NEW BERN – David and Stephanie Whitson, of Spruce Pine, were two of the 2019 North Carolina Main Street Champions honored this past March at the organization’s annual conference.
The Whitsons were among 45 Champions honored this year: all of who were individuals that work and advocate for revitalized downtowns across the length and breadth of the state.
“Despite the short-term uncertainty in the global economy right now, vibrant downtowns will remain catalysts for North Carolina’s economic prosperity in the years ahead,” said Anthony Copeland, North Carolina Commerce Secretary, at the ceremony. “These honorees have shown considerable creativity and dedication to improving their communities. We’re proud to honor their vision and hard work.
North Carolina Commerce and the North Carolina Main Street program began recognizing Main Street Champions in 2000.
“It’s long been well-known that successful downtown economic development doesn’t happen by luck,” said Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center. “There are always hardworking people behind these efforts, and we wanted to take time each year to put the focus on leaders who are making a real difference in their communities. Main Street Champions serve as a valuable thinktank for future projects and innovation.”
With this year’s group, 766 Champions have been recognized by the North Carolina Department of Commerce over the past 20 years.
The Whitsons were chosen to be the 2019 Main Street Champions for Spruce Pine because of their significant, long-term investment in the revitalization of downtown. They bought the old Hampshire Hosiery Mill in 2004, expanding their small business and opening two additional businesses in the building. They have now renovated three of the four floors, with plans for the final phase underway.
The mill, known as the Cross Street Commerce Center, is home to more than 17 businesses and offers one of the only event spaces in town. The Whitsons partnered with Spruce Pine Main Street in 2018 to rent and renovate the historic McCall’s building on Locust Street. Within six months, a new restaurant opened, and another business expanded into the renovated spaces.
“They take the lead on projects that benefit the whole town,” said Libby Phillips, executive director of Spruce Pine Main Street. “From sponsoring events, school projects, and festivals to planting flowers and adding lights to our portal entry, they are 100 percent invested in improving our community. They have set in motion a wave of pride in the town.”