The Free Press
January 27, 2010 12:00 AM
Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, co-owners of Mother Earth Brewing, have invested about $2.5 million in their downtown brewery at 604 N. Herritage St. The Lenoir County natives admitted they could have gone outside of town and built a new facility that would have been much larger, but their love for the area led them downtown.“It’s not as much a business decision as it is trying to do something for the community,” Hill said. “We enjoy our community and that’s really the whole reason we decided to open up downtown.“Plus, Kinston needed a little shot in the arm downtown.”
Adrian King, executive director for The Pride of Kinston, said local entrepreneurs have played a key role in the downtown district’s steady comeback. “The truth is downtown’s development is not going to happen without private capital,” he said. “The interesting thing — and this is true of most main street programs in the state — is the investments being made is not by outside entities … it’s private investors who live and work here.” According to surveys conducted by King, about $3 million was invested in the area during 2007 and an additional $3 million during the past 18 months. “What we have found is that people have been investing on a steady basis in the downtown over the past three years,” King said. “There’s a growing confidence in downtown, there’s a growing belief in the future of downtown.”
King said the 2006 arrival of The Chef & the Farmer, at 120 W. Gordon St., sparked a ripple effect within the business community. “The decision by that family to make that kind of investment in downtown sent huge signals throughout the community that there was a least one individual in the county interested in pouring a lot of (personal) money into downtown,” he said. “I believe a lot of people took note of that — people who had some resources of their own.” The Chef & the Farmer general manager Ben Knight and his wife, owner Vivian Howard, decided purchasing property downtown was a way to invest in the future. “We had a real understanding of what it takes to turn around a community,” Knight said. “We wanted to be a catalyst and be part of that in Kinston.” The couple also set their sights on the area for the aesthetic effect. “We chose downtown because we like old buildings,” Knight said. “They have a natural character that most new construction doesn’t.”
Charm was something Cathy Bass, owner of The Briary at Herritage Landing at 212 N. Herritage St, was looking for when searching for a place for her business. She said the downtown area was an inviting, quaint locale for her shop. “I think downtown areas are just more laidback,” Bass said. “I think that everybody now seems to have such busy lives that it’s just nice to come to a place with a little bit of a slower pace.”
Shelia Stroud, the owner of Designs by Shelia, said she believes in the importance of downtown revitalization. “It’s so important for small towns,” she said. “I just think a shop downtown in an old building has so much more personality than a shop in a mall. “I think people really enjoy going downtown again — it gives them that feeling of when they were younger.” Stroud, who has lived in Kinston for the about 30 years, opened shop about a year ago. The store, at 218 N. Herritage St., has even started to gain regional appeal. “You’d be amazed at the amount of out-of-town people that are coming downtown,” she said.
Kinston native John Marston, head of property development for the Pride of Kinston, said the revival of downtown has become his special project. “I’ve made it my mission to see if I could help restore downtown to some semblance of what it was back in my childhood,” he said.
Nostalgia is something that Adnet Tutt Productions owner Clark Tutt believes is a draw to business owners and residents alike. “I think downtown has always been a great area to start with,” he said. “I think everybody remember the old times of the Magic Mile.” Tutt relocated his TACC-9 studio to downtown after the floodwaters of Hurricane Floyd destroyed his property on U.S. 70. He now owns four properties downtown. “A lot of (the property) I just bought to invest in fixing up to lease to people,” he said. “I expect things to be jumping in Kinston.”
Marston supported Tutt’s belief that downtown is becoming a hot spot for prosperity. “There are a lot of people investing money in downtown Kinston because they know it’s going to come back,” he said. “(People) realize that this is a place where they can come for a moderate price and fulfill a dream of having their own business.
“Downtown Kinston is coming back, and it’s coming back strong.”
Sarah Campbell can be reached at 252-559-1076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.