The tile floor is stained. Ceiling panels are missing. And soggy, yellow insulation is leaking from the walls.
But Tyler Watt can’t stop talking about his new space in downtown Cary, where he plans to start a business later this year.
“The whole ceiling’s coming down, the whole floor is coming up,” he said.
The 34-year-old wants Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage – which he named after Mitchell’s Pharmacy, the original tenant – to become Cary’s favorite bar and place to buy beer or wine when it opens in December.
“Why not get the people that are driving 20 minutes to Raleigh for drinks and entertainment to instead drive five minutes down the road for a similar experience?” Watt asked.
Downtown Cary – once an afterthought for those seeking to shop, dine or launch a retail business – is now on the rise thanks in part to a demographic the town isn’t known for: millennials.
Young entrepreneurs like Watt, along with Cary leaders who are spending millions on downtown projects, are at the heart of the push to turn downtown into a hotspot.
“It’s always exciting to have a new business open or relocate to downtown,” said Ted Boyd, Cary’s downtown manager.
“It’s especially encouraging to see young entrepreneurs drawn to the character and charm of downtown Cary and want to build upon the foundation our more-established business owners have worked hard to lay,” he said.
Cary renovated an old theater and a historic house, and town leaders plan to build a downtown park. Throughout it all, a half-dozen millennials opened businesses, including a catering company, a boutique and an art gallery.
Michelle Smith opened Gather, a coffee shop and co-working space on West Chatham Street, last year.
“I knew coming into downtown Cary that I’d be a salmon swimming upstream based on the stigma of Cary ... being suburban, bland, homogenous,” said Smith, 34. “I see it as a blank canvas with a lot of potential.”
In some cases, Cary and its young entrepreneurs are helping each other directly. For example, the town plans to spend about $175,000 to help Watt renovate his long-vacant space on East Chatham Street, next door the the $6 million theater, The Cary, which opened earlier this year.
“They’ve been great to me,” Watt said of the town.
In nearly every case, the young business owners said they were attracted to the amount of available space, the relatively cheap rent and an untapped market.
Lauren King, a 23-year-old who spent last year working in fashion in Atlanta, looked for spaces for a boutique in Raleigh’s North Hills, Brier Creek and Cameron Village before opening at a spot in Ashworth Village in Cary in early August.
“There’s not many boutiques in the area, which helps us out,” she said.
King’s boutique, Paisley, mostly markets to teen girls and women in their 20s. So far, business is booming, she said.
“Once they get out of school at 2:30, we get packed,” she said of local high schoolers.
Amanda Almazan and Ashley Faries are familiar with the area’s potential.
Two years ago, the 26-year-old twin sisters opened Lucky Pie Gallery on West Chatham Street with less than $10,000, Faries said.
Now they’re planning to expand.
“We’ve been able to grow and develop our business without borrowing a single dollar,” Faries said.
Ralph Ashworth, founder of the popular Ashworth Drugs at the corner of Chatham and Academy streets, said he’s never seen so much momentum in downtown Cary.
“We all want to give people reasons to come downtown,” Ashworth said.