Clayton might grow in all directions, but its downtown is staying put.
American Main Streets are not just thoroughfares through towns; they’re identities, stamped out in brick and mortar, offering a timeline between past and present.
After decades of decline, with businesses fleeing for malls and residents moving away from city centers, downtowns are back.
In recent years Clayton has seen new restaurants open downtown and other new businesses move into vacant storefronts. Earlier this month, the town hired hometown girl Kaitlin Russo as downtown development coordinator to help lead downtown Clayton’s resurgence.
Russo, 24, grew up in Clayton, graduated from Clayton High School and is a 2014 graduate of East Carolina University, where she majored in psychology. She comes to Town Hall after a year as an account executive at Curtis Media Group in Raleigh.
“I’m a longtime Clayton resident; my whole family is from Clayton,” Russo said. “I’ve always been drawn to Clayton’s downtown; it’s charming and historic.”
Russo is just the third downtown development coordinator in Clayton’s history. Bruce Naegelen was the first to hold the position and was succeeded last summer by Stephanie Ross. In December, Clayton cut ties with Ross after a six-month probationary period, with town officials saying they wanted to go in a different direction. For three months, town planning director Dave DeYoung filled the post on an interim basis.
The coordinator position reports to DeYoung but also works with Clayton’s Downtown Development Association, made up of leaders who organize downtown events and programs.
Russo said she knows how far Clayton’s downtown has come since she was in middle school.
“I’ve seen it grow a lot since I was a kid,” Russo said. “There weren’t as many restaurants or retail shops. It adds a lot to a town for people to be able to get a bite to eat, walk around or get a drink, if that’s what they’re into.”
A diverse downtown, Russo said, is important to keeping Clayton in the spotlight and bringing visitors into town.
“I think we’re already bringing people in with things like the farmers’ market and concert series,” she said. “As long as there’s a good mix, a lot of different kinds of uses, we’ll draw people downtown.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson