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Lewisburg: Down But Not Out

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It’s been a rough year for businesses in downtown Lewisburg. What is more unfortunate, however, is that it should never have been that way. Just last fall, the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s marketing campaign resulted in a 14% increase of tourist-interest in visiting the area.

Fast forward a few short months to the spring of 2020, and COVID-19 changed everything. Overnight, businesses were forced to shut their doors. And when they finally reopened them, they found the world had drastically changed. But for as difficult as the pandemic has made things, adversity is nothing new for the city. After all, Lewisburg has been down before. Down, yes, but never out.

According to the Lewisburg City Hall, the 1980s were a particularly tough decade for the city. With numerous shuttered businesses and rows of empty storefronts, the downtown area more resembled a ghost town than the center of a vibrant community. But the 1990s saw a renaissance that paved the way for economic revitalization. For the next 15 years, the city thrived. And the downtown resurgence allowed for the commercial development on the north-side of Lewisburg.

The city was on the move. Then the great recession of 2008 happened, and progress, once again, came to a halt.

The residents and small-business owners of Lewisburg did what they have always done when faced with hardships; they persevered. New businesses came in, replacing those that were forced to close, and the city kept moving forward. And now here in the fall of 2020, in the face of an economic-downturn and extreme uncertainty, the City of Lewisburg is once again tasked with moving forward. And moving forward is something that Interim City Manager Misty Hill is focused on.

“Right now we’re trying to make sure that safety measures are being met, while being as creative as possible,” Hill said. “It’s hard to navigate because this situation is new to everyone. But even through the pandemic, we’re still seeing growth.”

Hill said that four new businesses are coming to the downtown area.

“We’re trying to stay positive, and just keep pushing forward,” Hill stated.

A New Chapter Bookstore opened downtown in 2017. And according to owner David Craddock, in the era of coronavirus, things have been “probably better than I expected. We’re at about 85% from last-year.”

But despite the reasonable amount of success A New Chapter has experienced throughout the pandemic, the difficulties have not gone unnoticed.

“The problem is, before we had to shut down, we were trending to be 20 to 25% up from last year,” Craddock said. “We’re almost back to where we were last year. But I’m guessing we’ve probably lost $40,000 in sales. That money is gone.”

Craddock stated that he was able to secure a PPP loan, as well as a $5,000 small-business grant from the state, and A New Chapter was able to maintain the store’s one full-time employee. Craddock was also very appreciative of his customers for following safety guidelines.

“I’ve been very happy with the response. We’ve had very little trouble with people wearing masks,” Craddock said.

Amy’s Cakes and Cones is another downtown business that has been pushing ahead in spite of the pandemic. In fact, owner Amy Mills even went so far as to tempt fate by relocating her shop across town.

“We’ve been doing well,” Mills said. “We did a crazy thing and moved during the pandemic. And luckily it went very well.”

Amy’s Cakes and Cones had previously been located on Court St., and is now operating from its new home next door to Hill and Holler.

“You have to be able to roll with things. We cut our hours back when it first happened. But you have to be able to roll with the punches and accommodate your customers,” Mills said. “You have to be able to give your customers what they need and what they want, and we’ve all had to make sacrifices. It’s been very unfortunate for a lot of businesses.”

Lewisburg is older than the nation itself. Throughout its long history, there have been good times and bad. The city, once voted America’s “Coolest Small Town,” and it’s residents, may very well be down. Down, yes, but never out.

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