Lexington Avenue is alive with activity, and a great metaphor for what Asheville is as a community. Threatened by a mall thirty years ago, the street has become the cultural vibe of downtown and the main canvas of street art, local shopping, local food, local beer, and local celebration. This wasn’t accomplished by large government intervention or even a Main Streets program, but by local entrepreneurs. Lower rents have facilitated broad experimentation in private and public ventures resulting in a functional and successful street experience with minimalist design. It includes an almost continuous facade of storefronts along the sidewalk, occupied by an eclectic variety of shops, clubs, galleries, and restaurants, as well as residential and office uses. The spirit of artistic expression is embodied in the work of local artists who formed the Asheville Mural Project (AMP) to reinvent space under the I-240 highway with a celebratory mural. In turn, events such as the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival celebrate all things “Asheville”, with music, craft beers, and art that is all made in and around the city: A funky and creative place, Lexington Avenue tells a story of making something out of nothing.
Charlotte’s Tryon Street, the epicenter of the Queen City, is a dynamic and vibrant place, emblematic of a major financial, cultural, entertainment, and educational center. The focal point of the community since its founding, the intersection of Tryon and Trade Streets, is the fast-beating heart of Charlotte and the favored location for festivals, community events, as well as the front porch of urban people watching. Following a ridge to a hilltop—the highest point in Mecklenburg County—Tryon’s modern route began as a trading path for Native Americans. Today, Tryon Street plays host to bankers in suits, children in school groups, and tourists on Segways. Residents and visitors alike can be seen walking under the towering canopy of willow oaks to an afternoon symphony concert or business meeting, strolling by welcoming pocket parks, charming outdoor flower stands, and an array of street vendors. They convene at sidewalk cafés, taking in the sights of a bustling city or listening to the impromptu performance of a sidewalk musician. By night they duck in and out of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that keep Tryon Street alive well into the morning hours. And on weekends and special occasions throughout the year, people from across the region and around the country assemble in the street for festivals and parades. Many may arrive or depart by means of the LYNX light rail line that runs half a block east of Tryon. Between office buildings and lively public spaces, Tryon is dotted with world-class institutions such as Belk Theatre, the Mint Museum Uptown, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture, and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Home to the world headquarters of the Bank of America and Duke Energy, in the last decade Tryon has also gained popularity as a place to live for both the single and family oriented. New condominiums and retrofitted buildings have made the downtown city center one of Charlotte’s premier residential addresses. It’s no surprise then that Tom Hanchett of The Charlotte Observer characterized Tryon Street as “Charlotte’s main drag, public face and front porch.” Tryon Street is celebrated as all of these things and more.
Edenton’s Broad Street has served as Edenton’s cultural, social, and commercial center of the community since the town’s incorporation in 1722. Its beauty is found not only in the magnificent vista of Edenton Bay and the Albemarle Sound but also in its architecture and people. Reminders of Edenton’s past are found everywhere, such as historic markers that tell of Edenton’s leaders who helped draft the U.S. Constitution. Evident from the Colonial homes to present day commercial buildings, downtown Edenton is eclectic and ever changing. Large ginko trees shade wide brick sidewalks as Broad Street bustles with activity. Locals walk, bike, drive and even skateboard amid a variety of coffee shops, restaurants, and art galleries that are frequented by people of all ages. Special events such as the community street dance “Boogie on Broad” and the Peanut Festival also draw residents and visitors downtown. A rite of passage for a 10-year old is to walk to the Saturday matinee at the historic Taylor Theatre. Capturing the romanticism of the past while integrating the prosperity of the new, Broad Street is a truly delightful place.
Gastonia’s downtown is a story of revival and resurgence. Main Avenue has a rich history as a bustling retail center. In the 1970s and ‘80s, however, it suffered from the outmigration of people and jobs to the suburbs. Buildings sat dormant and the street grew quiet through much of the ‘90s and 2000s. Piecemeal revitalization efforts produced few results. Then, city planners supported by city management began formulating a vision that would transform and re-energize Main Avenue. The process began with a two-day public workshop in which citizens shared their ideas for improving the streetscapes and public realm. The resulting Downtown Streetscape and Public Realm Plan was endorsed by the community and city officials and serves as the blueprint that guides the step-by-step revitalization of Main Avenue and the downtown area. Implementation of the plan has brought residents and businesses back once again to Main Avenue. Many organizations, businesses and individuals have made significant investments in time, resources, and money to enhance the Main Avenue area. For example, local Rotarians raised $350,000 to build Rotary Centennial Pavilion, an outdoor stage and park that has become Gastonia’s public gathering place. In addition, downtown businesses supported a special taxing district that has invested more than $700,000 to fund programs and physical improvements to enhance Main Avenue and the surrounding area. New gathering spaces for events, public art, landscaping, and pedestrian amenities encourage visitors to frequent the many new restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, and art galleries. Successful building and infrastructure investment, new businesses, and consistent events programming are helping to rejuvenate our hometown. Gastonia’s downtown is still finding its way back to where it was years ago, but the recent turnaround is evident to all who visit Main Avenue.
Hillsborough’s Churton Street is a true, small-town main street that has served as the community core of the town and county for over 250 years. At the center of the community is the Historic Orange County Courthouse’s clock tower, situated in the town’s main square adjacent to Churton Street and the downtown shopping district. Along Churton Street, the historic district hosts a variety of unique restaurants, artisan shops, historic law offices and more, providing visitors a destination that not only preserves the past but also represents a vital and prosperous present day. Each business along Churton Street has a unique identity, contributing to the overall character of our small town. From award-winning restaurants and a quirky coffee shop to an authentic hardware store, art galleries, local pharmacy and independent bookstore, Hillsborough’s main street has it all. Most importantly, Churton Street is full of people. Whether they’re conducting daily business or joining in frequent celebrations downtown, residents and visitors — young and old —give life to the main street, making downtown Hillsborough not only a bustling and progressive small town but a friendly, thriving community as well.
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