The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 97

G E T A W AY T O R O C K Y M O U N T

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0
2
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"When the Harvester opened, the town had over
10 vacant downtown storefronts. Most of those
have been filled, and the new ones that have been
created have typically been created because of other
business opportunities elsewhere or significantly
appreciated property values, helped in part by the
tens of thousands of people the Harvester brings
downtown every year.
"Would downtown be different if not for the
Harvester? Definitely. I can't say how, but I'm
willing to bet that without this huge investment
of public dollars, commitment and effort that -
like most traditional downtowns in rural Virginia
and rural America - we would struggle to attract
businesses and shoppers downtown."
Rocky Mount, which has expanded over the
years to 6.9 square miles and was founded in 1786,
has a downtown and an uptown, both thriving
with local retail (like the old-fashioned Angle
Hardware, across the street from the heavilyused Franklin County Library and a block away
from Kylee Robinson's Whole Bean Coffehouse).
Rotenizer says the library "is not your daddy's
library. Its special programming and interactive
programming are out of the box ... You have to
have relevance and the library does that."
Whole Bean opened three years ago and has
done well, but it appears to be hitting a peak:
January 2019 was its highest grossing month ever
and the first Friday in February set a single day
record, Robinson says. "I think Rocky Mount was
just ready for a coffee shop," she says. "We have
great lunch crowds because we aren't fast food and
we work hard at customer service." Vegans-like

RT. 40
Rocky Mount Assistant Town Manager Matt
Hankins-can eat well at Whole Bean and so can
just about anybody else.
"There are a lot of confines in operating a coffee
shop in a small town," says Robinson, "but we're
getting high school kids, parents and children" and
the work-a-day crowd. She has discovered that it's
important "to know the town" and its interests and
tastes when opening a business.
The development philosophy in Rocky Mount,
says Irvin, isn't much different from that of

TheRoanoker.com

Asheville, Greensboro or Roanoke. With retail
going online, "we try to repurpose downtown
retail" and that's often "a tough nut. We all end
up with retail capacity that is no longer relevant.
Businesses [often] want the new, so who wants
the three-story [empty] building?"
That's where the new emphasis on arts and
culture plays its hand. Opportunities, says Irvin,
can be "funky and unique." But the businesses are
coming. Twin Creeks Distillery of Martinsville,
for example, is moving its brewing production
to Ferrum and setting up a tasting room in the
Jones Building next door to The Harvester,
even as one spots "Virginia is for Moonshiners"
bumper stickers in town. Rocky Mount and
Franklin County used to cringe at the mention
of their moonshine past, but now they celebrate
the illegal booze period.
Rocky Mount's small business, says Librarian
Christine Arena, "add vitality in a way only
mom-and-pop businesses can."
The colorful Grainery, which has housed
artisan organizations in the past, was recently
sold and is looking for a new purpose. Its fancy
exterior has "kicked off the desire for murals
downtown," says Hankins. "There are some good
public spaces for art."
Various creative "roads" are passing through
Rocky Mount, beginning with the Crooked
Road, which emphasizes Virginia's old-time
musical heritage and running through the
White Lightning Artisan Trail, Round the
Mountain Artisan Network and even the Pigg
River Blueway, host of the annual Pigg River
Ramble (for canoes and kayaks). The Pigg is one
of four Franklin County rivers and two large
lakes (Smith Mountain and Philpott), which
have become a heavy concentration for those
seeking water recreation.
David Rotenizer notes that Rocky Mount
has been a "leader in Virginia's Main Street
Program" with its street design and regional
farmers market. Its Come Home Franklin
County Christmas is a "significant event."
The town is among those trying to figure out
how to establish a hiking trail up to Bald Knob
Natural Preserve, from which it got its name,
one of two natural preserves in Rocky Mount.
Local restaurants are getting superb reviews
online and that's even after you consider the
Dairy Queen hold on the area. Legend is that
Franklin County has the largest number of
Dairy Queens in the U.S. per capita at five.

MAY/JUNE 2019

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The Roanoker - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - May/June 2019

The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Intro
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover1
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover2
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 3
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover4
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