Vibrant downtowns in small rural towns have gone the way of the slinky. They really don’t exist anymore.
But Lumberton’s continues to put up a good fight.
Forever gone are the days that city residents would flock to downtown Lumberton in large numbers to shop for clothes, buy lunch at locally owned businesses, or stop by The Robesonian newspaper to drop off a wedding announcement. Those businesses long ago shut down because they couldn’t compete with large retail chains that buy in bulk and offer goods for a discounted price, or they migrated north where much of the wealth in Lumberton had relocated and parallel parking on a busy street wasn’t required.
Today, the BB&T building is empty — a visible reminder of what was but no longer is — and the county, which owns it, is trying to figure out how it can be put back to work for the benefit of the county seat and all of Robeson. The old county jail is abandoned and an eyesore. The movie theaters, the Riverside and Carolina, have gone the way of the black-and-white film. Even the public library, once a big huge draw, has seen traffic reduced because so much information is just a couple of keystrokes away on a laptop or smart-phone.
Downtown Lumberton today is barren except for the activity at the Robeson County courthouse, the lawyers’ offices that have stayed nearby because of the short walk to the courtroom, a few niche businesses, and studio apartments.
It’s a sad sight for those who grew up in Lumberton in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and remember the downtown as being the hub of activity.
But there are efforts to help downtown Lumberton reclaim at least a part of its past, many of them being forged by Rediscover Downtown Lumberton. The group — whose Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/RediscoverDowntownLumberton — regularly meets at Candy Sue’s restaurant to brainstorm on what else can be done to resuscitate downtown.
There have been efforts to tidy up downtown with improvements to facades, strategically placed planters, and there is even a community garden.
The annual Alive After 5 series, which wrapped up in July, draws hundreds of people downtown to enjoy music, and an effort is underway to raise money for a permanent stage that would be located at the plaza. There is a psuh to expand the series beyond six Thursdays in late spring and early summer.
The Carolina Civic Center, which was once the Carolina Theater, was renovated a few years ago and offers a season filled with top-notch entertainment.
Work will soon begin on a roundabout that will make traveling the downtown area much less confusing and a lot more efficient. That will only enhance the efforts that are already underway.
Revitalizing downtown is a difficult slog, but kudos to those who refuse to surrender to what appears to be inevitable.