Fuquay-Varina enjoys thriving downtown districts

07/07/2014 1:20 PM

07/07/2014 1:20 PM

Starr McDowell sat on a bench and waited for her son to come out of Service Barber Shop.

It was hot, but McDowell didn’t mind. She drove from her home in Holly Springs, and she said downtown Fuquay-Varina is an interesting place to people-watch.

“You always see people walking around downtown now,” McDowell said. “I’ve enjoyed how they’ve built up new stores, but they’ve also done a really good job of maintaining the small downtown charm.”

The Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association was recently re-accredited as a National Main Street Program by the National Main Street Center. This is the fourth year the group has received the accreditation for its efforts to bring more people downtown.

To earn the designation, organizations must meet a set of standards, including setting goals and making plans to promote downtown growth and historic preservation. Downtown Fuquay-Varina is one of 20 accredited programs in North Carolina.

The Downtown Revitalization Association, a nonprofit that promotes downtown businesses and historic preservation, operates with two staff members, a 12-member board of directors and more than 60 volunteers.

Naomi Riley, executive director of the association, said it’s not easy to be recognized as a National Main Street Program. She gave much of the credit to volunteers who work with the group.

“Our focus is to keep downtown alive,” Riley said. “If we don’t protect the area where our story began, then we don’t really have anything.”

Fuquay-Varina has two downtown districts, with railroad tracks separating them. Some say the Varina downtown area has seen plenty of new businesses over the years, while the Fuquay downtown area is more about historic preservation.

Lori Shaver, 33, has been working at her family’s downtown business, J & S New York Pizza, since the restaurant opened almost seven years ago.

“There are a lot of thriving businesses around here,” Shaver said. “Our business has definitely picked up over the years, and I have seen more people moving to this area.”

Fuquay-Varina is a fast-growing town. It ranks first in North Carolina for population growth among cities with 20,000 or more residents.

Mike Ratliff has lived in the area since he was 5. Now 22, he works at Stick Boy Bread Company in the Fuquay downtown district. He said the town is becoming a place that rivals Cary’s fast-paced growth.

“It is seriously insane to see the number of people who frequent this area,” Ratliff said.

There are more plans for downtown.

Riley said future goals for the revitalization association include plans for a cultural arts center. The group also wants to promote school spirit downtown.

As a lifelong resident of Fuquay-Varina, Riley still remembers when downtown businesses used to shut down for Fuquay-Varina High School’s homecoming parade.

“We’re looking at ways to bring the Bengals downtown again,” Riley said. “Fuquay-Varina is known for having a great sense of community, and that’s why more people are choosing to live here.”

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