City worker puts faith in downtown
BY COREY DAVIS
Monday, July 16, 2018
Garland Clark envisioned downtown Rocky Mount having a chance to be reinvigorated and revitalized even when there was little to no activity or traffic happening in the central part of the city.
Clark, a city of Rocky Mount employee for 28 years who works as the gas system supervisor in the city’s energy resource department, said he purchased a few dilapidated downtown buildings in 2013 before any announcement of the Rocky Mount Event Center and people who knew him questioned his judgement.
“I had many people tell me why you want to buy a building downtown because there is nothing going on downtown, and there would be nothing down there but you,” Clark said. “I told them that I saw things transitioning and revitalization to downtown Rocky Mount was coming because other cities are doing it, so we have to do the same thing. You look at the trends of things, and a lot of times, the big cities start first and then we follow suit.”
It appears Clark’s look into the future about downtown becoming vibrant again wasn’t off base. The much anticipated 150,000- square-foot Rocky Mount Event Center that will host a variety of events and hold up to 4,000 people is set to open this fall, and there are reports of other re-development activity in the works.
Clark already has transformed one of his dilapidated buildings into a restaurant that’s now the Real Jamaican Restaurant and Jerk Center at 119 N. Washington St. that’s being leased out by restaurant owners Anthony Ewen and his son Rashid Whyte after a couple restaurants in the same location didn’t work out.
Clark is in the midst of another project that’s taking shape as he is renovating a building next to the Jamaican resturant at 115 N. Washington St. into a barbershop and salon that he has tentatively named the 115 Salon. The two-story building has more than 4,000 square foot of space with roughly 2,400 square feet on the first floor.
“When I first started doing this, I was thinking more of doing something for retail space,” Clark said. “But I started thinking, we have a college (ECC) right here that’s teaching cosmetology and why not develop a location like they have in the bigger cities where you have these large salon establishments where people take ownership from cutting hair to doing nails.”
Clark said he is working on getting the barbershop completed soon as he has a group of four barbers who will be locating in the front entrance of the building. Clark is looking to open the barbershop at the beginning of August.
He said along with seating there will be two TVs above the barber chairs and down the road he is looking at getting a permit from the city to have sidewalk seating outside for waiting customers. Clark is hoping future traffic from the barbershop and salon will also help drive more people to the restaurant as well.
“Another reason why I’m pushing this project is to create more life on these streets, because a lot of times when people pass by they don’t know if anything is down here, so by creating more life along this street line you will have people coming in and patronizing them more.”
Behind the barbershop are six separate rooms that Clark dubbed as “studios.” Clark said the area will be used for young or start-up female cosmetologists — ideally, someone who may have gone through the cosmetology program at Edgecombe Community College who can lease out a space to start their own business.
Clark said the vision is for the business to be a one-stop shop for someone to come in and get their hair done, while also having people who could possibly service clients in giving pedicures, manicures, massages and facials. Clark could also turn additional space upstairs into more studio space if the concept of the business is going well.
“We can retrofit a space for those individuals so they can kind of feel a sense of ownership of their area and not sort of sharing the area,” Clark said. “A lot of times, when you’re sharing space, you don’t feel like you own anything. This is going be on the lines of an incubator.”
Clark looks at his continuing efforts to build up downtown as an appealing proposition for all parties involved.
“I feel what I’m doing is win-win situation because you’re going to help create jobs and help beautify your downtown in the process,” he said.
Clark believes his barbershop and salon will also benefit from the activity at the Rocky Mount Event Center.
“You’re going to have a lot of things happening at the Event Center like different concerts and games,” Clark said. “Hopefully, with us being downtown, we will be able to get those people that are wanting to get themselves prepped for different engagements happening at the Event Center.”