Sylva “back street” plans moving forward: Grant application due Feb. 10

Three years ago, Holly Hooper and sister Heather Menacof had saved enough money to invest in new windows for the lower part of their popular outfitter store in Sylva, Blackrock Outdoor Company.

Then the economy tanked. The sisters were forced to put the money back into the business. They scrimped and saved once more, however, and are moving forward again with dressing up the part of the building that faces Mill Street, better known as back street.

Hooper hopes Black Rock’s individual attempts to aid this part of the downtown gets a significant boost in the form of a state grant being submitted by the Downtown Sylva Association. The grant application is due by Feb. 10. Meetings are being held, ideas have been solicited, and a number of Sylva businesses have expressed keen interest in participating in a general cleanup and refashioning of back street.

After years of neglect, back street actually has received some attention fairly recently in the form of landscaping and upkeep. Currently, there are few vacancies along the street, and the businesses located there generally seem to be holding their own.

But Julie Sylvester, head of the Downtown Sylva Association, decided more could be done. About 40 people turned out for a meeting a few months ago about fixing up back street.

The Downtown Sylva Association is a membership organization dedicated to bettering the business environment in downtown Sylva. It is tasked with helping businesses thrive and prosper.

“We had a good mix of people all wanting to see this project move forward,” Sylvester said.

Grant money is available through the state’s Main Street program. The grants are intended to provide direct financial benefit to towns, retain and create jobs and spur private investment.

Sylvester said an initial phase for back street renovation includes painting, pressure washing, disguising unsightly but necessary items using paint or other means of hiding them (air conditioning units, for example).

“The idea is we try to do something that will make a big difference without a lot of money,” Sylvester said.

Hooper said she hopes to see street lighting installed. And awnings, she added, to protect customers from rain. Eventually, Black Rock would like to open an entrance into the store on back street instead of just having one on Main Street.

That would mean hiring an additional employee, however, and the store needs to see more traffic and business via back street before doing that, Hooper said.

Sylva ‘back street’ eyed for facelift

Neglect has its advantages. At least it does if you are talking about preservation.

On back street in Sylva — the proper name is Mill Street, but few use that term — many of the buildings still bear the names of the businesses once operated in them, circa 1920 or so.

That includes a former hotel, “The Paris,” which once occupied the building now housing the Tuckaseigee Trader. Owner Steven Lott said if the Downtown Sylva Association is, as reported, in search of ideas on how to dress up this area of town, he believes it would be — his words — “really cool” to bring back that 1920s-era feeling.

“If you stand back at the railroad tracks and look, there is a lot of history,” Lott said.

Railroad tracks run through Sylva, setting something of a permanent boundary on one side of back street. The tracks restrict parking to limited slots in front of the stores, mainly, and in a public parking lot on the other side of the tracks.

In recent years, back street has seen something of a return to its heydays. There are few vacancies, several thriving businesses, and still more doing OK and attempting to ride out these sour economic times.

Renovation work has taken place, cleanups have been done, and the street scene is generally much less grim than it was 15 or so years ago. But more still begs addressing, said Julie Sylvester, head of the Downtown Sylva Association. And with any luck, a state grant might just cover the costs.

The Downtown Sylva Association is a membership organization dedicated to bettering the lives of business owners in downtown Sylva. It is tasked with helping businesses thrive and prosper.

Details of what exactly to apply for are sketchy. The money is available through the state’s Main Street program, of which the Downtown Sylva Association is a part. Last year, the Main Street Solutions Fund boasted a coffer of $1.95 million. The fund is intended to support small businesses in three ways:

• Providing direct financial benefit.

• Retaining and creating jobs.

• Spurring private investment.

Certainly sounds like a good match with back street and its many needs, Sylvester said. She believes it might be helpful to move some of the unattractive air conditioners off the fronts (or is it the backs?) of the buildings onto the roofs. This would require, of course, buy-in from the building owners involved. Also, maybe get rid of — or hide, or otherwise disguise — some of the unsightly cables and wires dangling from buildings and utility poles. And what about pressure washing the buildings, or putting awnings up? An overall facelift sounds good, Sylvester said in conclusion.

Great ideas all, Lott said, sounding enthusiastic via his cell phone one day this week while he drove toward Cullowhee. The air conditioner that cools his business is located directly over the store’s entrance. When it rains, customers get doused going in and going out, he said, throwing his support behind the possible removal of the units onto the roofs of back street’s buildings.

The Downtown Sylva Association will be gathering ideas for the next few weeks. The actual deadline for the grant money hasn’t been announced. But, once it is, Sylvester said the grant would have to be written and submitted quickly. She envisions forming a committee soon to work on the proposal.


Got Ideas?

Let the Downtown Sylva Association know what you’d like to see happen on back street. Email the group at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 828.586.1577.

Canton grant empowers citizens to develop revitalization plan

Canton may be looking toward a new era of revitalization, thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Rural Center. The town was awarded $25,000 earlier this fall for the Step Up Canton program, which will formulate strategies for economic growth and development.

Page 2 of 2
Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.