Around Clayton, people often tell James Lipscomb stories about his own childhood.
That’s what happens when you grow up in a small town where your mom runs the day care and your dad owns the “little bit of everything” store on Main Street.
Because he was so young then, Lipscomb doesn’t remember some of the stories, but he appreciates them. They are threads in the communal fabric that has kept him rooted in a town where he’s grown from working in his father’s store to serving on town boards and owning his own real-estate company.
Now 45, Lipscomb hopes that as the town grows, newcomers and natives can work together to keep Clayton the same down-home place it’s always been for him.
The Clayton Chamber of Commerce recently honored Lipscomb’s commitment to the town, naming him Citizen of the Year. It’s an honor his mother, Joyce Canady, received last year.
Growing up, while his mother reared many of the local kids at her learning center, Lipscomb spent most of his time at his dad’s store. He worked there from the time he was 12 into his early 20s.
While he admits his younger self sometimes resented working in a hardware store on weekends and during the summer, he said the experience taught him a lot about salesmanship and how to treat others.
“It gave me a firm foundation,” Lipscomb said. “The lessons I learned from that time frame made me who I am today.”
After graduating from Clayton High and N.C. State University, Lipscomb closed his father’s hardware store. His dad, Tom, had opened the store with his partner, Richard Woodard, in the early 1970s.
Lipscomb went into real-estate, and throughout the 1990s, he worked at several agencies alongside Barry Woodard, the son of his father’s former business partner. In 2001, Lipscomb and Barry Woodard launched HomeTowne Realty, which today offers residential and commercial listings, property management and auction services in Clayton, Garner, Raleigh and Goldsboro.
Outside of the office, Lipscomb has been active on boards and committees. He served on the Clayton Town Council from 1993 to 2003, when he, his wife Valerie and his children moved outside the town limits to the family farm where he and his five siblings live.
Lipscomb still serves on the Clayton Planning Board and the town’s Downtown Development Association. He’s also served a couple of stints on the Clayton Chamber of Commerce board.
Lipscomb was instrumental in helping expand the town’s popular Harvest Festival. Before he got involved in the early 1990s, the event had taken place mainly in Horne Square. He started looking at spreading the festival along a longer stretch of Main Street and incorporating Town Square as a prominent feature.
“I try to focus on giving the citizens the best show possible,” Lipscomb said. “I figure if we do that, then everything else will be taken care of.”
Lipscomb said it’s important for the Harvest Festival to be inclusive and welcoming – traits he’s personally tried to offer to each of his Clayton neighbors.
Town Manager Steve Biggs, who presented Lipscomb with the Citizen of the Year award, said he’s felt accepted by Lipscomb since moving to town in 1997.
“I will confess that I have found inspiration from this individual,” Biggs said during his presentation speech. “I have become personally inspired by our Citizen of the Year to try and achieve more in response to his vision, a vision that is unbounded, a vision that is unobstructed by the status quo or even, sometimes, reality.”
Biggs said Lipscomb doesn’t care if a resident has been in Clayton a year, a decade or a lifetime so long as he or she is always looking forward to the possibilities.
For Lipscomb, those possibilities include maintaining Clayton’s small-town feel despite a growing population. That can happen, he said, with the participation of others.
“It’s still a hometown; it’s what you make out of it,” Lipscomb said. “When people come in and want to get involved, I love that.
“When someone wants it to be a bedroom community and doesn’t get involved, that’s what it will be,” Lipscomb continued. “If people get involved in clubs or anything like that, it’s very open and receptive to allow people to do that.”