When Brian Scott Anderson decided to open a canine boutique and spa in downtown Belmont in 2008, his impression of the city’s Main Street was pretty strong:
“You could see tumbleweeds going down the street,” said Anderson, co-owner of the Happy Dog Cafe and a lifelong Belmont resident. “It was a ghost town.”
So why start a niche business in a part of town that, for years, people seemed to avoid? “The revitalization,” Anderson said.
A $1 million plan gave downtown Belmont in Gaston County, about 15 miles west of uptown Charlotte, a facelift – turning it into a destination spot for both tourists and retailers, said Adrian Miller, Belmont’s assistant city manager.
A four-lane street became a two-lane pedestrian-friendly road. Sidewalks were widened. Trees were planted. Restaurants, beauty parlors and antique shops moved into century-old buildings. And, last year, recycling containers and park benches were added to the mix.
Downtown Belmont is now home to 86 businesses (up from 74 a year ago). It’s the largest number of businesses there ever, Miller said.
Those changes have earned Belmont statewide accolades. The North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association recently gave the city kudos as one of the state’s “Great Main Streets.” The award recognizes some of the best city planning efforts in the state and celebrates downtown districts that embody the spirit of “Main Street.”
The same group awarded the city in 2011 for changes that made downtown walkable, Miller said.
“When you have a town that has a commitment to that small-town retailer … to that mom-and-pop shop or the anti-chain store, that’s really something to be proud of,” said Jason Burdette, who chairs the association’s Great Places program. “I don’t think any Main Street would be successful if it didn’t have cooperative partnerships with that business community.”
Adds Miller: “The city can only do so much on its side to … set the table. These small businesses invite people to dinner.”
The new ‘local mart’
Efforts to re-energize downtown began in the 1990s when the late Kevin Loftin, the former mayor, championed upgrades to downtown’s 1960s-era infrastructure, Miller said. City officials rewrote the zoning code and launched a streetscape project that altered the face of Main Street.
But downtown still was “pretty empty from a retail perspective,” he said. That changed with the passing of a 1999 referendum that permitted alcohol sales. New restaurants and shops arrived and the area became a destination.
Today, untapped real estate is scarce and demand for space so high that new construction is inevitable, Miller said. Main Street has two vacant storefronts – a building under renovation that will house a restaurant and a closed beauty salon the marketing firm next door plans to rent out, he said.
“We get a lot … of customers because people come from all over to take a day trip,” said Christina Moose, who owns Meese Jewelry Co. on Main Street and leads the Belmont Downtown Merchants Association. “There’s a good diverse mix of stores. Most of us are family-owned and operated.”
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