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Wednesday, 28 November 2012 00:00

From down-and-out to up-and-coming, former factory town undergoes transformation

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fr hazelwoodPatty Atkinson took a short break from helping the constant flow of customers at a local family pharmacy in the heart of Hazelwood to talk about the evolution of the community around her — from a bustling blue collar factory town to a mostly deserted streetscape to a quickly changing, thriving pocket of Waynesville.

Atkinson listed factories and shops that once defined the Hazelwood community but have since shut down — pausing often to ask her father, one of a collection of old men who regularly sit and sip coffee at the Waynesville Pharmacy, if he had any additions.

To each enumeration — the tannery, Dayco, Lee’s furniture factory, Benfield Industries, that family diner that caught fire — Atkinson affixed a footnote about the business, taking particular note of a 1982 factory fire that forced the evacuation of all of Hazelwood.

“That sort of put a hold on things for a long time,” Atkinson said.

One after the other, the factories that defined the community of Hazelwood closed. The flow of commerce at the hat shops, grocers and lunch counters on Main Street gradually shrunk in response.

“It was dead through here,” Atkinson said.

Others who know, who have lived in Waynesville for a couple decades or more, echoed Atkinson’s assessment.

“It was a dying town, dear,” said Perry Buchanan, who helps run Waynesville Pharmacy with his daughter, Kelly.

During the 1980s, after the factories that had once been landmarks of community shutdown, Hazelwood was “forgotten,” said Kevin Duckett, owner of Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters.

When Duckett opened his business in the early 2000s, the streetscape was still somewhat barren.

“Needless to say, there was not quite as much going on,” Duckett said. “We had a nice street without a lot of shops.”

But, during the last decade, that has changed. A steady in-flow of new businesses has led to the revitalization of Hazelwood’s old downtown district.

The path was blazed by a couple of quality, stable businesses about eight years ago, and a slow, but steady outcropping of shops of a similar caliber have since put roots down in Hazelwood.

Even in the last 18 months, the façades in Hazelwood have changed, rapidly becoming a destination shoppers seek out rather than a place they pass on their way elsewhere.

The boutique Robin Blu moved in, as did Claymates, a paint-your-own-pottery store, and Within REACH Home Store, just down from REACH of Haywood County’s resale store.

“We all sort of opened this summer,” said Susan Greb, who volunteers at the thrift store run by an against domestic violence nonprofit. “It has been a really exciting opportunity because it has brought a lot of people to Hazelwood who haven’t been here before.”

Part of the attraction for those businesses was the already established Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters and Hazelwood Soap Company, with the icing on the top being the fine dining restaurant Bourbon Barrel Beef and Ale, which opened in Hazelwood the summer before.

Gary Cormann, co-owner of Bourbon Barrel, said the promise of the area was already apparent when his restaurant moved in.

“We really thought that there was potential with the other businesses here,” Cormann said. “We just liked the overall shops that were here and the people who were running them.”

And the early comers that set the stage for Hazelwood’s up-and-coming status — Hazelwood Soap Company and Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters — have not even broached the 10-year mark. They are considered Hazelwood veterans, despite having opened seven and eight years ago, respectively. Other business owners view the opening of Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters, specifically, as the beginning of Hazelwood’s revitalization, referring to the café as the lynchpin of the community.

 

A community effort

Hazelwood does not have a formal merchants association currently — although several said they would like to start one — but business owners regularly pull together to promote each other.

Bourbon Barrel Beef and Ale uses Hazelwood Soap Company’s products in its bathroom and offers coffee roasted just down the street at Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters. Meanwhile, the coffee shop offers a Bourbon Barrel coffee, and people who come to see musicians perform at Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters will often find their way to the nearby restaurant for a bite.

“We are always trying to think of ways to promote each other,” Cormann said.

Diana Laursen, owner of Hazelwood Soap Company, used to close up her soap shop at 3 p.m. most days, but after Bourbon Barrel Beef and Ale opened, she extended her hours because there was a business drawing customers to Hazelwood during the early evening for dinner.

Now, it seems that more businesses want to move to Hazelwood.

“It wasn’t that way before,” Laursen said.

Business owners all along the street touted its assets: an abundance of close parking, lower rent prices compared to downtown Waynesville and high volume of traffic that traverses Hazelwood Avenue on the way to Hazelwood Elementary, the highway on-ramp or Walmart.

When Cackleberry Mountain Gift Shop closed earlier this year, some were concerned its departure would create a large hole in the collection of storefronts — and had it been a decade earlier, their fears would have been justified. But, high-quality shops beget high-quality shops.

“When Cackleberry Mountain left here, it was kind of tricky,” Cormann said. “We are happy that it didn’t take very long to get people in there.”

Claymates has now taken up residence in the old Cackleberry building.

For Claymates’ owner Brian Hockman, Hazelwood has great growth potential.

“It’s nice to be part of a community on the way up,” Hockman said. “We are happy to be part of the revitalization.”

And, from where the business owners are sitting, it looks like things will only get better.

Yet, the transformed shopping district must give at least some credit to the backbone it inherited from the Hazelwood of yesteryear.

Even during its down years, Hazelwood still had its own post office and a bank, which continued to give the area a sense of community.

“I think it helped legitimatize Hazelwood,” Duckett said.

The bank has since shut down, and the post office was in danger of closure in 2009, but more than 1,000 residents fought to keep it open.

“I hope they never take that post office away,” said Laursen, adding that it is a key part of the small community feeling Hazelwood has cultivated in recent years.

 

Help wanted

To truly come into its own as a transformed shopping district, Hazelwood needs more than simply a collection of good businesses. It needs a street and sidewalk facelift, something the town of Waynesville has gradually been implementing. While a far cry from the street scene of downtown Waynesville — a shopping haven lined with benches, public art, brick sidewalks, lampposts and the marked absence of overhead utility poles — progress is being made.

The town has mostly focused on maintaining Hazelwood, fixing cracked sidewalks, planting greenery along the streetscape and adding more street lighting.

But, Waynesville Public Works Director Fred Baker said he would like to have a meeting at some point in the future to gather input on Hazelwood’s look and changes residents and business owners would like to see.

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Baker said.

Once it received feedback from constituents, the town would need to hire an architect or landscape engineer to draw up a new face for Hazelwood, a process that takes time. Waynesville worked on outlining a plan for South Main Street for more than a year.

Although changes could be awhile away, Duckett already has thoughts on how he would redraw Hazelwood Avenue, adding more crosswalks, brick sidewalks and maybe an art piece like the music men statue on Main Street in Waynesville.

Some Hazelwood residents and business owners believe the community is treated like the redheaded stepchild of Waynesville.

Duckett said he feels that the town has not paid as much attention to updating Hazelwood Avenue as it has Waynesville’s Main Street shopping area. Duckett cited the hand-me-down Christmas decorations that Hazelwood inherited from downtown Wayensville.

“I would like to see the town pay more attention to us,” Duckett said. “Maybe it’s time that Hazelwood has a project.”

However, the businesses of downtown Waynesville pony up and pay for a lot of the amenities that make it the envy of town. A surcharge on the property taxes for downtown businesses funds its merchants’ association, Christmas decorations, festivals and some street improvements. As for public art pieces sprinkling downtown Waynesville — those have all been paid for with private funds.

Duckett also mentioned that he would like to have underground utilities. Right now, the utility poles obstruct the view of the building façades in Hazelwood and detract from the old-timey light poles that dot the street.

Baker said that the town looked into moving the utilities underground, but Progress Energy owns the power lines in Hazelwood, making it a harder task to accomplish.

“I don’t see much opportunity to underground anything in Hazelwood,” Baker said.

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