WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Downtown Whiteville is evolving and city leaders are hoping you’re noticing.
A new sub shop called “American Hero” has an opening target date of around Christmas.
The owner, Emad Massoud, actually lives in North Myrtle Beach. He was looking for a business opportunity and drove an hour north to set up shop on South Madison St, in Whiteville.
“I’m very excited about opening this place,” said Massoud. “The people here have been terrific.”
That’s news Whiteville’s economic development planner likes to hear. Sean Martin says Whiteville has been hard hit by the times, and by nature. The downtown flooded by two hurricanes in two years.
“We’re not over the hump,” said Martin. “Six to eight feet of water in your downtown business district is going to set you back.”
So the town is fighting back. Business owners, civic groups and volunteers are taking part in a window and storefront restoration program. The fronts of many stores are now decorated, even empty ones, with something to see.
“It’s been tough to get a hold of some of our out of town owners,” said Joan McPherson, with the Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re sprucing the place up as best we can and the feedback has been wonderful.”
The entire project started by a negative Facebook post that started to spread down these streets.
McPherson says negativity breeds negativity, and the effort was to stop it, ASAP.
“I think what people have to realize is that in order to change a situation, you have to want to be a part of the change that you wish to see,” said McPherson. “It’s truly a group effort.”
The City of Whiteville offers several incentive packages to encourage development in the central business district downtown.
- The Building Improvement Grant Program (the B.I.G. program) - up to $2000 with a 50% match for exterior improvement to buildings downtown.
- Economic Tax Incentive Grant Program - the City will grant back a portion of the property owner’s annual taxes based on the property’s increase in value for up to five years.
- Utility Incentive Program - the City will offer a disbursal after each full year of operation on utility payments (water and wastewater) for up to two years
"Empty storefronts are a great indicator of potential and opportunity. Every empty storefront could potentially be a taproom, a coffee shop,” said Martin. “We have to look at it that way.”
“There is so much going on in the downtown district itself, there’s over 100 businesses. Now, that’s not necessarily all stores, but there’s 100 operating things, downtown, Whiteville and that’s not a ghost town,” said McPherson. “There are people who are trying to improve it, and it’s working.”
Massoud is banking on it. Small town America has been very good to him. Now he’s tapping into a perceived need on the ground floor, and is hoping the customers will follow.
“I see somethings empty when I’m downtown, but that doesn’t scare me,” said Massoud. “America gave me a lot when I came. That’s why I want to give it back, a little bit now.”