The City Council has given us a fine new year’s gift that should last for decades. It is creating plans to revitalize downtown Lumberton and rejuvenate the river walk. Fingers crossed that the key features of their plans will be implemented during this council’s tenure.
After living in Lumberton for about three years, I’ve spent many hours walking the two miles between N.C. 211 and downtown. It has always been a safe, enjoyable walk to an accessible, compact downtown.
During each walk, I imagine lingering at a coffee shop or bakery on the square, or browsing through a bookstore or boutique before making my way back home. Even better would be chatting with others who are also out for leisurely downtown strolls. But those are just musings because, with few places to relax after work, virtually no one is strolling around downtown with intent to shop or just look around.
Thank goodness for Candy Sue’s and other retailers that are invested in downtown. They’re proof that, for the right types of businesses, it’s a viable location all week long and after the government offices close. But those forward-thinking businesses aren’t enough to make the Lumberton plaza a strong magnet for tourists or locals.
The lack of downtown retail destinations has disappointed and confounded me since my first visit there. Why doesn’t our historic city center have more establishments where we could unwind and spend money in our off-work hours?
Sundays are a perfect example of an opportunity missed: Every week, hundreds, probably thousands, of hungry church goers leave their downtown pews with lunch money jingling in their pockets and pocketbooks. So why aren’t more restaurants nearby where they can spend that money?
And what about all those government workers who spew out of the city and county buildings about 5 p.m. every weekday? If I were one of them, I’d appreciate convenient shopping and other reasons to hang around downtown after work.
I don’t know the history of Lumberton, but previous City Councils and civic organizations must also have envisioned downtown as a consumer destination because they invested in it. They installed the red brick square with built-in benches suitable for families and sweethearts of all ages, and a fountain to provide cooling mists during our blistering summers. A library, a museum, and a children’s center are just across the road from the square. The historic and lovely Carolina Civic Center theater is only a few yards away.
Recently, a plan was funded to spiff up the nearby Lumber River and its greenway. Within a couple of blocks of the square, both these walking areas attract potential customers who could saunter over to enjoy the downtown ambiance and stores — were there enough there to attract them. Plus, for us walkers and bikers, Stephens Park is only half a mile away, on the Carthage Road side of the river.
Despite all those positives of downtown Lumberton, I’ve noticed only one or two non-work-day restaurants around the square. Unless I’ve missed something, there are no coffee shops and few charming storefronts to draw me in. There are plenty of bail bondsmen and attorneys, who are necessary 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, but their logos are off putting when they dominate the store windows other hours of the week.
Again, I don’t know about previous attempts to rebuild downtown Lumberton, but it’s good to know our current leaders are committed to doing so now. Certainly, there are obstacles — economics, population shifts, politics. Still, I’m dismayed that business and government at multiple levels haven’t already set a priority on converting this unpolished little gem of a downtown into a sparkling center of commerce.
I’m ready to spend more of my time and disposable income there. Just give me more places to want to spend them.
Mary Storms is a native North Carolinian who lives in Lumberton. She has a bachelor of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary, a masters in Business and Marketing from the University of Texas at Dallas. She calls herself a straight-spoken Southerner with opinions about nearly everything.