ELLERBE — There’s a new group in the northern town of Richmond County, and they’re trying to get Ellerbe back on the map.
The newly named Ellerbe Downtown Merchants Association held its second meeting Tuesday night at the Ellerbe Springs Inn. During the first gathering, group members were broken up into smaller groups by moderator Susan Kelly of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office and asked to discuss what kind of improvements they’d like to see for downtown Ellerbe.
After deliberating, facelifts to façades and overall beautification were the two biggest concerns among business owners and residents.
“We’d like to see Ellerbe cleaned up a little bit,” said Ellerbe Mayor Lee Berry, adding that merchants would also like to see an attractions sign out on the U.S. 220 Bypass.
In a study done by Darren Rhodes with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, he put together a list detailing how much disposable income is located within a one-, three- and five-mile radius of Ellerbe, how much of that is staying in the town and how much is leaving.
“Residents are going outside Ellerbe to find things,” said Kelly. “This gives you an idea of how much is being spent out of the area.”
As an example, Berry — who owns the Berry Patch on the bypass — said he was asked eight times in one day for directions to the nearest gas station. Three went into Ellerbe, while the other five drove the 24 miles to Candor because they didn’t want to get off the highway.
As a way for improvement, Kelly suggested to the group that they follow the blueprint of the Main Street Program, an initiative in North Carolina that helps small town main street communities and has 99 such towns to its name, including Hamlet.
Focusing on the four areas of organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring, Kelly said the town can rebuild its image in an attempt to get people to pull off the highway to visit.
“Organization includes a plan for downtown success such as economic drivers, vision and mission, a plan of work, identifying stakeholders and budgeting,” said Kelly.
As for promotion, she said Ellerbe wants to sell a positive image of its downtown based on the authentic, creative assets of the community. Developing a brand and building on that campaign through the media and advertising will help create and continue special events that will give people a reason to go downtown.
Design includes items such as landscaping, and Kelly said the town has already begun that endeavor by planting Crape Myrtle trees down the sidewalks as a way to improve the physical aspects of the area.
Economic restructuring is about understanding the current economic conditions of Ellerbe, strengthening existing businesses, finding new economic uses and developing financial incentives, said Kelly. She suggested working with the Town of Ellerbe as a beneficial thing for the group, as well as becoming a 501(c)3 organization in order to write grants in the future.
The floor was also open to find new leadership for the Ellerbe Downtown Merchants Association — even if only temporarily — in order to pursue these items and gather information for meetings with the town council. Myrna Troxler, owner of the Webay Store on Main Street, was tabbed as the group’s new president and Mark Buckeridge, co-owner of the Ellerbe Springs Inn, will serve as her vice president.
The group will meet again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at the Ellerbe Springs Inn.
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.