Rocky Mount’s revitalization is gaining attention

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WNCN) – CSX Corporation surprised many with the announcement Tuesday that it will build its intermodal cargo hub in Edgecombe County.

But, there’s another success story that’s been going on for several years in that area.

Rocky Mount, which sits in both Edgecombe and Nash counties, is gaining attention for what it’s doing to revitalize and grow.

Rocky Mount has recently been recognized by the National Main Street Center, which is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and for having “A Great Main Street in the Making.”

The birthplace of famed jazz musician Thelonious Monk hasn’t been immune to the ups and downs of the economy.

“As a young child I remember working for my dad, business was booming we had people coming all the time. Traffic was on the street, people walking down the street,” said Gail Batchelor, owner of Master Shoe Repair.

As times changed and many merchants left, the Batchelor family business kept going.

When what job title she prefers, she laughingly said “old school name cobbler, shoe repairer, just Gail.”

She said the love of downtown Rocky Mount and faithful clients kept her here.

That attitude became progress as Kimberly Thigpen took a big chance and started a new downtown business.

“The revitalization project was so attractive and then the cost of doing business was almost irresistible, it was delicious, it was almost like you cannot pass that up,” Thigpen said.

Four years later, the former bank analyst is running a booming soap business called The Bath Place.

Since Thigpen opened the doors, her business has spread to web sales and a shelf at regional Whole Foods Markets.

She originally started making soap as a way to help her husband’s skin problems.

Then Thigpen fell in love with making handcrafted and natural soaps.

It was a love that soon became a business.

The chance the city was willing to take on budding entrepreneurs and the upgrades to the historic Douglas Building made the difference between locating downtown and somewhere else.

“The kind of support that we have here was like a critical part of my decision,” Thigpen said.

Yes, the Great Recession hit Rocky Mount but Downtown Development Manager John Jesso said it could have been far worse.

“We’re very fortunate that we didn’t decline while we may not have gone forward we just kind of maintained the status quo and that’s what we’re seeing now on the back end. In these last two years that development is starting to surge forward,” Jesso said.

Outside of downtown, another sign of progress is the renovation and upgrade of Rocky Mount Mills into a mixed use facility.

“Well, it’s actually fairly rapid a lot more rapid that I expected and it started downtown fortunately you know I think it’s driven by the young professionals moving to the area who want a vibrant downtown a vibrant center city” said Jeff Tobias with Spring Board NC, which is a local resource hub for entrepreneurs. “I’ll put it like this I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Rocky Mount and the twin counties right now.”

Batchelor has agreed with that for decades and hopes the future will only mean even better things for Rocky Mount.

“As long as people keep a positive attitude about the downtown area I feel like it will grow,” she said.

There are a number of other new projects that Rocky Mount hopes to complete including a new downtown community facility that will seat 4,500 people and have eight basketball courts.

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