I spoke with Dencie Lambdin on the phone October 19, 2020. Speaking on the phone is not nearly as much fun as meeting in person, but in the days of COVID, we make adjustments. I have known Lambdin for quite a while now, when she was the Director of Communities in Schools of Robeson. Not long ago, Lambdin began a new chapter in her life and she now volunteers with Main Street Lumberton.
You’ve been there–the downtowns of Boone, Blowing Rock, Southport, Southern Pines, Wilmington. You’ve walked in and out of the local boutique shops; you’ve sat at a table, under an umbrella and enjoyed lunch from a sandwich shop; you’ve had cocktails and dinner at a great locally owned restaurant. And if you’re honest, I bet you’ve asked at least once, “Why can’t we have something like this in Lumberton?”. Well, there are 20-plus members of “Main Street Lumberton” who are responding to that question with a question of their own–“Why not?”
Around 2 years ago, with guidance from Connie Russ and other city leaders, Lumberton began an accreditation process with an organization called Main Street America, with a goal of preserving and revitalizing our downtown. And with accreditation comes opportunities for access to resources which range from intellectual guidance in areas like planning, regulations and marketing, as well as financial guidance and grant opportunities.
As the chair of the advisory committee, Lambdin has been leading a group of motivated citizens to develop an annual plan and a 3 year strategic plan. At this point, there are three main areas of focus in the annual plan:
- Promoting Downtown–Marketing. This subcommittee is primarily focusing on the development of downtown maps and event calendars that can be accessed online, as well as in print.
- Design–Aesthetics and impressions are critical to a thriving downtown. Improvements have already been made, as seen with the large mural and the smaller paintings on the sides of some of the buildings. The smaller paintings (photos attached below) are actually the work of students from Lumberton High School art classes. Additionally, this committee is developing a plan that will guide future downtown renovations with respect to maintaining the historical appearance of the buildings while also having a degree of uniformity.
- Economic Vitality–this involves working with the city to create rules and guidelines for historical preservation and appearances of store fronts, as well as business and consumer friendly ordinances, such as outdoor seating at restaurants that serve alcohol.
What’s the Good News?
Downtowns don’t thrive by accident. Downtowns aren’t highlighted in Our State magazine without years of behind the scenes planning, hard work, and–frankly–money. While Lambdin and others are certainly doing the planning and putting in the hard work, the City of Lumberton continues to make investments to improve the infrastructure of the downtown area. Additionally, the partnership with Main Street America opens doors for additional funding sources that will no doubt improve our chances of success. As Lambdin said, “Once the bones and structure is in place, then we can strategically grow to a thriving and bustling downtown. And if you have a thriving downtown, you have a thriving community.”
In a previous edition of “Good News From a Good Neighbor”, I commented on how students and faculty at Southside Ashpole School believed in their ability to be successful before they could see results. That same notion comes to mind when thinking about downtown Lumberton. After reflecting on my conversation with Lambdin, there is no doubt that the volunteers with Main Street Lumberton believe they will be successful. But this does beg the question: Do WE, as citizens, believe? Do WE understand the importance of having a thriving downtown? Will WE support the businesses–especially those businesses that are first to take a chance and locate downtown before it becomes the popular place to be?
For probably 10 years or more now, community members have been working to improve the appearance and atmosphere in downtown. From my perspective, it seems that the progress made in the “early years” of this effort was more a result of shear determination and grit. (And kudos to everyone who has been involved in this effort in the past.) Today, the good news for Lumberton and Robeson County is that a growing group of volunteers at Main Street Lumberton has learned from the successes and setbacks from the early years; they have found large scale guidance and access to resources through Main Street America; they continue to gain support from the city itself in investing in downtown. Those “human” elements, combined with the natural beauty of the Lumber River and the diverse color scheme and appearance of the historical buildings, should give us plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of downtown Lumberton.
Let’s all look forward to the days when we stroll the downtown streets shopping, dining, and coming together as a community. Let’s look forward to the days when–instead of saying “I wish we had something like this”–we can say, “Its is great to have this right here in our backyard!”