NORWOOD — Almost 20 citizens, business owners, potential business owners and town leaders met to brainstorm ideas at the downtown development meeting on Monday night.
The meeting was led by Commissioner Betty O’Neal who displayed her passion for this project and community involvement in bettering downtown throughout the night.
Also in attendance was Mayor Pro-Tempore Linda Campbell and Town Administrator John Mullis.
According to data provided at the meeting, the average age of the population of Norwood is 42.2 years old and that average has increased over time. Since Norwood has an aging population, town leaders stressed the importance of continuing to service an aging resident population while encouraging growth in the young family demographic. The town is seeing an increase in families moving to the area following recent school improvements. Lake Tillery and the growth in lake property sales have also increased the wealth migrating to the area.
Norwood’s need for more restaurants was brought up numerous times. A lot of talk of how many citizens want a coffee shop in the town circled the room. The lack of restaurants in Norwood was blamed on the difficult regulatory and inspection process. Some asked if the county commissioners could ease regulations on new restaurants or streamline the process. One citizen said, “Inspections in Stanly County is one of the biggest obstacles,” but new restaurants would be extremely helpful in reviving downtown and Norwood.
Campbell agreed with some of the attendees on the need to make Norwood more visually appealing, but stated that without a grant it is extremely hard and expensive.
“I put $6,000 toward flags for every other pole and they were made locally in Norwood,” she said.
Following that improvement, she said she was criticized for spending taxpayer money on flags. Campbell said grant money might be their only option if the town wants to avoid direct spending of tax dollars on aesthetic improvements.
Citizens also expressed concern over the sustainability of downtown retail establishments and mom-and-pop operations due to the “Amazon effect.” The Amazon effect is so-named due to the ongoing disruption of the retail market resulting from increased e-commerce, especially from the dominant player, Amazon.com.
There are currently many vacant buildings around Norwood and the attendees of the meeting circulated ideas of what kinds of businesses would work best in those locations.
Since the demolition of the old town hall, Norwood has hosted a Farmers Market on Thursdays and one craft fair on a Saturday. For these events four food trucks attended to provide food and beverage. Discussion about how to use this now open space more often was welcomed. One suggestion, from a local dentist, was hosting a health and wellness fair. The idea was well received by the other attendees.
O’Neal explained that in the past successful downtown development projects have been driven by community involvement. This first meeting was intended to spark that involvement, and the town leadership plans to continue to hold meetings for citizens to come and brainstorm what they would like to see happen downtown.