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Business owners: Downtown plans ‘will move us forward’

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
[email protected]
Downtown business owners are talking about the town of Erwin’s revitalization plan and how it may impact their businesses.
Ben McNabb, owner of Keeseckers, said he found the first meeting the town held to be helpful. Although he did not attend a second meeting, held the week before last, McNabb said he feels the plan is necessary. “I feel like that, long term, it will be a good thing for the town to move us forward. That’s what we need to do.”
Lisa Frosley, owner of Forever A Diva, said she, too, missed the last meeting but plans to keep attending future meetings.
She said she is excited about the revitalization plan. “It is probably how I got the courage to rent this space and redo it,” she said. “I had started out renting booths on Gay Street and because of the revitalization it gave me the courage to say ‘OK, we are going somewhere.’ It takes a lot of courage to do something like this.”
The first phase of the revitalization will be conducted at the intersection of Union and Main Streets, relatively close to Frosley’s business. “I’m sure it will affect us, but we will just have to get through it,” she said. “I’ve never made any progress without there being a big mess first. There is a cost to progress.”
Lou Snider of Hawg-N-Dawg said he thinks his business will be the least impacted by the initial construction phase even though his business sits on the corner of Union and Main.
“It’s going to affect me the least because all of my parking is up Union and behind Union,” he said. “There are places to park and walk up, which are closer than parking and walking to Wal-Mart.”
He said he expects to only be somewhat affected for a few days when the sidewalks are being torn up. “The jury is out what we are going to do then,” he said. “I personally think that we will be busier downtown when the construction starts because everyone likes to come down to look and see what’s going on. There will be more foot traffic.”
There are mixed feelings about the change for McNabb.
“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “I’m optimistic that it will be a good thing. I don’t think we’re going to really figure out any of the negatives until we are in the middle of something like that. Right now we don’t know exactly what to do because we’re not sure how it will progress. It needs to happen, yes, but it needs to happen quickly so we can get back to business.”
Frosley said she knows that it will be difficult to get into her shop on some days but she is willing to work around it.
McNabb said that he has worries about the after-effects of the construction because of what he is hearing from business owners in another town.
“We always, as a business owner, worry about what the construction may do in the short term,” McNabb said. “It’s a concern knowing what my friends are telling me that have businesses in Jonesborough, they’ve struggled and are struggling still, so that is a concern. But, Erwin’s downtown revitalization has been needed for years. I hate it’s taken this long to start on it, to be honest.”
Frosley said she loves the green space direction the engineers and town have implemented into the project.
“The sidewalks, the green spaces, benches, it’s all about getting people to enjoy walking on the streets,” she said. “From what I’ve seen of the plans, it’s going to be very walking friendly. I think it’s really going to draw out the quaintness of our town.”
Frosley said she’s hoping the town’s revitalization will be marketed as a getaway and relaxed destination for visitors.
McNabb said he overheard from an Erwin business owner that awnings had been a topic at the second meeting, which was of concern to him.
“I heard that all of them had to come down,” he said. “I’ve not discussed that with the town yet.”
Erwin City Recorder Randy Trivette said the awning details are yet to be finalized.
He said the awnings are a concern because engineers will need to work underneath them, which may cause unnecessary damage if they are not removed. He said if the decision is made to take them down, they may be able to store them safely in the town’s public works facility with minimal damage.
However, putting the awning back up may be at the cost of the business owner, or the awning may not meet guidelines currently being worked on by the town, engineers and the town attorney.
“By law we cannot do anything to benefit an individual business owner,” he said. “We also cannot work on private property. The awnings extend from private property and over the sidewalks. At the same time, we cannot do anything to inconvenience them either.”
Trivette said all the details will emerge in time and intends to maintain communication with business owners.
McNabb pointed out that communicating with the town will be the key to learning how to adjust their businesses accordingly. He said maintaining contact with the town will be his No. 1 resource for how to communicate with his customers so they are not inconvenienced.
“The key is that we are communicated with, as far as the downtown merchants, and the town needs to be communicating so everybody knows we’re still open for business,” McNabb said. “The merchants are going to do everything to keep the doors open with business as usual. We need the support of the community now as much as any time while this is happening. We don’t want it to impede our growth. We want to move forward.”