LINCOLNTON – From breweries to a butcher shop, new business is booming in downtown Lincolnton. City officials are working together to hone in on a vision and figure out what else the area needs to make sure vacant buildings are filled with businesses that bring out the city’s best attributes, including history, culture and arts.
The people, the places
The Leprechaun specialty gift shop, Downtown Dairy Treats and Central Café were among the first to take advantage of incentives pioneered by Lincolnton City Manager Steve Zickefoose. But plans for the area have really started taking shape with The Meating Place butcher shop, Guitar Wishes, The Sound Factory Studios and Good Wood Pizzeria all having opened within the last year.
Plans for the city’s first full-scale brewery, Brick Tree Brewing Company, are also in the works along with Tavern on the Square and Untapped Territory, a bottle shop and bar. And though it’s still pending the city’s approval, there are plans for a Southern speakeasy to round out the town’s nightlife. If approved, the drink spot will be called Crafted and it will offer cocktails and entertainment. Finfolk Productions, which makes and sells mermaid tail swim gear, is also setting up shop.
Roger Calhoun, owner of Guitar Wishes and The Sound Factory Studios, is from Gaston County and decided to open his guitar shop and recording studio in Lincolnton this year for a number of reasons.
“Lincolnton in itself is beautiful, and the people are very kind to deal with,” he said. “The city manager fully understands what it’s going to take to make a town flourish for years and years and years, and that made me want to come to Lincolnton.”
Calhoun said a lot of his guitar sales are done online, and artists fly in to see him and record their music, so proximity to an airport with landing space for private jets was important to him.
But for those who come in and visit the brick and mortar store, Calhoun was looking for a town that gives a certain feeling.
“I wanted a place that made people feel like home,” he said. “It made a good fit because it’s not so big you get lost in the crowd, but it’s not so small it doesn’t have anything to offer.”
The guitar shop and recording studio are split between two levels in a building right in the heart of Main Street.
“I think it'll bring in a lot of new restaurants,” Calhoun said. “(Because) on the ground level, there will be iHeart Radio and L-Town in the window, broadcasting live. You’ll be able to see live broadcasts from the artists coming through to record with me.”
Similarly, Mark Ingle wanted to bring something to downtown that he thought was missing: a butcher shop.
Ingle had already opened one business in the area, Ingle Builders, Inc., but he had always dreamed of running a butcher shop, and as a lifelong Lincoln County resident, he thought neighbors would benefit from having one.
He wanted to restore the building at 114 E Main St., which was a Belk in the 1920s and a home goods store in the 1940s. After months of tearing away drywall and layers of flooring, Ingle got down to the building’s bones and was able to restore the original hardwoods, brick walls and hardwood planked ceiling. And a plaque hangs inside paying homage to the building’s past, detailing the history.
According to Executive Director of the Downtown Development Association Änd Lynn, The Meating Place sets the standard for how downtown could look.
Lincolnton city officials and community stakeholders have been working together the last few years on The Steering Committee – made up of representatives from the county, city, Downtown Development Association, Lincoln Economic Development Association, etc. – to come up with a plan for attracting new businesses to the area. The ideas that have come from this committee have been what’s guided the growth downtown.
“This started two years ago when I came into role as city manager,” Zickefoose said of downtown revitalization. “One of the things I recognized was, we as a city, had not been very proactive to try to attract the local downtown businesses. We had a number of businesses that were idle, empty.”
By combining the planning and zoning department with business and community development, the city was able to come up with some grant money and incentive packages. For example, Zickefoose said there’s a BIG – business incentive grant – program where the city provides up to a $15,000 match for those wanting to start a business.
“There’s also facade grants,” Zickefoose said, “to change the front, change looks.”
That match is $2,500, and “a number of existing stores have used this” to upgrade their curb appeal and some other incentive packages people can apply for.
“This really helps get them over the edge when it comes to making a decision whether they want to do this or not,” Zickefoose said of all the city’s new incentives.
"There are a lot of moving pieces, and we have a number of people working together,” Zickefoose said of what’s to come. “We’ve got a number of new ideas at play, and we decided we're going to get aggressive and bring businesses in here.”
Lynn said the idea is to bring Lincolnton’s culture, arts and history to the forefront and blend those elements in a way that meets modern demands.
“We want a well-rounded mix of businesses in downtown,” Lynn said. “We have several vintage and antique stores, which we love having, but we need more than that as well.”
Plans for new business, improved infrastructure and streetscape designs are in the works.
“From my perspective it's all about economic vitality,” Lynn said. “We have an aging population of baby boomers and some of them love nightlife, but then you have some of the old guard that don't want to see Lincolnton age at all.”
“But with my generation, Generation X, and millennials, our generations are pulled to unique downtowns; we’re moving away from malls and strip malls,” Lynn added. “They want an experience as much as they want to have a beer.”
Lynn said having a place where people can grab a beer after work will allow other types of businesses to stay open later as well, because the traffic will finally be downtown.
“We can't stay stagnant,” he said. “We can't have a downtown that closes down at 5 p.m.”
Zickefoose said bringing more people to the area, including after 5 p.m., is what it’s all about.
“We’re not really modeling (downtown) after anyone as far as what we want to be,” Zickefoose said. “You don't want to make yourself something you're not. What does it need to look and feel like, needs to be specialized for us because this city’s been here since since 1785. We need to respect the old and tweak and blend in the new.”
And though the business boom has begun, there’s more work to be done.
“This will be community involved, community driven,” Lynn said of the overall visions for downtown. “We will be taking input to figure out what we want it to look like.”