LUMBERTON, SC (WMBF) Like lots of downtowns, downtown Lumberton has changed over the years.
It used to be the true center of town where people came to shop and spend some time.
WMBF News reporter Brandon Herring has a look at efforts to bring some of that life back.
A lot of people don't ever remember a Lumberton when downtown was really the only option to find a store, but it certainly at least was an option.
Years ago Belk department store was here, there was a pharmacy and a Jones Store that was real popular.
Now a lot of people only come to downtown for a trip to the courthouse or maybe the bank, or that "one" particular business.
Just like a lot of cities that have seen that type of decline happen and have revived their downtowns, Lumberton is working toward that goal.
"We actually started one building down. We moved to this location in 1987," recalls Wesley Washington of Washington's Men's Store.
By then Washington's Men's Store had been in business in downtown Lumberton for more than a decade, having opened in August of 1973. Wesley Washington says the family's considered moving out of downtown but never did.
Washington adds, "I had an opportunity to see people grow up from the time they were babies to the time the got married. [It's] just something we've always enjoyed was being in the downtown area."
That makes Washington's rare. Many other stores have left. Some new ones have rotated in, but without a good mix of options like clothing shops, drug stores and eateries, downtown Lumberton became less of a destination in the last two decades.
Connie Russ is working to change that.
"It is our goal to let people know that downtown still exists and they are the core of a community," says Russ.
She's Lumberton's Downtown Development Coordinator, a driver for improvement in the area, like new brickwork and landscaping around the plaza area to make it more attractive. She's also helped get grant money to improve the fronts of these old buildings - buildings like the one where Washington's is today.
"We are planning to do a front awning and possibly some painting to the exterior," says Washington.
The city has also moved utility lines here underground, again to make downtown look nicer. There's also a summer concert series on the plaza now and 5k race festival and chili cook-off that's proven to be a regional attraction.
"I've had people from Myrtle Beach, from Winston-Salem North Carolina, Charlotte," claims Washington.
The point of events like that is to bring life back to downtown and get people thinking about the potential here, to convince the owners of these buildings, developers and investors to work together. Russ says the potential isn't just on the first floor of these buildings either.
"Apartment living is perfect in our downtown area, but we need the restaurants and the little drugs stores, grocery stores, bakeries and coffee shops to go with that. It's a money maker. We just need to convince them of that," says Russ.
Washington adds, "Hopefully we'll get to that point where people will want to come down and open a little coffle shop or donut shop or smoke shop, or whatever they may have in mind."
While they sound optimistic, nobody's fooling themselves here. They say they know the type of transformation they want to see could take 15 to 20 years, but we are starting to see it. Just a block away there are now two second floor apartments already rented.
Russ says this all matters because downtowns can create a real sense of community for cities, and all the money spent in small local stores stays here in this community.