“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go…downtown.”
Well, in my case, when you’re down and out about the corruption in your city that doesn’t seem to be getting fixed any time soon, it’s time to take a trip…downtown.
If you’re reading this blog and you’re not from Rocky Mount, NC, let me summarize: we got a hot mess on our hands here with a city council that won’t fire a city manager who’s betrayed the public trust. It’s documented that her cronyism and mismanagement have cost Rocky Mount big bucks.
The saying goes you can’t fight City Hall, and it seems here we can’t fight City Council. So yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty low about this place I call home.
With so much that is wrong, I decided it was time for a field trip to remind myself of what is right about my city. Tuesday morning I got in my car and headed downtown.
It’s true that downtown is not what it used to be years ago when I was growing up out in the county and came in to shop at Belk-Tyler’s, go to the movies at the Center Theater, eat a hot dog at Almand’s Drug Store, and/or visit with Mama’s friend Annabelle at Bailey’s Jewelry. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the retail stores moved to the mall just like everywhere else in America.
Nobody’s downtown is what it used to be. Cities everywhere have had to reinvent their core. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do here in Rocky Mount, an endeavor that is reported to have come to a near halt under our current city manager.
But enough with the gloom and doom. I went downtown to remind myself of what has been accomplished. Here are pictures of just some of what’s good about downtown Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
I love our multi-story, modern library. Being an avid reader, I save a ton of money each year by checking out books here. I drive downtown to visit at least every two weeks (due date of checked-out books!).
Pictured above is the Rocky Mount Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences, built after the old Children’s Museum and the Tank Theater were flooded by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. How cool is this renovated building, once a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland?
This is the church I attend downtown on the aptly named Church Street. I’m joined by plenty of other people who worship at not only First Methodist but First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Church of the Good Shepherd. Did I miss anybody’s church on Church Street?
Okay, let’s head over to the Douglas Block. A lot of people were unhappy about all the money that was spent renovating what was once the hub of the black business community back in the days of segregation, but there is now new life where decay had set in.
My granddaughter enjoys this little store on the corner, the Bath Place, maker of those bath bombs she and all her teeny-bopper friends love. And if you want a dose of sunshine, stop in to talk to the proprietor, Kimberly Thigpen, who’s got a thriving online business as well as walk-in trade. Read her story on her website. The address is right above this paragraph.
Growing up, I’d pass the Booker T. Washington Theater on my way from Edgecombe County (country girl!) into downtown Rocky Mount. It was known as the black theater in those segregated days. I went to the movies across the railroad tracks at the Cardinal or the Center.
I was excited when the Booker T. Theater was renovated and open to the public for various functions. After years of riding by, I finally got to go inside.
If you live in the area and have never been to eat at the Prime Smokehouse, across the street from the Booker T. Theater, well, you’re missing some good food. My favorite meal there: the smoked beef brisket with sides of mac and cheese and collards. And that whole-kernel cornbread takes me back to my roots.
Close to downtown over on Falls Road is the reinvented Rocky Mount Mills. What’s been done here is a show-stopper. The two-hundred-year-old cotton mill complex has been renovated into a mixed-use area of craft beer pubs and restaurants as well as office and apartment spaces.
Above is a picture of the Koi Pond, the first pub to go into one of the old houses on the campus of Rocky Mount Mills. I took the photo below of a close to full parking lot at noon on a Tuesday.
There’s more I could talk about–the annual downtown Bulluck Warehouse Sale going on right now that draws in shoppers from everywhere, for example–but this post is already more than twice as long as I intended.
In closing, let me say I know things aren’t pretty in Rocky Mount right now. But those of us who love this city need to find bright spots to help us hang on while we hope for better days ahead.