Rocky Mount Improvements: Getting Buildings Back to Business

By Frank and Kay Whatley

It’s recycling on a large scale: renovating last century’s buildings and bringing life and light back to downtown areas. Decades ago, as the buildings decayed and businesses fled to flashy new strip malls closer to the big housing developments outside town. Now many cities are drawing people back to downtown to keep alive the culture of downtown living, working, and playing. A part of the culture is being saved alongside the buildings, with residents drawn to the new shops and new-old experience, and the buildings are stabilized and given fresh coats of paint.

Walk down Main Street in Rocky Mount and you’ll see a mix of old and new. Recent renovations to sidewalks, parking, and streetlights bring more potential to downtown buildings. Many buildings have been renovated in the past few years, some with help from tax assistance and grant programs. Each renovation brings new business, and new living spaces, to Downtown Rocky Mount. Some buildings are renovated, full and flourishing. Other buildings are waiting for their potential to be unleashed.

Building Renovations: 224 SW Main Street

One building waiting to be reborn on Main Street is 224 SW Main Street. Actually three separate store fronts addressed as 218, 220, and 224, this building dates back to 1910. Owned by Peoples Bank And Trust Company in the 1960s, the years took their toll and major renovations helped roll back the years in 2008. When this building was first opened to businesses and residents, horses and buggies clip-clopped down the street. In fact, during recent renovations of the Streetscape, finds included horseshoes alongside the old cobblestones!

Over the years a number of businesses occupied the three storefronts. Roscoe Griffin’s Shoe Store did business from 218 SW Main Street, Scottie Discount Center in 220 SW Main Street, and the Jewel Box in 224 SW Main Street. In recent years, M&T Pawn Shop occupied a part of the building. As buildings are updated, likely visitors can purchase new technology and local products where their grandparents purchased their shoes and sundries.

The renovation started a few years ago included removing of the M&T Pawn aluminum screen, removal of non-conforming signage, gutting of the three interiors, application of a new roof, and 13 new windows installed on the second floor. Because of the importance of renovating downtown according to historical guidelines — to preserve the experience of yesterday for visitors today — each update or change enhances the building’s attributes while updating it to last far into the future. Their handsome pilaster (a kind of an “impled” column projecting from a building front) and the entablature treatment above can still be seen today, 103 years after construction. Currently ready to be outfit, this downtown building may be finished as three commercial storefronts on the first floor, and three residences on the second floor — with each space ranging from 1500 to 2300 square feet.

With the train station less than two blocks away, the growing downtown around it, Rocky Mount residents and visitors will see this building reborn in the coming years. New business will fill the storefronts. Residents will enjoy living near the conveniences of Main Street — with more shops coming all the time. With Amtrak so close, people can literally travel from near and far to work, live, or shop in this re-beautified building.

R&H Homework, LLC. is a small business run by local arts patrons Ron and Hilarie Vetere. They rolled up their sleeves and pitched in for Rocky Mount’s downtown revitalization several years ago. In addition to making major renovations to 224 SW Main Street, R&H Homework used their renovation skills to bring the Bel-Air Artisan Center into being. They are refitting another downtown building to become a restaurant or coffee shop. Their hope is that the work begun at 224 SW Main Street can be continued by a new owner soon — ensuring more shops and traffic for Rocky Mount’s main drag.

For those interested in playing a role in the life and livelihood of this downtown area, 224 SW Main Street and all of its potential are available for $151,200. Contact Mark Hawe of Chatham Homes Realty at 919.610.2452. With some investment of money, time, and elbow grease, plus review of local Historic Preservation Guidelines, someone can make this set of storefronts a part of the new Rocky Mount. Builders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, adventurers, and do-it-yourselfers invited to apply — and help make a new history.



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About Frank Whatley 19 Articles
Founder of The Grey Area News and staff photographer, Frank Whatley set the direction for the newspaper and news site.