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'Keep it simple, keep it good, and keep the doors open' | How Lincolnton became a makeover success story

The town has seen some big changes in the last decade. The chain stores left, but small businesses replaced them.

LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Towns across the country have given their downtowns a makeover in hopes to revitalize the economy. The town of Lincolnton, North Carolina, is a good example of a makeover success story.

Lincolnton, located about 40 miles from Charlotte, struggled when the mills shut down, people left and many businesses couldn’t survive.

Angie Greer, who owns City Lunch, a café that’s been a staple in Lincolnton for 60 years, said she remembers when a once-bustling downtown started to die down in the 1990s.

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“At one time, we had Belk, we had BC Morris,” Greer, whose family purchased the City Lunch in 1957, said. “We had all these chain stores that were downtown, and then of course everything goes out and the town had died a good bit.”

But there have been some big changes in the last decades. Among the antique shops, there’s also a brewery, restaurants, and even a farmer’s market. It's a welcome change for businesses that stuck it out through some tough times.

“We just always said keep it simple, keep it good, and keep the doors open,” Greer said.

Lincolnton’s Director of Community Relations, Laura Morris, said the town did several things right that eventually brought business back.  She credits bringing back foot traffic nearly a decade ago as one of the most pivotal moves.

“One of the early initiatives was to collaborate with Carolina Thread Trail and develop our rail trail, which connects four of our city parks from both ends of town,” Morris said. “And [it] runs right through the heart of our downtown.”

After it had more people walking through downtown, Lincolnton started other initiatives to attract entrepreneurs, leading small businesses to replace chain stores.

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“We hold monthly merchant meet-ups,” Morris said. “The DDA (Downtown Development Association) produces a number of downtown events that we try to tie the merchants into. We also have a number of grants and stimulus packages to assist our small businesses.”

Morris said constant communication with downtown merchants, as well as showing them support, was also key in preventing any downtown businesses from having to close during the pandemic.

“Everyone pivoted, everyone worked together, everyone stayed connected,” Morris said.

As the downtown embarks on a new chapter of growth, Lincolnton is focusing on adding lofts on top of stores and restaurants downtown.  

While the efforts of town leaders were important to create growth and revitalize the downtown area, merchants say it couldn’t have been done without community support.

“A lot of community support,” Greer said.

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.