Some Lessons for the Big City
If you’ve been in a small town for a while, you’re probably used to the newcomers from the big city who delight in telling you “how it’s done.”
You won’t hear that from me. In fact, the big city could learn a thing or two from how it’s done here.
With a couple of hours to fill during a busy Saturday last weekend, I brought the family to downtown Southern Pines. First, it was a quick trip to the Campbell House to take in some of the art exhibits and Palustris-related events they had going on. Then we traveled down the hill for a leisurely stroll around Broad Street.
We were far from alone. Parking along the street was a challenge. Even with the skies wavering between sun and rain, the streets and businesses were teeming with foot traffic. Chats with some of the merchants had to be brief because several were having a hard time catching their breath between customers.
One stop along our way — The Ice Cream Parlor — had a line in late afternoon that never ebbed in the 40 minutes we were there. The team behind the counter were surely getting their forearms worked out as they scooped cone after cone.
The scene was much the same up and down the street. And in downtown Pinehurst, many of the village merchants boasted on how well they were doing this particular day.
This is the way towns thrive, regardless of size. It’s not just about supporting local business, although it IS that. Indeed, Southern Pines has some businesses that long ago have given up in much larger communities. Community bookshops and ice cream parlors have given way to impersonal chains, and locally owned boutiques have ceded to trendy national tastes.
The bigger accomplishment here is a successful coming-together that blends leisure and pleasure with commerce and public space. You could look around and see tourists branching out from the resorts, along with locals out just enjoying the afternoon and walking the dogs.
What was missing? An oceanic parking lot, cavernous over-lit white spaces, and the benign neglect of courtesy and communication. If that is “how it’s done,” then maybe it’s not worth doing.
In fact, the one negative to our whole weekend was the 30-minute errand we spent in a chain store on 15-501. We had to worm our way through the traffic to get into a store where we were neither greeted nor helped. Although I had to make the purchase, it certainly wasn’t made with any relish. And the promise from them to call when my item was ready to pick up? Still waiting.
There’s no lack of positive thinking — and action — in this community. People are doing it every day in ways big and small. As if to confirm that, I attended the ninth annual dinner of Moore County Partners in Progress Monday night and heard plenty.
Now, I’ve been around long enough and interviewed plenty of business boosters over the years to separate the bombast from reality.
After the meal had been served, Partners Executive Director Pat Corso spoke for several minutes about various initiatives and strategies.
With all his years of experience here, Pat has a great vision for what this area is and what it can become. But one comment of his resonated more than any other: “We are one community. What can we do together to make that come to life?”
Pat’s to-do list is long — a new high school, more top-notch office space, a place to foster new businesses, a huge industrial park on the Moore-Montgomery line — all unified around the principle of lifting up this community and improving its quality of life.
What can grow from such seeds? And what merely scatters to the wind? It’s easy to write off such visions as dreams and move on.
But before you think there’s no nexus between scooping ice cream and building a huge corporate park, keep this in mind: Sandhills Community College began in offices atop where The Ice Cream Parlor now sits.
No, this community doesn’t need anyone to come in and explain “how it’s done.” We’ve long since demonstrated what needs doing and how to do it.
John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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