March 26, 2012
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 downtown Southern Pines.
With a couple of hours to fill between a busy Saturday, I brought the family downtown. First, it was a quick trip to 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.
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 the 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.