threaten the very existence of one of its best-known institutions.
Waynesville’s old town hall on Main Street could be converted into a garrison for tourism, business and economic development agencies — a move that would save each of the entities money and promote teamwork.
For Mary Edwards, the owner of Craft Collection in downtown Waynesville, news of a possible Michaels coming to town is devastating.
“Well, that’s the end of me,” said Edwards. “I’m small, so I can’t complete with big stores.”
Edwards is surprised Michaels would consider coming to Haywood County.
“I never thought they would come here. They might be bringing jobs but it will put all the small business owners out of business,” Edwards said. “I’ll have to close.”
Ray Fulp, owner of the small, independent pet supply store Dog House around the corner, was just as dismayed.
“I think it would close us up,” Fulp said after learning Pet Smart may be coming to town. “That’s sad, that’s sad.”
Fulp and his wife have been in business for 24 years. This had always been a fear of theirs.
“The way the economy is right now, with a big pet supply coming in to town, we couldn’t make it,” Fulp said.
Fulp, 61, said he’s not ready to retire.
“I guess I could go work for Pet Smart,” he said.
At 57, Edwards is not ready to retire either. As a struggling small business owner, she can’t afford to yet. But after 18 years of selling brushes, paints, inks, beads, scrap booking supplies, balsa wood and sundry other art and craft supplies, Edwards isn’t sure what else she would do.
SEE ALSO: Plans call for new Belk, a Michaels and PetSmart in Waynesville
Customer service could be the saving grace for Edwards and Fulp as they prepare to go up against the big chains.
Ann Squirrel, a painter who has shopped at Craft Connection for two decades, said she wouldn’t quit coming.
Squirrel admits to making a trip to Michaels in Asheville every three to four months to stock up on things she can’t get from Edwards, but, “anything I need, I always come here first,” she said.
“Even though prices are a little higher, I would still come. She is so wonderful to her customers,” Squirrel said.
Sometimes customers will call ahead with an order and send their husbands to pick up what they need. Edwards will pull out everything they need and have it waiting on the counter.
“I have actually delivered stuff to people,” Edwards said.
One customer had an ankle replacement and couldn’t get out, so Edwards loaded up pecan resin figurines — which people paint as a hobby — took them to the woman’s house and lined them up for her to pick which ones she wanted.
It’s unlikely Pet Smart shoppers would find expertise at the chain store rivaling Fulp. Fulp knows his customers and their pets and takes the time to help them, such as if a dog has an allergy and the owner can’t figure out what it is.
Fulp’s wife, Sandy, operates a grooming business out of the store. It’s developed a loyal customer base for the retail side, and Melissa Leatherwood said she wouldn’t abandon them for Pet Smart.
“I would rather give local businesses my support than a chain,” she said, as she loved up her freshly groomed shih tzu emerging from the back.
When Best Buy came to town two years ago, also jumping on the Super Wal-Mart train, a locally owned CD store in downtown Waynesville braced for the worst.
“We definitely lost some business to Best Buy,” said Shawna Hendrix, general manager of the Music Box.
It was impossible to compete with the prices of the mega-music retailer across town.
“They can sell them for cheaper than we can purchase them from our warehouse,” Hendrix said.
They survived by offering what Best Buy doesn’t carry: bluegrass, country, blues, jazz, Indy labels and other music genres outside the confines of Top 40 pop. The store also diversified, adding clothing and other retail along with CDs.
When asked if it looked they would make it, Hendrix said the owner is too stubborn to give in.
The Downtown Waynesville Association is gearing up for spring, with new businesses and events in the works for the coming tourist season.
Buffy Phillips, the association’s executive director, told Waynesville town officials that she’s positive about the year’s outlook for downtown.
Though the recession has hurt some businesses in the area – Phillips lamented the increasing winter closures along Main Street this year – downtown vendors are still making it. New ones are even springing up, including the newly debuted Tipping Point Tavern and a Thai restaurant moving in to the space vacated by Ceviche’s On Main.
Downtown’s popularity as a festival venue has prompted
DWA to draft an events policy to fairly handle burgeoning requests from organizations wanting to hold street fairs, while simultaneously adding to their own events calendar.
This year, another street dance will be added to the calendar, hopefully bringing back the popular Hispanic-themed soiree put on several years ago.
Phillips said she’s also preparing proposals for grants from the Tourism Development Authority, which sets aside a special pot of money for Waynesville tourism initiatives and been a real boon to downtown since the fund was set up.
“We’re able now with this to do some phenomenal advertising for the town of Waynesville,” said Phillips. “In the past few years we’ve gotten $30,000 to $40,000 per year.”
While Sylva’s downtown organization struggles for stable financial footing, similar programs in Waynesville and Franklin are seeing the results that strong support can yield.
In May, Gov. Bev Perdue announced the awards of the first round of state funding for participants through the Main Street Solutions Program. Waynesville was one of the big winners, receiving a $300,000 grant to help with the rehabilitation of the historic Strand Theater building.
Also this year, the Franklin Main Street Program received a $130,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Center that will help the town refurbish its waterfront on the Little Tennessee River.
The grant hustle is just one facet of Main Street programs, whose work also includes holding events that draw both tourists and residents back to downtowns in order to create a thriving business environment that encourages rehabilitation and growth.
Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Main Street Center, stresses the fact that each community has its own challenges, needs and resources. If there is a commonality between programs, it’s often linked to their maturity.
“A program that is 30 years old and has operated consistently that entire time may be more willing or better equipped to take on a riskier project than a 5-year-old program that struggles to secure their operating funds each year,” Parham said. “It’s a matter of how sustainable the organization is.”
According to Parham, the vast majority of N.C. Main Street programs have a full-time downtown director in place. Some, like Sylva, operate with a part-time downtown director, but it is a requirement to have paid-professional staff in place in order to be considered an active member of the state program.
Mayor Gavin Brown credits the Downtown Waynesville Association, which was started in 1985, with helping to kick-start a much larger effort to revive Waynesville’s downtown business district and, indeed, reinvent the town.
“You have to focus on something, and we’ve focused on revitalizing our Main Street,” Brown said. “We’ve spent a lot of money on downtown, and I think we’ve gotten a good return.”
The DWA, which gets the majority of its funding through a tax on the downtown business district, has two full-time staff and helps organize more than 20 events each year to drive traffic and create a center for community activities.
In the past three years, DWA has also increased its destination marketing efforts with the help of more than $70,000 from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
Buffy Messer, the program’s executive director, believes the success has been the result of strong support from the town and its community, especially the downtown business community, and to the creation of a downtown business tax district that provides the bulk of its operating budget. It receives only a minor contribution of up to $12,000 from the town each year.
Brown thinks the tax district is the best way to fund the program because it creates ownership and autonomy.
“It gives them a voice. It takes the politics out of it a little bit, which is good,” Brown said. “It’s a community effort, but I do like the fact they’re independent of me.”
DWA has a 17-person executive board that governs its operation.
Messer said as the program has thrived, its expectations have grown. She sees DWA as a partner in the community involved in every facet of the downtown from building design and infrastructure to marketing and event planning.
“Everyone is encouraged to be a part of the solution,” Messer said. DWA focuses on its strengths when selecting projects. “We do more of what we know we do well and less of what we do not do well,” said Messer.
The Franklin Main Street Program first came into existence in 1990 but failed to gain traction. The town re-applied for Main Street status in 2006 and the second go-round has worked much better than the first.
The town of Franklin funds the bulk of its Main Street program itself, which includes the operating of the downtown merchants’ organization, Streets of Franklin.
The town provides close to $100,000 in operating funds each year, enough to pay a full-time director and have some left for the four major festivals it stages each year.
Town Alderman Sissy Pattillo was instrumental in getting the program off the ground and serves as its liaison to the town. Pattillo remembers how hard it was to get people to take the program seriously.
“When we started we had no support, and now it’s really paying off for us,” Pattillo said. “It’s opened doors for us as a town we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Pattillo said winning broad support for the program was the first step.
“I went to banks. I went to people I knew. I went to the county commissioners. I went everywhere, and finally they came on board with us,” said Pattillo.
The Franklin Main Street Program is different from the Downtown Waynesville Association and the Downtown Sylva Association in that it is not solely limited to the downtown business district.
While historic downtown Franklin is the only area that qualifies for the state’s program, locally they’ve expanded the vision to include the other commercial districts in the town limits.
“You can’t just do downtown,” Pattillo said. “If you have businesses in other areas, you have to include those people. If you don’t, you’re a dead duck.”
The program’s executive director, Linda Schlott, has been able to build on the support of the town and county to create new relationships with entities that have a shared vision for the town. This year, Franklin became an Appalachian Trail Community, in large part because of the Main Street program’s leadership.
“It’s the relationships and it’s getting the work out and it’s trying to make everything a partnership effort,” said Schlott.
Schlott said the support of the town has shepherded the organization to maturity.
“It’s much easier when you go talk to someone that you know you have the town behind you,” Schlott said.
What is N.C. Main Street?
Franklin, Sylva and Waynesville all have local organizations that belong to the N.C. Main Street Program, which started as part of a national revitalization effort for historic downtowns developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the early 1980s.
The N.C. Main Street program provides training, planning resources and administrative support for local member organizations that rely on a combination of funding from their towns, private sources and event revenues in order to operate.
The Department of Commerce oversees the N.C. Main Street Center, which supports 61 local organizations that have, according the department’s Web site, generated $1.4 billion in new investment and 13,700 jobs since the program’s inception in 1980.
In North Carolina, the program focuses on communities that have less than 50,000 people and have a full-time town manager.
All Main Street programs are based on four fundamental renewal principles –– organization, design, promotion, and economic restructuring –– aimed at the overall goal of economic renewal in the framework of historic preservation.
A downtown Waynesville project that would put a live entertainment venue, a microbrewery and a pizza restaurant together in the old Strand Theater on Main Street has been awarded a $300,000 grant. Gov. Beverly Perdue will visit Waynesville this Friday (May 28) to see the project firsthand and to talk with other Main Street businesses.
Waynesville businessman Richard Miller owns The Strand, and he credited Downtown Waynesville Association Executive Director Buffy Messer with encouraging him to apply for the grant.
“I give her all the credit for bringing this to our attention,” said Miller.
Miller will partner with other entities to pull off the project, including Headwaters Brewing Co., which is owned by Kevin and Melanie Sandefur. Headwaters Brewing Co. was just last week named the winner of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Start-up Competition, which comes with an $8,000 award.
Miller said the grant will be awarded to the Town of Waynesville, which is then obligated to give it to the developer who restores the building where the new businesses will be located. The money can’t be used for furnishings or business equipment, he said, only for permanent building upgrades.
In a best-case scenario, Miller said the project would be open for business by summer 2011.
The partners in The Strand project include the town, the Downtown Waynesville Association, The Strand Dynasty LLC, Headwaters Brewing Company, Delano’s Pizza Company and the Haywood County Arts Council.
In addition to Waynesville, seven additional communities will receive a total of $1.95 million through the state’s Main Street Solutions Fund. The grants are earmarked to “assist planning agencies and small businesses with efforts to revitalize downtowns by creating jobs, funding infrastructure improvements, rehabilitating buildings and finding other growth opportunities.”
“We know that some of the most creative and innovative economic development work is being done through small businesses and other economic partners in our downtown areas,” said Gov. Perdue. “Main streets can be at the heart of North Carolina’s economic recovery with the right support and investment. For every $1 invested by the state, an additional $4.72 will be invested by the local community."