Upon Further Consideration

In yesterday’s post, I praised Southern Pines for its quality of life and vibrant downtown, while expressing my hope that the town wouldn’t lose its character and community affection. After work, I strolled to the post office and window shopped – every store closes at 5pm, except the bookstore which closes at 6pm.  As I was walking, two people stopped me and asked me where they could find a store to get everything. I asked if they meant a drugstore or a grocery store. Either would do, they said.  They were new to town but staying the week for vacation. They also asked me exactly where they were.

I informed them that they were in downtown Southern Pines, but sadly everything downtown is a boutique or a restaurant. They would have to go back to Route 1 and find the grocery stores and drugstores outside of town.  It was clear that they didn’t mind having to leave downtown to find something, but our brief conversation reminded me of my biggest complaint about downtown Southern Pines: it is more tourist based than anything else. For everyday needs, save for the post office and a few offices there is not a strong need to go downtown, whether by driving or walking.

Therefore, I would encourage the long-range plan to focus on a few viable businesses that would bring everyday folks to downtown – whether a small grocery store or a drugstore.  I am sure that there are many complications to such a task, but a new restaurant in a new building is opening soon and it filled existing space. Perhaps something other than a boutique or a restaurant would be good; a good downtown should welcome residents and tourists, not one or the other.

Southern Pines Long-Range Plan


Click for larger image

At the local bookshop shoppers receive the above mini-poll, asking Southern Pines residents and others to voice their opinions regarding how the town should develop over the next 20 years.  As you can see, the poll asks about property rights, vacant lots, the heart of the town, walkability, development directions, town economy and job opportunities, among others. Participants are asked to respond yes or no to each question and then explain or elaborate if necessary.

To me, the poll seemed pointed very much in one direction. After all it does use terms like the “heart of Southern Pines”, “walkable” and “increase the need for car travel”.  However, it seems to be a preservation friendly direction, so I will not complain. After all, Southern Pines is a unique place. Horse people are drawn to this area because of the vast amount of open space and the fact that all of the farms connect, providing safe riding trails. Families enjoy the area because downtown is so friendly with a park, restaurants, schools, churches, and shops all within walking distance.  And of course, downtown is beautifully landscaped with azaleas, brick sidewalks, and other “charming” features.  You will be hard pressed to find a town as pleasant as Southern Pines in this area.  With the mild weather and relatively small population, it is an easy, comforting place to live.

Yet, outside of downtown there are big-box retail stores (including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Petsmart, TJMaxx, Belk, etc.) and fast food chains, and booming development as people migrate from the colder northern climate and even from the Raleigh-Durham area.  Land is increasing in value and developers are moving in, adding more retail stores. Southern Pines and Pinehurst are very much based on tourism as well, mostly known for the resorts and world class golf courses. And it still an affordable place to live, whether you are a renter or a home owner (not counting the horse country estates and the historic Village of Pinehurst).

Thus, development will be more of an issue in the next 20 years as the area expands. It is nice to see that the town is interested in listening to its residents, hoping to maintain what people love about the area.  I only hope that there enough people who can identify what is special about this area (walkability, horse country).  One issue is that most people who live are married with families or retired; there are very few unmarried 20 somethings here.  It is a catch-22 situation: there are not enough jobs for the young folks, but there isn’t anyone to take the jobs.  Where to begin? I would guess that the last questions sort of relate to that.

I don’t know what the results of this survey will be or even how long the town is accepting replies, but the effort is promising and it shows that people do care about the future of Southern Pines. I hope other towns follow suit. Does anyone else live somewhere with similar issues? Please share.