Goldsboro's new skyline
By Lee Williams
Published in News on June 24, 2007 2:00 AM
On one side of John Street, the sound of Latin music punctuates a margarita toast.
Across the street, an acoustic guitar solo wafts through the air.
Around the corner, a poet shares his thoughts on city life.
Downtown Raleigh or Cary? No.
This is Goldsboro.
The city's downtown is in the middle of a Renaissance.
New businesses, the January 2008 debut of the Paramount Theater and continued revitalization efforts are just a few of the reasons Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson has high hopes that the center of Goldsboro will soon be a hot spot.
The DGDC's goal is to line the streets of downtown with picturesque buildings, clothing shops, coffee houses, apartment lofts, restaurants and refurbished historic homes.
"In the last 10 years, we've begun to see some significant progress," Ms. Thompson said. "What we want to be able to do is market ourselves as a downtown that has a great balance between offices, residential, shopping, dining and cultural."
But the process hasn't been easy.
Many buildings have been vacant for years and convincing new business owners to invest in downtown took a lot of effort.
Now that many facades have been renovated and the Paramount construction is under way, persuading business owners to relocate is no longer a tough sell.
"I feel like I don't have to butt my head against the wall to get people to see the worth of downtown," she said. "They can see it."
Within the last four years, trendy restaurants such as Torero's Authentic Mexican Restaurant, 112 N. John St., and Koi Asian Bistro right next door have cropped up in downtown Goldsboro.
Art Studio 102, a haven for local artists and photographers, and the Corner Coffee Shop, which includes an antique shop and wine store, also have opened for business in the 100 block of North John Street.
The Poetic Shangri-La Bookstore, which hosts weekly poetry slams and think tank discussions, and Downtown Deli, which offers a popular chicken salad dish and pineapple cake, have also opened on Walnut Street.
Ms. Thompson said she is encouraged by the progress. Downtown Goldsboro now has a metropolitan feel, she said.
Earlier this month, The Flying Shamrock, an Irish pub, which serves up signature Guinness beef stew and imported brews, opened its doors. And later this week, Pupetta Bar and Grill will move into the former Billie's Restaurant at 100 N. Center St., across from Central Lunch.
Their official opening date is Thursday, said Joanna Coppola, who runs the business with her husband, Sal. Both are Italian chefs.
Mrs. Coppola said real estate owner David Weil gave the Coppolas the opportunity to move into a more upscale establishment, and they can't wait to become part of the downtown revitalization efforts.
She said she is impressed by the progress that she has seen thus far and now the Coppolas will get the chance to do their part.
"I'm proud to be a part of that," Ms. Coppola said. "I want to see Goldsboro get cleaned up, and I want it to make its mark."
The Coppolas' goal is simple, they said. They want to change a prevailing belief that you have to drive to Raleigh or Cary for good food.
"Right now, they are going to have the food and the atmosphere at a good price," Sal Coppola said. "I want to stop people from driving to Raleigh or Cary. Instead of driving and spending lots of money -- especially since the gas is kind of expensive -- spend the money here in Goldsboro."
Brenda Thornton, the owner of Downtown Deli, 115 E. Walnut St., shares the same philosophy. In fact when people come to her deli, she makes them forget about all of their troubles by pouring on a little Southern charm. And if that doesn't get them, her chicken salad and pineapple cake certainly will lift their spirits, she said.
"People tell me 'Ms. Brenda, I could live off of your chicken salad and your pineapple cake,'" Ms. Thornton said.
Ms. Thornton said her deli is open for business, but she soon plans to transform the shop into what she calls "exotic destinations with Caribbean flare."
She plans to hire local artists from Art Studio 102 to paint big palm trees on the wall and will adorn the windows with colorful curtains. Historic pictures of old Goldsboro will line her walls.
Her goal is not simply to draw customers, but to give doctors, lawyers and other professionals a place to relax while they enjoy their breakfast or lunch hour -- and it's all for a worthy cause, she said.
"It's all about helping downtown, and I want to do my part to help revitalize downtown," Ms. Thornton said.
Those searching for a little nightlife now have several options, thanks to several downtown business owners including a group of retired and active Seymour Johnson airmen who partnered to open The Flying Shamrock located at 115 N. John St.
The Flying Shamrock, which opened June 2, is owned by Jerry Snyder, Wayne Turner, Matt Young, Crawford Moore, all of the 916th Air Refueling Unit. Snyder, a former chief master sergeant, is now retired from the U.S. Air Force and manages the business full-time.
He said Turner and Young decided to turn the century-old Odd Fellows Building into a popular pub and eatery one night after dining in Torero's about a year ago.
They took one look at the towering structure, and they were hooked. But turning that dream into a reality took a little work.
The airmen have flown all over the world and they have been to a number of pubs. So they pooled their thoughts and turned them into the perfect first-ever pub in Goldsboro.
The pub features live musicians biweekly and an antique piano donated by an acquaintance, Snyder said.
"The grandmother owned the piano and it's only been one other place besides here," he said. "It's almost 100 years old and it looks better than new."
Local residents who are no stranger to the black and white keys are allowed to stop in and play the piano, he said.
"If you know how to play," Snyder explained. "If you don't, we'll ask you to stop."
Synder said the response from the community has been overwhelming.
"They love it," he said.
One well-traveled patron told him that she loved coming there because it makes her feel like she's in Ireland.
Synder said he is glad to be a part of the downtown revitalization efforts. He said he's also glad to see business owners who represent a diverse mix of tastes and styles have opened up shop in downtown Goldsboro, too.
"This is our international street," he said.
And the development will not end there either.
More restaurants and other businesses are looking to put roots downtown, Ms. Thompson said.
Add to that a new slate of downtown events -- including a new reggae festival -- and you have the makings for more traffic and business in the city, she added.
Business investment is not all that the DGDC has planned for city.
Ms. Thompson said the new life downtown will also extend to the surrounding neighborhoods.
A program to encourage families to buy the area's historic homes and refurbish them is booming.
"We bought a round of homes," she said. "We were able to get a hold of seven homes either through donation or acquisition and option. We have sold six of the (seven) original homes."
Getting people to buy the homes and make them into showplaces has helped clean up the city, she added.
"All of these homes were in the second or third phase of condemnation," she said.
Ms. Thompson said she sees even more possibilities for the city in the future.
People want a small, livable community that is safe, she said. Goldsboro's advantage is that it has that hometown feel, while still being accessible to the beach and Raleigh.
"I have always been optimistic that we have something to sell," she said.
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