In the past decade, a lot has changed in downtown Clayton.
New restaurant and retail options have added to what was a predominantly service-oriented Main Street. Most shopkeepers have spruced up their storefronts. Increased traffic along Main Street has created a demand for more parking.
As the town’s first downtown development coordinator, Bruce Naegelen tried to help create what’s becoming a more vibrant town core. After stepping down from his post after nearly 10 years, Naegelen said he’s happy downtown is now part of the conversation.
“Years ago, it was just a part of town,” Naegelen said. “In more recent years, the council and town staff have started to regard the downtown area as a valuable economic-development and recruiting tool.”
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Naegelen, who resigned at the end of May, came to Clayton in 2005 after working in radio for 15 years and serving as executive director of a downtown revitalization group in Morehead City.
Nothing that’s happened in downtown Clayton can be attributed to one person or group, he said. However, he’s proud that downtown has welcomed new types of businesses, hosted more events and improved in appearance during his tenure.
When he arrived in Clayton, the balance of downtown stores was skewed heavily toward the service industry. That’s since changed to include a larger retail offering, brought on in part by the location of new restaurants in the mid-to-late 2000s. The opening of the Clayton Steakhouse in 2008 was a big addition, he said, as was Manning’s Restaurant last year.
The town also started expanding and hosting more events in downtown, including the annual Christmas tree lighting on Town Square, a summer concert series, movie nights and a Halloween parade.
Naegelen said the town either encouraged or helped fund facade improvements to 75 percent of the buildings in the downtown district. Clayton started offering grants for business owners to spruce up their storefronts in 2008.
“There is still work to be done,” Naegelen said. “But we have focused on some buildings that have languished over the years.”
Clayton’s focus on downtown helped it bring the N.C. Main Street Conference to town in 2012.
“There’s no single event that catapults the community or downtown into success,” Naegelen said. “It’s always the little things and the medium-sized things that serve as the catalyst.”
Naegelen, who recently moved to Raleigh, is stepping away to pursue several of his personal interests. He’s starting his own voice-over company, for one. He’s also focusing more on his music.
Naegelen plays guitar and has been performing his and other artists’ songs for more than 30 years at festivals, restaurants and private parties.
“That’s something I’ve done for a very long time,” he said. “I’ve got to get out and market that a little bit more.”
The town has already hired Naegelen’s successor, Stephanie Ross.
Ross comes to Clayton after serving as president of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. for more than 20 years. She started her job with the town June 1.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104.