Barry Saunders

Apex reaches a new peak – now what?

North Salem Street serves as the main street for historic downtown Apex, N.C.
North Salem Street serves as the main street for historic downtown Apex, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

If, about 21 years ago, you heard a boom that shook your home’s foundation and rattled your molars – sorry.

That was just me roaring the first time a real-estate agent told me I’d have to submit to her my credit rating and get pre-approved before she’d even show me a house I was interested in buying.

Was this Candid Camera and at any second Allen Funt was going to emerge and say “Ha-ha”?

Nah. It was no prank; it was a new reality some agents realized they’d have to embrace if they were going to get any work done.

The Raleigh-Durham area in 1994 had just been ranked by Money magazine as the best place to live in America, and people from all over were descending for a look-see. The ranking, Susie Clemons, a Century 21 agent, told me at the time, “brought truckloads of people into Raleigh, and many of us Realtors ended up spending weekends with people who weren’t even thinking of relocating. They were only interested in finding out what the number one rating was all about.”

That stinks, which is why some agents said they began demanding to see evidence of “financial viability” before loading up their station wagons and ferrying visitors from subdivision to subdivision.

That’s also precisely what agents in Apex will have to prepare themselves for, now that Money has tabbed it as the best place in which to live in America.

Eager to see what residents thought of the ranking, I drove to Apex searching for some real, live Apexians. After stopping – I swear – 12 people downtown and at Apex Crossing shopping center, I finally found one Apex resident: everyone else merely worked there or was buying a burrito at a chain Mexican restaurant.

“There was nothing here when we moved here over 30 years ago,” Nellie Greer said outside an office supply store about a mile from her Castlewood subdivision home. “We refinanced a few years ago when interest rates dropped, but we were so isolated that we got points taken off because we were so far from a grocery store.”

What she likes most about Apex, she said, “is the eclectic feel of the downtown” and the small-town charm.

Will Apex be able to retain that charm, I asked, now that it has been mentioned by Money?

“A lot of people are against the development” that’s made the area’s landscape unrecognizable from just a couple of years ago, she said. “I like growth, but I think it obviously needs to be controlled.”

Greer laughed telling how when the ranking came out, “a friend of mine said, ‘Oh boy. More Yankees are coming down.’... I don’t want to be too selfish. We should share it.”

Greer also was a pioneer resident of another Triangle town that has been touched in an unholy way by Money: Cary. “When we lived there, we were the only native North Carolinians that lived in the whole subdivision,” she said.

Sure, officials of Apex, a town that used to be known merely as someplace you went through while on your way to someplace else, are proud of the acknowledgment. They should be. Here’s a tip, though: before y’all go pridefully popping buttons on your bosom, you should recognize that No. 1 ranking is going to bring more than just prospective residents and employers: it’s going to bring critics.

GQ magazine sent a writer here to see what all the fuss was about in 1995 and he did journalistically to the Triangle what Gen. Sherman did militarily to Atlanta: he torched it, calling it “faceless, amorphous” with “well-hidden charms.”

Apex Town Manager Bruce Radford knows all that, but after telling me a parable about twins and a barnful of horse manure, he said, “I just can’t find something negative in this at all. This is the culmination of nearly 20 years on the part of forward-thinking elected officials, town employees and residents.

“There’s a concern this could open the floodgates,” he acknowledged. “I just don’t think there are that many people who would pick up part and parcel and move to Beverly” – Hills, that is.

Oh no? Ask Cary.

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