A new group appointed by Mayor Sam Bishop during the January board of commissioners meeting has a mission — to make the historic commercial district of town a destination for locals and visitors.
Nearly 20 people attended the first meeting of the committee, which has yet to choose a formal name, representing a wide range of interests in the community from business owners, to retirees, to town residents, and more. Jeff Eidson, owner of G&B Energy and a recent candidate for town commissioner, has been chosen to chair the committee, explained Bishop this week.
“We just really talked around different ideas about how we can best utilize downtown as an entertainment venue,” said the mayor of topics discussed last week. “We are looking at entertainment, music, events like art shows and cake shows, all kinds of ideas are being thrown around.”
In the near future, he said the group hopes to narrow its focus so that the members can break into smaller groups and focus on specific projects. “It is not only large events, but smaller events, too,” said Bishop of the type of opportunities for locals and visitors to attend, and even participate in. He said one idea was to have some sort of avenue where local musicians can perform so that people in the community can get to know them and their music.
While a number of downtown businesses will soon be closing their doors, each for varying reasons, Bishop said the focus of this group isn’t necessarily to fill those vacant buildings, but instead to “utilize what we have.”
“The town has put in a lot of money in the infrastructure down there, and we’ve got The Liberty as a venue, Reeves [Theater] will be online in the next couple of months, the heritage center is coming online soon with an opportunity to have entertainment,” said Bishop. “I walked to Will Dellinger of JW Demolition who bought Chatham, and one of his ideas is to have some type of amphitheater concept in that space.
“We’ll have the venues, but we just need to get people to come down and get involved,” he said.
“We want people to come in for the weekend. We have the wineries and breweries for them to visit, and then they can come downtown after they’re done touring for things to do.”
While Bishop appointed the committee, he said he wants the committee members to take ownership of it. “These are people with a vested interest in downtown and Elkin, so let them make the decision on where to go,” he said. “Jeff is a very good leader and organizer. He’s got some great ideas, and he’s brought the people together.”
The group will meet again in February to continue working on event ideas and goals.
“We want to get Elkin on the map. We want downtown as a cultural arts hub, and Elkin as a weekend destination,” Bishop said.
Downtown scape shifting
As the mayor’s appointed committee begins its work, on another front, a hand full of Main Street businesses are in the process of closing their doors as well.
During 2016, seven businesses closed, reported Leslie Schlender, economic development director for the town. The large majority of those closed, not because business was bad, but because of personal lifestyle changes such as death of the owner, family relocation, or retirement.
Second to lifestyle changes, she said, the reason for closing was issues with the buildings in which they were housed.
“Six months ago, we didn’t have many open spots. Now we do have some great spaces available for those looking to get into Elkin and opening a business,” Schlender said. “We’re always recruiting and supporting businesses looking to come into town. Laura [Gaylord, Main Street and community manager] and I both go on recruitment trips where we think we can be effective to say your store could fit well in Elkin.”
In an effort to help fill the vacant stores downtown, Schlender said the town staff will be presenting a proposed recruitment package focused on downtown during the Elkin Board of Commissioners retreat in February. That package includes building improvement incentives for building owners as well as incentive support for new businesses opening in the area.
She said the focus of the mayor’s committee “is to generate things that create foot traffic downtown,” while her goal “is to complement and service businesses that move in to make them viable businesses.”
As far as learning what businesses might be successful in Elkin, Schlender said the town conducted a survey of its citizens in the past to learn what they spend money on out of town that they can’t get in Elkin. “We have that information available for potential business owners looking at coming to town,” she said.
The members of the new committee include Bishop, Eidson, Gaylord, Dan Butner, Maureen Postle, Adam French, Josie Matthews, Sam Tayloe, Erik Dahlager, Jennifer White, Cicely McCulloch, Rich Woolridge, Gary York, Vicki Roberts, Adam McComb, Joe Walker, Jeff Yockel, Bill Blackley and Skip Whitman.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.