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Smart Growth

Local Foods, Local Places: North Wilkesboro, NC

Anchoring Downtown Redevelopment With Investments in Local Food

North Wilkesboro, North Carolina’s economy has suffered since its textile and furniture factories closed in the 1990s. As of 2016, it had a population of about 4,000 people, near its historical high. In an effort to create an anchor for a vibrant downtown filled with successful local businesses, North Wilkesboro decided to move the Wilkes County Farmers Market to a permanent structure in the heart of downtown and expand it with new programs and offerings under the Yadkin Valley Marketplace name.

Bags from the North Wilkesboro, NC, farmers marketThe Wilkes County Farmers Market encourages residents to eat local foods. (Photo courtesy of Brooke Horn.)During a public workshop in 2014 under the Livable Communities in Appalachia Program (the precursor to Local Foods, Local Places), participants identified ways to improve a future downtown market's connection with Main Street, activate the market every day of the year, and make downtown more walkable and attractive to residents. With clear goals and an action plan, North Wilkesboro was able to raise $633,000 from nearly a dozen different sources for construction of a permanent structure for the market and other downtown improvements.

The town celebrated the grand opening of the Yadkin Valley Marketplace at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June 2015. Aside from hosting the farmers market, the marketplace features a stage and dance floor for monthly summer concerts and houses the annual Brushy Mountain Apple Festival. The marketplace's popular events regularly draw people downtown, which has attracted several new businesses to open downtown, including a farm-to-table restaurant.

Downtown improvements included upgrades to the pedestrian alleys that connect Main Street to public parking lots and the marketplace; curb extensions to make crosswalks safer; and streetscape improvements, including flower pots, benches, planters, trees, decorative streetlights, and way-finding signage directing people to key destinations in the historic downtown.

People in the Yadkin Valley Marketplace in North Wilkesboro, NCThe Yadkin Valley Marketplace attracts residents and visitors downtown. (Photo courtesy of Brooke Horn.)Samuel Hinnant, the town's planning and community development director, said of North Wilkesboro's experience with the Livable Communities in Appalachia Program, "I think it was a fabulous program that gave substantial benefit to a small, low-income community. It really gave us a strong basis of strategic planning and thought to shape and move forward with the project. Any time you're able to get your strongest and brightest partners and stakeholders to the table it certainly brings forth a better product."

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Clear goals and a community-developed action plan helped North Wilkesboro attract construction funding.
  • No one funding source was sufficient; multiple sources were needed.
  • Coordinated infrastructure investments around the marketplace increased its overall impact on downtown.

Published July 2017.

Source: Personal communication with Samuel G. Hinnant, Planning and Community Development Director, Town of North Wilkesboro.

This case study appears in the Local Foods, Local Places Toolkit.