The downtown district of this Scotland County city hit bottom in the wake of the recession.
Jim Willis, who began his second stint as chairman of the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corp. in 2010, recalls that “our downtown looked as bad as it ever looked.”
“There were many empty storefronts,” he said. “There were frames of awnings that had no canvas on (them). There were signs of businesses that we no longer there. ... It looked horrible.”
The downtown organization, funded by a tax paid by downtown property owners that is matched by the city, decided it needed to take a proactive approach to spiffing up the center of town.
The upshot is that, since March of 2013, the organization has spent $165,000 on pressure-washing, exterior painting, new awnings and repairs covering about 50 downtown buildings.
The ultimate goal was to recruit new businesses downtown.
“It’s working,” said Willis, noting that over the past 15 month downtown has celebrated ribbon cuttings for five new businesses.
Four of those grand openings were for storefronts that were formerly empty. But more are needed. Today, in a two-block stretch of South Main Street, there are 10 empty storefronts and buildings.
Several of the new business owners are upbeat about how their businesses have been performing since they opened.
In June 2014, the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Belinda English opened Scotland Bling, a jewelry and gift boutique, in a formerly vacant space.
“We’re extremely happy with the support we are getting from the community,” said Chris English. “When we started, we didn’t know what to expect.”
English, 44, who grew up in Laurinburg, recalls downtown’s glory days.
“As a child, I can remember going downtown, and that was the heart of Laurinburg,” he said. “People would come downtown and stay all day long. ... That’s where all the shops were.”
When Preston Jackson and Gyivan Collins-Jackson bought the 215 on Main restaurant earlier this year, they kept the name but revamped the menu. Today, patrons can order traditional Southern cuisine, such as chicken and waffles or shrimp and grits, or they can opt for African goat stew and Indian curry chicken.
Scotland County diners no longer have to “go to Charlotte or Raleigh to have an international-type dish,” Jackson said. “A lot of people have never eaten goat or oxtails.”
The Red Willow Hair Studio, which opened last September, features a conversation piece: a piano.
“Music is my first love before hair,” said owner Kelsie Boles, 25. “I just wanted both of the things I love in the same building, I guess.”
“Sometimes at night,” she added, “I sit down and play a little bit before I leave.”
Boles previously worked as a hairstylist in adjacent Moore County and said the fix-up of downtown Laurinburg factored into her decision to open a hair salon here. Today, she and another stylist are booked solid much of the time, and she expects to add more stylists down the road.
“I love the downtown potential,” she said.