April 29, 2021

‘Trust a vision you can’t see yet.’ Business owners have high hopes for future of downtown Rocky Mount :: WRAL.com

By Keenan Willard, WRAL Eastern North Carolina reporter Rocky Mount, N.C. — Business owners in…

— Business owners in downtown Rocky Mount say they see problems in the area, but they also see potential.

Now, city leaders say they have a plan in place to get there.

“It’s a bit challenging, just like anywhere else,” said Zabdiel Dewar, who owns the Jamaican restaurant D Chill Spot . “It gives you hope as well.”

Dewar’s restaurant is one of 10 places to eat in downtown Rocky Mount.

While business has been good, Dewar said what’s been holding him back the most is happening outside his restaurant.

“There are old buildings that do need to be repaired. They need to be occupied,” Dewar said. “Some are in the process, [while] others are just still there.”

Rocky Mount Downtown manager Kevin Harris has been leading the effort to revitalize the city center by offering grants to businesses that are willing to invest in the boarded-up storefronts.

“We’re putting incentives together to encourage these property owners to develop housing upstairs,” Harris said.

Harris told WRAL News that the effort has already paid off with projects like Davis Lofts, a group of historic buildings that were being restored to bring high-end apartments downtown.

“[We need] more foot traffic downtown, [and] more heads in beds,” Harris said. “That’s something that we’re promoting.”

For current business owners, it’s what they’ve been waiting for – including Kevin McLaughlin, who opened Larema Coffee House downtown in 2019.

“This downtown is just beautiful,” McLaughlin said. “I mean, the historic quality of these buildings, you just can’t match that character.”

While it will take time, McLaughlin said downtown Rocky Mount’s biggest challenge could end up being its greatest strength.

“My hope is that we’ll continue to see these beautiful old buildings renovated,” McLaughlin said. “Hold things the way they were, honor that chapter, and create space for a new chapter to be written.”

Harris said his goal is for 500 people to be living downtown within the next five years.