Rocky Mount Central Cafe Continues to Make Memories

Another initiation takes place at the Rocky Mount Central Cafe. It’s official, a true little citizen has now been baptized in the history, food, and people of a landmark destination downtown. Grammy was on duty today to pick up Annaclaire, 3-1/4-year-old great-granddaughter from VBS.  She wanted to go to Sonic, but I suggested this alternative. We called Mama for permission. “What a great idea!” So off we went. Annaclaire’s order… dog, French fries——and don’t mention this to Mama, I want Sweet Tea. Trying to walk a delicate line between, you can have anything you want, Love, and mindful of Mama’s rules, I asked for a SMALL cup. That seems right, don’t you think?

Three wonderful ladies that are the spirit of the Cafe each came separately to greet Annaclaire and say her name when she told them what it was. Folks came and went for lunch, many of them who knew one another. Guessing at their ages they had been eating at the Cafe for many years. Central Cafe is a small building but is bursting at the seams with memories.

Now another child will hopefully remember- I used to eat here with my Grammy. One last observation. Growing up in Evanston, IL. a famous Chicago hotdog was an occasion. It comes with ketchup and pickles. When I order mine that way at Central Cafe no one faints and falls out. Only dear Southern friends look at me askance as they order theirs with chili et. al. Next up: the carousel and train to further Annaclaire’s Rocky Mount memory making.  PS: The first thing AC told her mommy when we got home was, I had sweet tea!

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It’s a Lovely Day Today – A Morning With SFH on Main Street

A June 4th morning – I have taken myself off to NABS  (Never A Better Sandwich) for a fresh baked Cinnamon bun, and dare I admit, sweet (tea). I am sitting outside listening to soft jazz, the most divine breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the American flags flapping gently on the lamp posts. The Century Link Man in his service truck waves at me as he goes by. Peace!

The Douglas Block now and then: I can imagine the folks from years ago as if they are all still here. They appear like a ghost who steps through a wall or perhaps walking out of the cornfield as in the movie, Field of Dreams. Here they continue to shop, meet and greet, visiting the drug store, going to the movies, families with children in tow who have come to town. Once segregated, could they possibly imagine me sitting at the sidewalk cafe table listening for them, watching them from afar. I think about Ed Riley and Yalem, owners of the now-famous Smokehouse and this new coffee sandwich shop. If you know Ed, he is a great big bear of a man who gives hugs that rub the fur-fabric right off the proverbial Velveteen Rabbit. The sidewalk concrete space at the end of the building is waiting to be transformed into more outdoor seating.  With Yalem’s eye and creativity, I know it is going to be a destination.

I hope for a train to come by and am not disappointed.   I think too late to count the cars as we did when kids. There is no caboose at the end coming around the track, track, track. The long mile of cars heads south. After some photographs, I returned to the little table to further enjoy this scene, to honor The Douglas Block Story. This pleasant morning seems important to celebrate, to hope for all good things to come.

Take a minute and listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing It’s A Lovely Day Today…                           she got the whole scene just right.


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Believing in Possibilities -A Rocky Mount Formula Guaranteed To Succeed

Louise Penny is a Canadian author that writes an award-winning mystery series. Recently I finished one of the latest, Glass Houses. Three Pines near Quebec is often the fictitious setting for this excellent series; a village someone finds when lost. In the Authors Note, Louise Penny writes – Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying, when we choose to be hopeful, not cynical, then we live in Three Pines.

Here in Rocky Mount, we must embrace the state of mind that Louise Penny writes about: tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying. These values were taught in the world I grew up in. I count it a blessing that I am able to see the good in people, recognize heroes and generous hearts. I was left with a collection of what I think of as sacred memories that inform how I see the world today. Simple things – I remember riding a bicycle home at twilight, the sound of a tennis ball on a clay court, a kiss goodnight on the front porch just short of curfew. People were honorable, they worked hard to give their children more than what they’d grown up with. Politics spawned statesmen. I know that a positive state of mind isn’t all that is needed when building a dream, but it is a must if the dream has any chance of coming true. Be sure you are sitting on the positive end of the teeter-totter.  With newly elected leadership, those with business acumen and a moral compass sitting on the other end, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It doesn’t matter my age when June arrives, I have that ‘last day of school-feeling.’ Three months stretched out before us to reclaim the best of summertime. In addition to believing in Rocky Mount may I suggest a stack of books, tomatoes from the farmers market with Duke mayonnaise, salt, and white bread. Let’s look for fireflies in the shrubs, surely there are some left. Let’s make room on the garden bench to remember those who are gone, but never forgotten. Go downtown on a coffee crawl, get to the Mill for a cold glass of beer, dine at our restaurants, and shop. Enjoy the summer possibilities that life holds, especially the possibilities of Rocky Mount.



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The City Government Shifts Attention in Word and Deed – Downtown Incentives and Ordiances

Through concrete, a flower emerges with Persistence

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”
Marv Levy


Jean Arthur as Peter Pan

I’ve told you the story of being taken to the Shubert Theater in Chicago as a little girl to see the stage play, Peter Pan. In one scene Tinker Bell’s light is fading and Jean Arthur, who plays Peter, steps to the edge of the stage pleading with the audience to save Tinker.- If you believe, clap your hands. As only a little girl can when captured in the moment, I clapped as hard as I could. I have asked you to do the same when believing in the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I will admit there are times my own light dims when I face the obstacles to grace in saving Main Street! Living life as a Pollyanna does give me the energy to pick myself up and BELIEVE again.

When it comes to news about changes for downtown, it is difficult for people to shed their skepticism. They have been let down, disappointed, darn right mad, felt powerless and paying taxes on things they oppose. The state of our political insanity today has brought us to the fact that if President Donald Trump cured cancer there would be a human cry that he ignored Alzheimer’s. We must be careful not to have the same kind of unexamined response to the city’s announced shift in word and deed towards downtown. I attended the workshop where Kevin Harris, City Business Development Director, presented this material written up in the Telegram on May 26th. If you missed this fine reporting, here is the link – The City focuses on Downtown

I refuse to dismiss out of hand this declaration of renewed interest and help for Main Street because of past disappointments. It is exactly what I and others have been asking, cajoling, shaming, pleading and praying for. A return to enforcing ordinances evenly across the board, streamlining paperwork, turning in itemized bills before payment of grant money. The reinstatement of the ‘demolition by neglect ordinance’ is key here. The city has put some teeth behind this declaration of intent with three outstanding hires to steward this huge effort to pick up where the Varney years left off, support these wonderful investors and new businesses, dreamers and economic drivers that are the new Rocky Mount. Remember, the journey is an inch at a time, and we must support the inch that is being offered and BELIEVE.

Posted in Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings, Preservation Rocky Mount | 2 Comments

If Historic Tax Credits Don’t Turn You On – What About Unbreathable Paint?

Booker T. Washington Theater

However, you spent this past Tuesday, it wasn’t as much fun as what I got up to. I attended a Historic Tax Credit and Main Street Seminar at the Booker T. Theater. If that doesn’t make you weak in the knees, I don’t know what else to suggest. I mean a discussion about breathable and unbreathable paint!  Looking at slides of historical old homes with moisture damage and termites?  Kevin Harris gave us information about types of available Downtown Rocky Mount Building Assistance Programs. Peter Varney talked and led a tour of the Douglas Block area that was filled with valuable Varney first-hand information and an incredible institutional memory. Naomi Riley presented the Main Street Program in the afternoon which we’ll talk about another time.”It was a Way Cool! day.”

David Wise and Stepheny -speakers for The Professional Women’s quarterly meeting

Good News: New city Business and Downtown Development Coordinator David Wise, one of three new hires for the City, devised this workshop as part of celebrating Preservation month. You are going to enjoy knowing and benefiting from David’s expertise. He is an idea man. You will have to catch hold of his shirttail to restrain him or else let him take you up into the atmosphere of exciting possibilities for Main Street’s future. Will Deaton, Director of Development Services and Stephanie Goodrich, Senior Planner, complete the trinity of accomplished, educated, focused professionals who have hit the track running. They are great additions to the Saving Main Street efforts. Hallelujah.

Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist

The seminar featured Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office. Besides paint and termites and moisture damage, he spoke about historic preservation incentives at the state and federal levels.  He is a valuable resource with endless advice in downtown preservation efforts.

The Important Stuff:  There is a 20 percent federal tax credit and a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating commercial or income-producing properties. The state will offer a 5 percent bonus if the property is in a county that the state Commerce Department considers economically distressed. Nash and Edgecombe counties are on that list.  A 5 percent bonus if the property has industrial structures that have been at least 65 percent vacant for two years. You are looking at a 35 to 45 percent tax credit, a large saving.

People can spread out the federal and state credits over time. The property needs to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or in a historic district. The property also needs to meet standards set by the federal secretary of the interior. As for residences, homeowners may receive a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating non-income-producing properties. This is a ‘once over lightly’ summation of the seminar, and there will be more opportunities like this in the future. It’s a good day when I learn something new. I intend to learn more about the world of historic tax credits, so important in preservation efforts. There is room for you in all of this. Join me.


Posted in Douglas Block Stories, Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings, Preservation Rocky Mount | 2 Comments

We Celebrate a New Downtown Business – NABS – May 20th, 2019

On Friday I attended the soft opening of the new Deli and Coffee Shop, NABS – (Never A Better Sandwich). I walked into the dream of Yalem Kiros. I had a wonderful experience and so will you. Yalem is a native of Ethiopia, one of the world’s leading coffee producing countries. We know this lovely woman and cheerleader for Main Street because she and her husband, Ed Riley own The Prime Smokehouse, a destination with great food, wonderful service, and hospitality. Now NABS has been created from the dreams of Yalem, with her spirituality and love of people. NABS is a new gathering space for those living and working downtown, and everybody else looking for a great atmosphere, location, and a place to just ‘be.’

NABS will be offering fresh baked goods in the morning, as well as eggs. After breakfast, the deli menu plans to offer club sandwiches, combo sandwiches, jumbo sandwiches, meatball sub sandwiches, Reuben sandwiches, and chili dogs.
NABS also plans to offer Caesar salads, chef salads, grilled chicken salads, tuna salads and more than half a dozen kinds of soups.


On the coffee shop side, NABS plans to offer cappuccinos, frappes and lattes and a variety of teas as well as hot chocolate and spiced apple cider.



Officially open for business Monday, May 20
For now, NABS will be open from 7 a.m. to approximately 3-4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to approximately 2-3 p.m. on Saturdays.


“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


Every time a new business opens dreams manifest themselves.  Welcome to this newest dream on Main Street, and to the historic Douglas Block. Thank you, Yalem for helping to build Rocky Mount’s future. See everyone there!


Posted in Douglas Block Stories, Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“Your Fifteen Minutes are Up!” A New Rocky Mount Is At Hand

In high school, one of the defining moments of my life was when I was given this admonition, to those much is given, much is expected.  This admonition when applied to our city council and officials in Rocky Mount, NC has led to disappointment and a lack of complete faith and trust, and now investigations into graft and corruption.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. 

Do you remember these lines from the movie, The American President? Michael Douglas also tells the character, Bob Rumson,  YOUR FIFTEEN MINUTES ARE UP! 

Terrick Pittman is running for the Council seat in Ward 1. A new voice and leadership to celebrate.

Rocky Mount is no longer a place you drive through on the way to somewhere else but a destination in and of itself. The city will always be cherished for the days filled with nostalgic memories and good people; an illustrious list of leadership provided by men and women with a moral compass, a philanthropic heart, filled with prayer and good deeds. We still need these qualities, but also the certainty of expertise in the business realm and the management of diverse professionals whose bottom line is productivity and outcome.

MacHaven opening soon thanks to investor Jesse Gerstl.

In a relatively short time, six years, since moving here, there is now a level of sophistication and business acumen needed like never before.  We’ve all been told at one time or another, Be careful what you wish for. With a lot of hard work and foresight, we’ve got what we wished for. Millions of dollars and over 1000 jobs just from Triangle Tyre Co, Pfizer, and CSX.  There are new small businesses and new investors arriving every day. What The Mill alone has brought to the community is changing our lives.

There is no room for people trying to hold us back. The community has had enough of those focused on personal gain, who continue to tell poor people it’s someone else’s fault that they remain in poverty and live in terrible housing. These same Councilmen and insiders continue to profit by keeping the economic conditions suppressed, which help when applying for grants. These same few (who care so much) and want affordable housing on Tarboro Street care little for the conditions of their own low income/workforce constituents.

This kind of leadership is not remotely equipped to deal with the new Rocky Mount. Infamous members of the city council usually under attack didn’t attend the CSX ribbon cutting. They don’t welcome this change, nor do they have the skills to handle it, they only want to control what they have managed to take at the taxpayer’s expense.  The good citizens of Rocky Mount are addressing these new times on social media with a turn towards positive, unifying objectives. Love Rocky Mount Facebook Page has sprung up to serve as a moral compass hoping to lead us away from racial rhetoric and unexamined ideas that members of the Council fall back on when questioned or criticized.

These times call for new competent, trusted business-minded leadership who have the talent and experience, and are equipped to lead the new Rocky Mount. That change must happen at the polls in October. PS: I’m not sure if Mr. Joyner is running for his appointed seat and or if Mr. Cummingham has made up his mind. Stay tuned on this Ward.






Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | 3 Comments