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Main Street Pittsboro Enhances Downtown

by Casey Mann, Senior Correspondent

Main Street Pittsboro is a force in leading the vitality of  downtown Pittsboro—starting with the appearance and accessibility of downtown properties, marketing the downtown as a destination for shoppers, supporting businesses with promotion, and expanding opportunities to attract new visitors. 

Main Street Pittsboro’s focus is on organization, promotion, design, and economic vitality to preserve and enhance a defined downtown district in Pittsboro. Since its inception, Main Street Pittsboro and its volunteer board has worked to improve accessibility and streetscapes by administering matching grants to downtown property owners to improve the façade appearance of buildings while preserving the historic character of downtown.

Last month, Maria Parker-Lewis, President of Main Street Pittsboro (“MSPBO”) shared an update on the work of the 501(c)3 non-profit during her quarterly report to the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners. The presentation is a requirement of the non-profit’s Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Town of Pittsboro. 

Local support for these goals and their implementation was evident during a Town Board Meeting on Monday, September 13 when Kirk Bradley, Steve Carr, Cindy Edwards, Bill Hartley, Carol Hewitt, Grimsley Hobbs, and Barber Holmes, and Lexie Wolfe, addressed the Town Board during the portion of the agenda called Citizen’s Matters. These local business owners, property owners, and stakeholders all spoke in robust support of MSPBO.   

Streetscape Successes 

When property or businesses owners within the Main Street district are awarded a matching façade grant by the MSPBO Design Committee, care is taken to highlight and retain historic elements. Facades that have been recently updated include 38 Hillsboro Street (Screaming for Vintage and Oakmoss Attic) where new paint, awnings, and windows helped update the streetscape as well as 107 Hillsboro Street (Edwards Antiques) which also received new 
foundation panels, the installation of an awning, and new paint. And Main Street Pittsboro is currently working to finalize a matching facade grant for 73 Hillsboro Street (Realty World). The most recent façade grant award led to the installation of a mural at 185 East Street (Yoga Garden Pittsboro). 

To learn more about the mural at the Yoga Garden on 185 East Street, click here.

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# Find it in Pittsboro 

MSPBO promotes downtown Pittsboro and local businesses through the use of its website (MainStreetPittsboro.org), signage, print ads, a radio campaign, and a robust social media campaign led by its Promotions & Marketing Committee. (Editor’s Note: The chair of the Main Street Pittsboro Promotions & Marketing Committee is Lesley Landis who is also the graphic designer of the Chatham County Line. Landis is a founding board member of Main Street Pittsboro with her husband, Randolph Voller who is the publisher of the Chatham County Line.)

To help keep downtown vibrant, MSPBO has collaborated on events and efforts with local businesses and organizations including the Pittsboro Business Association, Abundance NC, Chatham County Senior Center, PittsboroEats!,  and Chatham250. Plans to work with the Chatham Artists Guild and the Chatham Arts Council are in the works. A self-guided walking tour of the district is on the drawing board in collaboration with The Chatham Historical Association.

Earlier this year, MSPBO launched a virtual tour of downtown business on their website to provide greater connectivity  and exposure to potential visitors and shoppers during the pandemic. The ‘Tour Downtown’ button on the MPSBO website links visitors to a virtual map enabling them to see the town from above and navigate to click on businesses to learn more. Public buildings like the library, courthouse, town hall  and Community House are included as well. 

Another new feature of the MSPBO website is a searchable business directory that can be sorted by categories. Each entry including a link to the  business’ websites if they have one. 

A Warm Welcome

The renovation of the former Capital Bank at 37 Hillsboro Street on the courthouse circle was another MSPBO renovation success story with a second impact. Located in the center of Pittsboro, the county seat and the locus of tremendous change, the new Welcome Center serves as a hub for information to share particulars about local businesses, recreation areas, and events throughout Chatham. 

The Welcome Center is staffed by part-time employee Paul Sacca, the center’s concierge. Sacca joyfully greets visitors, answers questions, and provides information to guests about main street businesses, Pittsboro,  and Chatham County Wed.–Fri. 11am–5pm and Sat. 10am-5pm.

Though COVID has hampered the organization from hosting events that MSPBO has previously held—such as the highly successful “Local on Main” event—the organization is now presenting Arts in the Park. 

The outdoor event, held in the Page Vernon Pocket Park on Hillsboro Street, hires local performing artists for socially distanced events  and encourages attendees to purchase snacks or dinner from downtown eateries. The first event featured the Dave Quick Jazz Trio and was attended by people from across the county including Pittsboro Mayor Jim Nass. 

The next Arts in the Park event is slated for Thurs., September 23, 6-8pm. Dave Smith & Tracy Lynn will be the musical guests. The goal is to host Arts in the Park on a Thursday in every month as weather and the pandemic allows.

 “As both a property and business owner in downtown Pittsboro, I’m delighted that Arts in the Park brings people downtown to use one of our nicest amenities,” said MSPBO board member and owner of Perch Coworking Betsy Elbogan. “The Page Vernon Pocket Park is the perfect size to enjoy local musical talent,” Elbogan added.  

The lack of events due to COVID-19 doesn’t just limit the amount of stimulus the organization can bring to downtown merchants, but many of these events were also part of the non-profit’s fundraising strategy to support its work and may impact future plans. MSPBO has a donation portal at its website to help support its work. If the economic and social burden of COVID-19 continues, the amount of work it is able to sustain may be limited. 

Currently, Main Street Pittsboro’s primary funder is the Town of Pittsboro. The  funding operated under the guidelines of a Memorandum of Understanding  (“MOU”) that stipulates that Main Street Pittsboro implement and operate the Town’s Main Street Program. This arrangement is similar to how a number of municipalities across the state operate their programs.  

The annual support from the Town is augmented by support from private individuals and private businesses. Main Street Pittsboro has also requested that Chatham County augment the annual support from Pittsboro and hopes that Chatham County will join the Town of Pittsboro in its support. This has been the position of some of the members of the Town Board led by Commissioner Kyle Shipp.

The Beginning of MSPBO 

The root of a Main Street Program in Chatham County began in 2007 when Dianne Reid led the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC). 

At the time, the creation of Chatham County’s strategic plan by the Center for Competitive Economies at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill was underway. Supporting the idea of Main Street Programs for Chatham’s municipalities was a critical point of discussion during this process and became an imperative for the CCEDC once the strategic plan was adopted.

The Town of Pittsboro authorized an official request to the State of NC in 2011 and Main Street Pittsboro as an organizational idea was approved and formed under the auspices of the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Main Street Program and The National Main Street Center, which is an established program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Main Street Pittsboro started as a program within Pittsboro’s Parks & Recreation Department and graduated to a full-fledged 501(c)3 non-profit in 2018. The founding board was Doug Emmons, Commissioner Michael Fiocco, Lesley Landis, Maria Parker-Lewis, Greg Lewis, Kitty Meacham, current Pittsboro Mayor James Nass, and Randolph Voller.