GOLDSBORO, N.C. — Business owners in downtown Goldsboro are benefiting from the area's recent revitalization, and many citizens are enjoying their community more than ever.
It's not just big cities that are experiencing booming downtown areas. Many smaller cities and towns are jumping on the bandwagon as well, revitalizing old or empty parts of town.
In 1981, Goldsboro looked completely different than it does today. Even back then, residents saw that downtown was deflating. "There's not much left downtown anymore," said Goldsboro resident Elma Pegram back in the 80s. "They're moving out so much."
It's a new story in 2017 as Kathleen Harrington, the owner of Yum Yum Cafe on Center Street, puts a fresh coat of paint on the walls. She remembers what downtown Goldsboro used to be like.
"You used step outside and look from one end of the street to the other and not see anybody," said Harrington. "It's not like that anymore. Over the past few years, the area has been reborn."
"It's just been amazing," added Julie Metz of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation, an organization that is part of the city's effort to breathe life into the central business district. "It's exceeded our expectations."
After years of planning, the city won a $10 million federal grant in 2013 to pay for new streetscaping. Since then, the grants and city matches have added up to $20 million of investment -- and a lot of private investment.
Metz says Strickland Insurance just purchased a vacant lot downtown, planning to move its headquarters there and bringing 30 employees, and other projects are also onboard to continue the downtown renaissance over the next few years.
According to Metz, Goldsboro is following a trend among younger people to move downtown.
"We have a lot of new residential development occurring in the upper stories of buildings that had been vacant for generations," she said.
That growth means new customers for business owners like Harrington, who says people are discovering downtown and falling in love with it.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, I didn't know this store was here. I haven't been in downtown Goldsboro in x amount of years,'" said. Harrington. "They say they're glad it's coming back."