Garner is following the lead of its neighbor to the north, Raleigh, and a growing trend in the hope that it will help to revitalize its historic downtown district.
Food truck rodeos.
The town combined its annual Downtown Sounds summer event – in which Garner invites local bands to play music – for the town’s second food truck rodeo, featuring local mobile restaurants. After a first event in October, many residents requested they bring it back.
And John Hodges, assistant town manager for the Town of Garner, said their first rodeo was so successful they decided to do it again.
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“There’s a lot of popularity with food trucks right now, and downtown Raleigh has several food truck rodeos every year,” Hodges said. “We felt like the food trucks have very dedicated following that come out and visit them... So we tried to give that a try to see if it would be as successful as it was in other communities.”
And it was.
Hundreds of people attended the event, which featured three bands, eight food trucks and two craft breweries. Visitors could get barbeque, burritos, hotdogs, ice cream, homemade donuts and an assortment of craft beer.
Silvia Reyes, who has lived in the downtown area for the past 12 years, came with two of her young children. She said they come every year.
“It’s nice. I’ve been waiting for this event. I love it and they’re excited,” she said looking at her two daughters. “When I heard about it, I told them, ‘Let’s go.”
She said the food trucks supplied the event with an extra element.
“When we’re hungry we can go get something and come back to eat it and still look at the show,” Reyes said.
The struggle to attract
Garner’s historic downtown has struggled for the past few decades to bring businesses and restaurants to the area. While the southern part of the town at White Oak continues to thrive, downtown has not.
Among the main attractions in downtown are a flower shop, a barber shop, a coin shop, a media company and a police substation.
The problem started when U.S. 70 – the town’s main thoroughfare – was built through Garner in the ‘50s, bypassing the downtown area and taking retail traffic with it.
“And it has struggled ever since then to make the downtown a real vibrant business district and part of the community,” Hodges said.
The town began an initiative in 2005to revitalize the downtown by helping establish the nonprofit Downtown Revitalization Association, a group of Garner resident volunteers who are working to attract new businesses to downtown, and hiring a new downtown development manager, Mari Howe, who will lead the efforts.
But in order for downtown Garner to become a happening place, it will take a little more than food truck rodeos. In 2013, voters passed a $35.7 million bond referendum, which included funds for revitalizing downtown. A new recreation center is expected to be built in 2017.
Neesy Green, a board member of the Garner Revitalization Association, said she expects the recreation center to be the thing that truly jump-starts future growth in downtown.
“Having an anchor, something that draws people to the area – it’s definitely going to be our recreation center,” Green said. “When that happens people will have purpose and reasons to come downtown.”
“Once we draw the people, then the businesses will be able to survive in the downtown area.”
In the meantime, food truck rodeos seem to be the main attraction.
Patrick Byrd, the nonprofit’s chairman, said he’s extremely hopeful about the future of downtown Garner. He plans to have a coffee shop built within the next year.
“The revitalization is only going to bring more and more interest and people like my wife and myself are investing into downtown because we believe in the efforts that the town is putting into it and all the other positive things going on within downtown,” Byrd said.