Once again, organizers say, people will have another reason to walk down Ladiga Street and stay for longer than it takes to get a haircut at Pope’s Barber Shop.
About 10 members of the newly reforming Piedmont Business Council — though they haven’t yet chosen a new name — met Thursday at the Solid Rock Café to discuss plans to revitalize the downtown area with festivals and other events aimed at drawing visitors.
The council disbanded about the same time the U.S. economy began to falter in 2008. Members said business was bad and it became harder and harder to get people willing to help and to get the needed donations to hold the events.
Things may not exactly be much better now, Dan Freeman said, but he thinks it’s time to get the ball rolling regardless. A member of the former business council, Freeman was born in Piedmont, moved away as a young child, built a high-end cabinet business in Maryland and moved his shop back to Piedmont 13 years ago.
Freeman bought up sections of the downtown shops, where business once lined the streets and people spent whole Saturdays walking and shopping. Those shops have begun to fill up again. Several new businesses opened up downtown in the last year. An art studio, beauty salon, a variety store and a home decoration shop all fill once-vacant storefronts. Freeman smiles when he talks about it.
“It’s just so good to see all the people downtown again,” Freeman said. “To me, we’re the best-kept secret in north Alabama.”
The group has already set a date for the country fair. The council hopes that on Oct. 20, the antique tractors, pie-eating contests, arm wrestling contests and games for kids will start bringing people back downtown. Shops are being asked to stay open later, and they’re making plans for other events like a once-a-month trade day to be held the third Saturday of each month and a car show.
It’s about creating a new brand for Piedmont, about making people want to drive into town and stay a while, local real estate agent Kelly Winkles said.
“You go to places, and it’s for that feeling you get,” Winkles said.
Another local agent, Gary McCurdy, spent some time working with the museum in Centre. He watched how that city grew its downtown events from the very smallest fundraisers for the museum into 7 major festivals each year, McCurdy said.
He’d like to see that for his hometown of Piedmont.
“The heart of Piedmont is here,” McCurdy said of the downtown area.
A planter filled with flowers next to the Piedmont Museum is living proof of McCurdy’s convictions. He and his wife maintain the flowers. It’s the little things like that planter, Piedmont Rescue Squad Chief Phillip Winkles said, that make people see the town in a different way.
The group will meet again Sept. 13 at the Solid Rock Café at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.
“I think the people of Piedmont are ready for it,” Kelly Winkles said.
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563 or on Twitter @burkhalter_star