Blanche’s Bistro Unleashes A Hornets Nest – Bringing Controversy to the New Main Street Reality

The last time I looked there were 405 comments on Concerned Citizens about the opening of Blanche’s Bistro. On the right are a few lines from the announcement. This has unleashed a hornet’s nest.  After reading some of the comments this scheduled post may seem inconsequential compared to the scope of grievances surrounding this new business owned by A. Knight and R. Blackwell and anything they are involved in. Everybody seems to have a legitimate dog in this fight. I’ve decided to go ahead and publish my concerns because they are applicable to more than the Bistro.

***Say it isn’t so, Joe,” was my first thought when I read on Facebook the announcement of the opening of the Bistro because the wording left me uneasy.  Since the first of the year, I have written and have more to write about my good fortune in meeting outstanding young black and white men that are planting their flags together on Main Street. We have some great new investors, buildings are being sold and leased. I write about and believe in the emerging reality of Main Street.

Welcome to Larema
A Garden of Flowers and Gifts

In my ideal world, Cooper Blackwell is launching another opportunity for the entire community to have one more reason to return to The Five Points Area where Larema and Secret Garden hold forth, created by two fabulous people. It is great to have another destination in that area. The photos on the Bistro website are fantastic. Tasteful and what I call, ‘very grown-up.’ I love it. But, the hornets speak of the racial disharmony sown again and again by the owners. Something that can’t continue. Young Cooper Blackwell decreed that Five Points is an up and coming black business district. I’m all for ‘up and coming’ but it felt deliberate to exclude others who aren’t black that are working in the same vineyard.  The new reality on Main Street is that everyone is included.  What people want is a Third Place where they can come without necessarily knowing anyone, yet feel safe and welcomed.

The Main Street blog embraces everyone that is saving our commercial architecture, the opening of new businesses, those who are investing in Rocky Mount’s future and repurposing our architectural assets. I don’t care if these people are black, white, or poke a dot. What I do care about, however, is any deliberate agenda that continues to try and control the outcome of Main Street along racial lines. People are already living downtown, and more will join them. Part of the new reality of Main Street is people celebrating together the possibilities of life. Regardless of the color of their skin, the new reality is that people will be recognized, valued, and known by their love. As it should be.

Blanches Bistro
116 Tarboro St
Rocky Mount, NC

UPON REFECTION-I would like to add that the Bistro can entertain the clientele it wishes to serve, of course. But in the spirit of The Smokehouse, who welcomes one and all, has become a favorite spot that guarantees great food and atmosphere, it is a happy place. They have been a gift to downtown and set a high bar. That’s what I hope the Bistro intends to do too.

***FYI: Joseph Jefferson Jackson (16 July 1888 – 5 December 1951) was a left fielder in Major League Baseball who played for the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox.  He was one of eight players banished for life from professional baseball for his alleged participation in the Black Sox scandal. The occasion that prompted fans to say, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”


I invite you to like and follow the new Facebook page Main Street Rocky Mount and keep me company on this blog by hitting the follow button. SFH

Invitation: A New Facebook Page For Main Street Rocky Mount

Here is the link to the newly created Facebook Page:


Where better to create a new Facebook page with my sweet friend, Denise Watkins, of Sky-Vue Skateland, than at the newly preserved and restored, Larema Coffee, in the beautiful old 1st National building. Hanging out with the ECC students, people coming and going, sitting in this pleasant open restored and repurposed setting, ah, a Rocky Mount high! as in…… such fun. (We each had a delicious chicken salad sandwich for our lunch.)

Afterward, we strolled the area, stopping to see Javelin Guilford at The Secret Garden.  He gave us a quick peek at his preparations for the holidays. A not to be missed Open House  Nov. 1-3:  Friday, November 1st, 4pm- 8 pm: Saturday, November 2nd, 10-4pm and Sunday, November 3rd 12 noon – 5 pm. Soon he will be announcing flower arranging classes and is launching the space next to the floral shop, for gifts. This wonderful man, who is always upbeat and BUSY, was headed out for two big events today. Put the open house on your calendar. The shop is already beautiful!

I checked on the building next to Davis Furniture – It is only ‘worser!’ since I showed you photos in February 2019. Why there hasn’t been a fire is a miracle. The owner continues to get away with this because she is part of, how did it get so bad? The facade of this building has to be supported before we lose it, which will interrupt the Main Street streetscape of these wonderful buildings. If necessary, we’re going to have what I call, a fly apart, so the facade is not demolished. Here is an example of what can be done.

On the bright side, the Music City buildings are well underway. New cement floors have been poured and framing for the living above the store-flats. Two buildings are being saved and repurposed. I have more photos to show you of this project on Facebook.

About this new Facebook page: It is going to focus on the preservation and restoration of Main Street’s commercial architecture and saving the neighborhoods that are the answer to our needs and concerns. I will post photos and comment on what you’re seeing. I invite you to like and follow this new page and keep me company. It’s the place to be – Main Street!

A Downtown Facade Grant Program Being Considered by Rocky Mount City Council

Too many Boarded up-Paint Peeling Buildings

Believe me, this is an important step when talking about saving Main Street. Programs across the country, regardless of what they are called, that have focused on the restoration and renovation of the facades of their commercial Main Street buildings, have been successful in attracting business and downtown life.  After spending some time talking with our new Director of Developmental Services, William Deaton, I can tell you that we have a qualified, enthusiastic, smart, experienced batter in the batter box who is already swinging. In case you need proof of the need to address broken glass, boarded fronts, peeling paint and critical safety problems, here are but a few photographs I have to illustrate the need for this facade program

Let’s Fix All the Broken Glass

The range of work generally included in these facade programs relates to masonry repairs and pointing; façade painting, repair, reconstruction or replacement of historic features; awnings or canopies; signage and exterior lighting; gutters and downspouts; handicap accessibility; and window and door repair or replacement. Even simple changes such as the removal of non-historic materials, repairs, or a new paint job that calls attention to the building’s original architectural details signal positive change.

A Dangerous Situation
Vegetation Growing on Facades-This can be fixed.

The sum of $5.000 has been mentioned per structure and must be spent on exterior improvements.  Grant Eligible Improvements include painting, pointing, brick, masonry, wood, metal, and stucco repair,  business signs and graphics, exterior and decorative lighting, windows, and architectural design. Obviously, the money provided will have to be thoughtfully allocated to get the most bang for the buck. I believe the city should have a list of “must firsts” that start with safety improvements that include fixing broken glass. A panel of experts should be made available for consultation on materials, historic district guidelines, and a few preservation & restoration coaches. This panel can include credentialed volunteer help.  We will need the community to support the facade program every day by coming to see what is going on, bringing coffee and donuts to a workman,  cheering the process on that is needed badly. Are you someone who could serve on a temporary panel because you have some expertise that will be needed?

The storefront is certainly a prominent feature of a downtown commercial building, but the rest of the building is related to it visually through the unity of form and detail. Storefront façade improvements should consider the entire building – window patterns on the upper floors, cornice elements, and other decorative features should be carefully considered, in addition to the storefront itself. 

When I think of Greenville, SC and their remarkable reimagining of themselves, I look at these photographs below that I took several years ago. I believe that Main Street Rocky Mount will be saved too with programs that William Denton and his team have been tasked to lead. Clap your hands and believe along with me. Come to a City Council meeting and take 3 minutes to tell them this is a great place to start and what Main Street needs.



‘Main Street’ Belongs to All of Us – Part 1

It has been said that Rocky Mount has the best collection of historically significant architecture in the entire state. We’ll take that compliment. We have beautiful examples of what successful preservation looks like thanks to Peter Varney whose watch included the Train & Bus Station, The Imperial Center, the Douglas Block, and StreetScape. You have to ask yourself how that momentum got sidelined and why? As in a relay race, Peter Varney handed the baton to the next runner, but it has been dropped along the way. We have to go back and pick up that baton and get back in the race Peter began. Rocky Mount deserves that! It is past time that all citizens rally around the heartbeat of the city.

Maybe you never go downtown but that doesn’t change the fact that Main Street is like our living room and deserves protection. What happened to our concerted effort to save our Main Street architecture and what we think of as our downtown city core? It seems no one is actually responsible for seeing that these efforts are ongoing?  I know we have codes that are not being enforced. I know we have buildings leaking into others and nothing is done. I know there are broken windows, boarded up facades, exterior proof of the deterioration that is on-going.

At this point, I no longer accept the premise that it’s the absentee landowners that have been holding us hostage. No, it is the lack of will to do something about that. I feel like everyone is saying, “This is not my job.” I am proud to sit on the board of Preservation Rocky Mount but since I’ve been involved we still haven’t found time to discuss what this organization might do to bring attention to the present preservation crisis of these buildings. I visit the Historic Preservation Commission who are responsible for maintaining our historic district guidelines, and as important and imperative as that is, their influence in this matter is vital too. The downtown neighborhood belongs to all of us!

I believe that Main Street Rocky Mount can be the most beautifully, restored and preserved, downtown in the State. If you, in any of your spheres of influence, can help in this matter, you’re badly needed whether you are a disgruntled citizen over the matter or a CEO that can exert economic pressure.   We must stop electing and hiring people who will not help save Main Street and surrounds. We need tangible proof that the Mayor, City Manager right on down the leadership roll can not only bring into existence our new Event Center, which was to help promote downtown but start immediately to tackle the problems on ‘Main Street.’

Because we have lost a great cheerleader for Main Street, John Jesso, we are now in further peril of losing our masterpieces. It was he who courted and inspired investment and development downtown. Why would the rug be pulled out from under the economic momentum of new investors buying our commercial buildings? John helped investors believe in the revitalization of our downtown city core. If the city won’t spearhead the preservation of our architecture, we only have these new investors to rely on.  Now the successful growing economic development downtown seems to have been derailed. WHY? Who is profiting from stifling growing success that can lift up our low-income population and change our economically depressed statistics?

These buildings can’t afford further neglect. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our leadership turned into heroes and took charge of saving Main Street?  There isn’t a chance of that as things stand. It is up to us to build a consensus that the taxpayers are not satisfied with the lack of leadership in this matter. It is our ‘Main Street’ and we want it back.

(We could have commercial buildings that look like this)


Join me for Part 2 with a fascinating look at saving facades

Leave a comment below on your thoughts about this. Thanks.

Main Street Lego Architecture – Way Cool!

At some point, while growing up, I wanted to be an architect. Faced with the fact that I’m terrible at math, it wasn’t a realistic dream. Writing was a better fit. Today there are career paths I think of as my unlived lives. With a Historic Preservation Degree, the lead character in my new novel could be me.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started seeing the work of young people and adults alike having fun with Lego Architecture, which “celebrates the past, present, and future of architecture through the Lego Brick.” The brand includes a series of Lego sets designed by ‘Architectural Artist’ Adam Reed Tucker, and each contains the pieces and instructions to build a model of a famous architectural building in micro-scale.

Chicago architect, Adam Reed Tucker earned a degree in architecture at Kansas State University in 1996. While there, he sought a method to join his two passions of art and architecture and hit upon the idea of using Lego bricks. From this, he founded Brickstructures, Inc., and began to design and build models of famous landmarks. His work was noticed by the Lego Group, and together they formed a partnership in 2008 to release some of his models as commercially available Lego sets under the Lego Architecture brand. Today his idea has captured the imagination of Lego architects who have taken his idea and run with it. Ingenious architects of all ages are having fun designing and building their own creations while learning to appreciate the value of architecture. My favorites resemble the commercial buildings on Main Street USA.

These are PINTEREST Images: See More

Promoting A Sense of Place – A ‘Shout Out’ To Realtors


I wrote last week about a conversation I had with Vann Joines, entrepreneur, when we discussed what makes people pick the places they live. Part of that answer is that people are looking for diversity, a sense of place, a cultural context that is unique. Rocky Mount is such a place!  The architecture in and around downtown represents a strong link to our stories, where once, holding grandmother’s hand we went downtown.

Main Street and its environs are filled with significant buildings that feature distinctive architecture and decorative masonry. Have you noticed that at certain times of the day, the windows reflect both sides of Main Street as through a looking glass. Think of the great metaphor this is for our Twin Counties efforts; each side reflecting the beauty of the other!  The historic character of downtown is one of its greatest economic assets which creates a unique experience, distinguishable from a suburban commercial site that can be found anywhere in the country. Once we wanted to ‘get away,’ we didn’t particularly value our stories of growing up in the Mill Village or ties to the Railway and Tobacco world.  All that has changed. The success of today’s towns and cities hinge on how well they embrace their great cultural history, their unique past while building a future that meets the needs of today.

Calling all realtors: Invest your time, talent, your imagination and determination to promote this unique place. Bring your clients into the area! It will take some research to discover the historical significance of the properties you show, but use that research to pitch the sale. You’ll have to use your imagination to point out the possibilities of restoring a building or a residence, but doing this is a great New Years Resolution; putting new energy into your sales technique. If only this post could convince realtors…..stop assuming that clients have no interest in living in the downtown area. There is money to be made, but more then that, think of what your enthusiasm can do for the redevelopment that is taking place. Won’t you add your expertise and efforts to help create a future that will grow exponentially with success?

Continuing the Call: Let’s rethink our appreciation for these downtown buildings. Here is a great example of one that is for sale at 232 SW Main Street. One of your colleagues is already involved with at least two sites for sale on Main Street. We NEED you to believe in this area again, forget the nonsense of how dangerous life is. People are living and working downtown everyday. You are missing an opportunity to build something up again, something to be proud of that will bring you income and bring Rocky Mount recognition and pride. How can you resist? Think….I’m needed, I could make a difference, why the heck not!  

If you know someone who is a realtor, please share this link. Help me reach them.      Thank you! SFH

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 CONTACT Moorefield Real Estate – Trevor Foote – 252-314-8206