CH@T: Pittsboro’s ‘Main Street’ crowd works to build businesses, vibrancy downtown

CN+R STAFF REPORTS
Posted 9/29/21

Pittsboro is a busy place these days, particularly with construction and the Chatham Park expansion. But downtown, a group of business leaders and volunteers — Main Street Pittsboro — are working …

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CH@T: Pittsboro’s ‘Main Street’ crowd works to build businesses, vibrancy downtown

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Posted

Pittsboro is a busy place these days, particularly with construction and the Chatham Park expansion. But downtown, a group of business leaders and volunteers — Main Street Pittsboro — are working hard to ensure the area’s environment stays vibrant. This week, we speak with Lesley L. Landis, a graphic designer and founding board member and a co-chairperson of the Promotions and Marketing Committee of Main Street Pittsboro, about the organization’s efforts.

Landis also serves as a board member of the Chatham Arts Council and a co-founder of Wake up Wednesday and Pittsboro Eats! She says she’s grateful for her life, and loves her husband Randolph, lilies, and the sight of a waning crescent moon on a clear night.

Can you give us an overview of Main Street Pittsboro, and talk about the focus of your work?

Main Street Pittsboro (“MSPBO”) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the built environment of the Main Street district in downtown Pittsboro, support local businesses, and attract people to Pittsboro’s unique and historic downtown. Main Street Pittsboro achieves these goals via the Design Committee, Promotions and Marketing Committee, and Economic Vitality Committee. MSPBO works under a MOU agreement with the Town of Pittsboro to operate the town’s Main Street Program. This arrangement is how a majority of Main Street programs in North Carolina operate.

In 2011, the Town of Pittsboro authorized an official request to the state of N.C. and Main Street Pittsboro as an organizational idea was approved and formed under the auspices of the N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s Main Street Program and The National Main Street Center, which is an established program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In 1980 the National Trust for Historic Preservation developed the Main Street program to help historic downtowns and business districts rebound from the loss of businesses migrating to outlying shopping centers, suburbs, and large shopping malls. Coincidentally, many towns were losing businesses to increased competition from big-box retailers. As small, family-owned businesses shuttered, downtowns lost variety, local flavor, and their unique cultures. Main Street’s goal was and remains: “Economic development within the context of historic preservation.”

Tangible examples of Main Street Pittsboro’s work include opening the Welcome Center and the renovation of the building at 37 Hillsboro Street, the creative handrails on either side of Hillsboro Street that help shoppers navigate stairs while celebrating the town’s designation as a bird sanctuary; completion of the rain gardens near Pittsboro Toys with stone caps and stone facings; the murals at Circle City Books, the Welcome Center, and most recently Yoga Garden Pittsboro, and improved building facades at Deep River Mercantile, Screaming for Vintage & Oakmoss Attic, and Perch Coworking, just to name a few.

Who’s involved in MSPBO?

A volunteer board of directors composed of local business owners, property owners, and skilled local residents lead the Main Street Pittsboro non-profit. Maria Parker-Lewis is the chairperson, Michael Whitman is the treasurer. Other board members are Ashlie Campbell, Sera Cuni, Chatham Commissioner Mike Dasher, Betsey Elbogen, Pittsboro Commissioner Michael Fiocco, Greg Lewis, Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy, Kevin Maley, former Pittsboro Mayor Randolph Voller and myself.

The original board when Main Street Pittsboro was formed as a nonprofit included Fiocco, Doug Emmons (who was the chairperson of the CCEDC), Jim Nass (now the mayor of Pittsboro), Maria Parker-Lewis and her husband Greg (who operated 39 West Catering and the Roadhouse in the district and are now current owners of The Sycamore), Kitty Meacham (owner of Liquidambar and the building it’s in) and my husband Randy Voller and me. I’m a longtime board member of the Chatham Arts Council. Randy and Michael Fiocco were the driving forces behind Pittsboro being named a Small Town Main Street Community in 2011. Additionally there are many volunteers who support the program and serve on the advisory committees. Both previous Pittsboro mayors, Bill Terry and Cindy Perry, also supported the Main Street Program.

This new mural at Yoga Garden in Pittsboro was done by artist Loren Pease. / Staff Photo by Kim Hawks

MSPBO has a number of events coming up. Can you share details?

First Sunday is hosted by the Pittsboro Business Association, but Main Street Pittsboro happily promotes any uplifting event that brings people downtown. First Sunday is always noon to 4 p.m. and typically features artisans selling jewelry, textiles, woodwork, soaps, and pottery on both sides of Hillsboro Street. The Welcome Center at 37 Hillsboro Street is always open during First Sunday and Mapleview To-Go sells ice cream from a nearby parking lot.

Oktoberfest

SoCo is hosting the Pittsboro Oktoberfest on this Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight. Eight participating bars will offer drink specials and adults are invited to roam the streets of Pittsboro and enjoy a beverage. Visit 580 Craft Beer, The Beagle Bar, bmc brewing, Fair Game Beverage Co., Modern Life Deli & Drinks, Red Moose Brewing Company, Sycamore at Chatham Mills, and Starrlight Mead.

Arts in the Park

Main Street Pittsboro will present the next Arts in the Park from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, in the Page Vernon Pocket Park at 110 Hillsboro Street. The musical guest will be Sarah Perry.

Having taught a generation of people how to play the ukulele at Clapping Hands Farm, Perry is known for her prowess on the ukulele and her clear, sweet voice on songs that celebrate nature and community. Singalongs may break out! The event is free, open to the public, and sponsored by Perch Coworking. Carolina Cravings and bmc brewing will be onsite selling bakery items and beer, respectively. Attendees are encouraged to buy snacks or dinner from local businesses and enjoy them during the concert. Several downtown restaurants are within easy walking distance to the park and are open for dinner and drinks after the concert.

Page Vernon Park

The Page Vernon Park is an environmentally friendly, 3,000-square-foot urban pocket park that opened in the fall of 2015. Named for Page Vernon, a child welfare advocate, mentor, guardian ad litem, lawyer and judge, she practiced law next door in the historic Hall-London House. Following Judge Vernon’s death in 2013, the Vernon family donated the land where she often enjoyed her lunch in the shade of a pecan tree. The park was built with town funds and support from the Trust of James Milton Johnson and Laura Blair Johnson, the Chatham County ABC Board, and many other supporters.

“Our intent is to attract folks to downtown to enjoy some time outdoors in one of downtown Pittsboro’s beautiful amenities,” said Main Street Pittsboro’s board chairperson, Maria Parker-Lewis.

Pittsboro Street Fair

The Pittsboro Street Fair will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 50 West Salisbury Street. The Town of Pittsboro is the host for this perennial favorite downtown event that attracts great food and craft vendors, as well as nonprofit information booths that all coalesce to provide a fabulous day of fun and merriment for the community. The Rotary Club is working with the town on the event this year and Main Street Pittsboro supports the event.

The Welcome Center has been open since March. How are things going?

The Welcome Center at 37 Hillsboro Street is in the very heart of Pittsboro, Chatham’s county seat, and in the shadow of the iconic courthouse on the traffic circle. The Welcome Center serves as a locus of information for visitors and residents alike as well as the office of Main Street Pittsboro.

Since the Welcome Center opened on March 24, more than 1,100 visitors from dozens of states and a handful of countries have stopped in to learn more about what’s happening in and around Pittsboro and Chatham County. In the Welcome Center visitors find maps, brochures, and periodicals on Chatham County, rest tired feet in the lounge and watch videos developed by Main Street Pittsboro for the curious traveler or day tripper, check email on the free wi-fi or use the only modern and ADA-compliant restroom in downtown Pittsboro. We regularly answer questions such as the best places to eat, have a picnic, go for a short hike, or buy an antique.

The newest feature of the Welcome Center is The Courtyard, an outdoor seating area where guests are encouraged to enjoy street views under the mural by Michael Brown while they wait for tiny dancers at Dance 7 or a table at The Beagle or Virlies Grill.

The intention of Main Street Pittsboro is to utilize the Welcome Center as a place to organize for future downtown events when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. For example, the highly anticipated second Local on Main dinner will make great use of the Welcome Center.

With the tremendous growth this area is experiencing, the information available at the Welcome Center has been much needed and appreciated. Current hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and occasional Sundays.

Anyone traveling through Pittsboro has seen plenty of construction — from work to enhance the traffic circle to the creation of SoCo. What’s the rundown on that from MSPBO’s point of view?

It is important to note that the Downtown Vision Plan — from which the traffic circle project sprang — was passed unanimously 5-0 by the town of Pittsboro on June 16, 2014. The Downtown Vision Plan is a map and an accompanying 48-page document that can be viewed on the website of the town of Pittsboro.

The intent of the Downtown Vision Plan is to develop a high level, community-based vision for the downtown core as a starting point toward enhancing the aesthetics, functionality, and economic sustainability of a vibrant downtown Pittsboro. Furthermore the plan identified priority projects and implementation budgets to secure funding commitments from the State of North Carolina to implement selected projects such as the traffic circle project.

Current Town Commissioners Pamela Baldwin, Jay Farrell and Michael Fiocco were on the town board in 2014 and voted to support the plan.

As an organization tasked with advocating for a safer and more walkable downtown, Main Street Pittsboro was an early supporter of the NCDOT work on the Pittsboro traffic circle. The traffic circle has been tightened from the outside by 4 feet, overhead utilities have been buried, and crosswalks and handi-capped ramps have been defined with stamped and/or slip-resistant materials. The handicapped ramp on the east side of Hillsboro Street has made access to the circle safer. These changes and the pervious pavers on the Northeast and Northwest corners of the circle have all improved downtown’s appearance and will make traversing Pittsboro safer for bicycles, pedestrians, and people with mobility challenges — all positive qualities for a vibrant downtown.

SOCO — “South of the Courthouse” — is an exciting development happening on the southeast corner of the traffic circle and is significant for any town, both for the scope of this private investment and the optimism it suggests about the future of downtown Pittsboro. Main Street Pittsboro has worked with the owner to support his vision for redevelopment in this critical area of the town.

According to its website, SoCo will have 30,000 square feet, spanning an entire city block; 8,000 square feet of outdoor dining on three patios and rooftop bar; a mix of restaurants, bars, a brewery/distillery; both casual and fine dining; plentiful parking, both owned by SoCo and available public spaces.

Main Street Pittsboro welcomes the vision of the owner and developer and looks forward to the promise of greater downtown vitality that the development may bring to downtown. We appreciate and heartily support that historic properties are being renovated and that the new construction will honor the past.

For leasing opportunities or questions about SoCo Pittsboro, please contact: Eric Andrews at Realty World/Carolina Properties at 919-548-1014, or by email at eric@ericandrewsrealtor.com

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