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JONESBORO’S REVIVAL And the businesses bringing Sanford’s ‘other’ downtown back to life


2 | June 2021

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Welcome Summer! Trusted Real Estate Professionals that know this market and are ready to help you. Gina Allen

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The RantMonthly June 2021 | Sanford, North Carolina A product of LPH Media, LLC Vol. 3 | Issue 6

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Editorial Gordon Anderson | gordon@rantnc.com Billy Liggett | billy@rantnc.com Jonathan Owens | jonathan@rantnc.com Advertising Brandon Allred | brandon@rantnc.com (919) 605-1479 Contributors Ben Brown, Charles Petty Editorial Board Kenny Bass, Roger Bright, Joe Fedorchak, Hank Haller, Slavko Avsenik, Matt Hoyer, Verne Meisner, Joey Miskulin, Walter Ostanek, John Pecon, Lou Trebar, Johnny Vadnal and Walter Dana

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Find Us Online: www.rantnc.com Facebook: facebook.com/therant905 Twitter: twitter.com/therant905 Podcast: rantnc.podbean.com

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The Rant Monthly JUNE 2021

SANFORD, NORTH CAROLINA

JONESBORO’S REVIVAL And the businesses bringing Sanford’s ‘other’ downtown back to life

ABOUT THE COVER Brittany Nau and Chelsey Ruta are two of the local business owners bringing new life to the Jonesboro area with Brick City Boba, a new tea, smoothie and ice cream shop on Main Street. In this edition of The Rant Monthly, we feature Jonesboro’s newest businesses and share the history of Sanford’s “second downtown.” Most importantly, if what you read piques your interest, we hope you visit these new businesses and give them a try. Photo by Billy Liggett

The Rant Monthly is located in beautiful Sanford, North Carolina. Please address all correspondence to LPH Media LLC, 3096 South Horner Boulevard #126, Sanford, NC, 27332. Editorial email: gordon@rantnc.com or billy@rantnc.com. Advertising: brandon@rantnc.com. The Rant Monthly is published monthly (obvs). The Rant Monthly is wholly owned and operated by LPH Media LLC, a North Carolina corporation. Submissions of all kinds are welcome. This publication is free — one per reader, please. Removal of this newspaper from any distribution point for purposes other than reading it constitutes theft, and violators are subject to public flogging and ridicule. Printed by Restoration News Media LLC in Raleigh, NC. Copyright 2021, LPH Media LLC, all rights reserved.

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4 | June 2021

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PAGE 4 HISTORIC JONESBORO

‘TIGER KING’ CATS SENT TO PITTSBORO RESCUE Pittsboro’s Carolina Tiger Rescue has taken in four big cats formerly owned by Tiger King Park in Oklahoma, the park made famous by the recent Netflix documentary, “Tiger King.” In all, 68 cats — including lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids and a jaguar — were seized in May by the U.S. Justice Department. Investigators allege the cats were living in disturbing conditions, showing signs of high anxiety, fur and weight loss and untreated wounds. The park is currently owned by Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe, who took over for Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as “Joe Exotic,” after he was sent to prison for attempting to hire a hitman to kills big cat advocate Carole Baskin. The cats will remain in Pittsboro until the Justice Department can find a permanent home for them.

VACCINE LAG Only 36 percent of North Carolinians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This ranks us in the lower half of the United States, despite North Carolina being home to some of the nation’s top hospitals and research sites. The New England states lead the way (50%plus), and Mississippi ranks last (26%).

This edition takes a look at the new businesses sparking growth to downtown Jonesboro, Sanford’s “second downtown.” Jonesboro is also an historic area, named for a confederate general in 1860 and its railroad supplied coal for the confederacy at the time. The area suffered a destructive fire in 1911, and the town merged with the City of Sanford in 1947.

FOUR MINOR LEAGUE MASCOTS The Durham Bulls will forever keep North Carolina at or near the top of the list when it comes to states with the best Minor League baseball. But we’re also home to some pretty great baseball mascots as well:

DID YOU KNOW? There are 11 cities or towns named Jonesboro in the United States, the largest being Jonesboro, Arkansas with a population of 67,000-plus.

Wood Ducks

Cannon Ballers

Crawdads

Tourists

Down East (Kinston) Texas Rangers Low-A

Kannapolis Chicago White Sox Low-A

Hickory Texas Rangers High-A

Asheville Houston Astros High-A


The Rant Monthly | 5

rantnc.com COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Milestones, big changes for pandemic locally

M

ay was a month of milestones for the COVID-19 pandemic in Lee County, North Carolina, from the 6,000th positive case on May 10 to the lifting of all mask orders just five days later. A rundown of local pandemic news, now entering its 16th month: State, city lift mask order On the day Gov. Roy Cooper rescinded the state’s mask order, Sanford Mayor Chet Mann also rescinded the city’s order that’s been in effect since Nov. 25. Cooper’s Executive Order 215 acted on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states vaccinated people can assemble without face coverings, except in settings like schools and health care facilities. Mass gathering limits and social distancing requirements have also been lifted. The state health department still recom-

mends masks and social distancing for those who have not been vaccinated. Local businesses like Hugger Mugger Brewing have announced policy changes. The downtown brewery said guests may now choose to wear a mask if they wish, and seating at the front bar will now be open. Employees there may still choose to wear a mask. County drops State of Emergency The state of emergency stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and declared in Lee County on March 16, 2020, ended on May 18, 2021.

County Chairman Kirk Smith signed a declaration terminating the emergency, meaning, according to a press release, that “the Lee County Health Department will cease providing a daily situation report, reports of COVID-19 deaths, and weekly COVID-19 case status updates.” The county no longer requests that visitors wear masks or social distance while in county facilities “except where required under Executive Order 215 that includes but is not limited to the county jail and county health clinic.” Lee County announces 6,000th case Lee County announced 65 new COVID-19 cases on May 3, which put the county over the 6,000 mark. Cases since, however, have gone down drastically. As of May 29, Lee County had a total of 6,085 cases and was averaging just five new

cases a day from the previous week. At the peak of the pandemic locally, the county was averaging 58 cases a day in January of this year. On May 17, the county announced its 79th death. No information was released about the victim. County now vaccinating kids, 12-15 The Lee County Health Department announced in May it would start registrering young teens, ages 12-15, with parental consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The change came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use in children 12 and up. Parents interested in registering their children for the COVID-19 vaccine are asked to submit a pre-registration form available online at leecountync.gov/covid19.

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6 | June 2021

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LOCAL BRITTON BUCHANAN TO HEADLINE FREE CONCERT AT DEPOT PARK IN JUNE Downtown Sanford Inc. and the city of Sanford will sponsor a free concert by recording artist Britton Buchanan, the Sanford native who was the runner up on the 2018 season of NBC’s The Voice. The concert will take place 7 p.m. on June 19 at Depot Park in downtown Sanford. DSI Executive Director Kelli Laudate said the concert will be a special hometown kickoff for a tour Buchanan is launching next month. “He really wanted to do something at home, and we were able to put this together,” she said. Also performing will be friends of Buchanan’s, Kelly Kidd, Jake Kelly, and Redd Carter.

SUICIDE AWARENESS EVENT SET FOR JUNE 15 Cameron Grove A.M.E. Zion Church and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will host a cookout from 4 to 6 p.m. on June 15 to help raise awareness for suicide prevention. “Sierra Day” will be the first of what Latishea McLean hopes will become an annual event. McLean lost her daughter Sierra to suicide in June of 2020. “I can’t bring her back, but if I can help prevent someone else’s suicide, that would be good,” McLean said. The event will feature speakers, a bounce house for children, music and more. Cameron Grove is at 309 Vernon Street in Broadway.

SPORTS

JUST THE BEGINNING Southern Lee standout Harrington named Big South Freshman of the Year By Jonathan Owens It’s been a year of good surprises for Campbell University freshman pitcher Thomas Harrington. A Sanford native and former standout in football and baseball for Southern Lee, Harrington expected to take a redshirt year for the Camels to build up his strength to pitch at the Division 1 level. Coming off a hand injury from football, he expected to hit the weight room and come out next season ready to play. That didn’t happen. Instead, he surprised even his new coaches. By the time the season rolled around, he had earned himself a spot in the Campbell pitching rotation. “When I committed, the feeling was that I was underdeveloped,” Harrington said before the Big South Tournament on May 27. “The coaches wanted me to redshirt and get in the weight room and see how I developed. I guess I progressed faster than they thought I would. I thought I may be a bullpen arm. I never thought I’d be starting on the weekend.” Harrington made an immediate impact for the Campbell pitching staff, joining the weekend rotation during the first series and making a team-high 13 starts, going 5-2 with a 2.94 ERA, the lowest among Big South freshman starting pitchers. He posted the third lowest ERA and fourth lowest

Sanford’s own Thomas Harrington capped off a stellar regular season in his first year at Campbell University with a Big South Conference Freshman of the Year award after going 5-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts. Photo courtesy of Campbell University Athletics opponent batting average in the conference among qualified starters. He was named the Big South Conference’s Freshman of the Year for his stellar season — yet another surprise. “I knew I was in the conversation for it, but I didn’t expect it at all,” Harrington said of the award. “Coach (Justin Haire) came to me after practice and said, ‘Congratulations Big South Freshman of the Year.’ I had no idea.” The righty is the fourth Camel to be named Freshman of the Year and the third Campbell pitcher in a row to earn the honor, joining Reggie Davis (1994), Logan Bender (2018) and Ryan Chasse (2019). “Tommy has been a huge cog for us this

year,” Haire said. “He’s pitched in every spot in the weekend rotation and the bigger the stage the better he’s prepared and performed. This is just the beginning for him.” After winning the honor, Harrington came up big in the Big South Tournament to keep his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive on May 28. The Camels lost their first game and were tied in the fourth inning of their next game against USC-Upstate, a loss in which would have sent them home. But Harrington came in in relief and threw 5.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out four for the win. The Camels earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and will play in Starkville, Mississippi in the first round.


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The Rant Monthly | 7


8 | June 2021

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The Rant Monthly | 9

rantnc.com LEE COUNTY GOVERNMENT

Smith: No teacher bump for ‘mediocre’ performance counties on top of the pay for educators that comes from the state and helps them to be competitive in recruiting teachers. The email was written about a month before The Sanford Herald reported that Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan requested supplement increases of 10 to 12 percent for certified employees and 5 percent for non-certified employees. Bryan noted at the time, according to the article, that it had been 21 years since coaches have received a supplement increase.

Kirk Smith, the Republican chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said in an email obtained by The Rant that teachers in Lee County shouldn’t receive an increase in supplemental pay due to the “mediocre performance” by local public schools on North Carolina’s school report cards. The email, dated April 23 and sent to other members of the Board of Commissioners, indicates that Lee County’s teacher supplement, $4,586, is well above the North Carolina average ($2,842), and the 14th highest of the state’s 115 school districts. Smith then wrote that “Lee County’s data is not reflective of the substantial supplement we pay our teachers” and went on to list the grades earned by Lee County’s public schools on report cards for the 2019-2020 school year, noting one A grade, one B grade, nine C grades, and three D grades. “In light of the rather mediocre performance, I really don’t see the need to increase

An email from Lee County Commissioners Chariman Kirk Smith says local teacher supplements should remain even until local schools perform better on North Carolina School Report Cards. the supplement. I suggest we keep it at the current rate allowing the schools to work on improving their performance,” Smith wrote. Critics of the state’s school report card sys-

tem have said that it’s more reflective of the economic demographics of its students than of the actual quality of teachers and schools. Supplemental teacher pay is set by

In the end, the decision about supplements will be made by the school board, which is given a lump sum by the county and then has to decide how to spend it. Lee County’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2021-22 includes a 1.5 cent property tax decrease. The budget proposal includes a $378,000 increase in funding for the schools, which is below the $1.3 million increase the district has requested.

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GO MASK FREE, BUT RESPECT OTHERS WHO CHOOSE TO WEAR ONE You can debate whether the State of North Carolina or Lee County jumped the gun on lifting the mask mandate long before reaching whatever their definition of “herd immunity” is, but what’s done is done, and for the past few weeks, we’ve slowly been lifting our face coverings and showing our (entire) faces in public again. For some, it’s freeing. Emotional, even. These are people who — regardless of their political views or thoughts on mask effectiveness — have chosen to follow CDC guidelines and state mandates and have chosen to show respect for the safety of others. For others, it’s about time. Many in this group didn’t wear the mask anyway and viewed the practice as buying in to government mind control and becoming sheep to the leftist overlords. These people have not been a great help over the past 18 months. And still for some, the idea of shedding the mask is a little unnerving. Many found comfort is face coverings — not only did they protect from COVID-19, but the common cold and flu cases were also mostly avoided. Being pushed out into public without a mask and asked to simply trust that everybody around you has received the proper vaccines is a lot to ask, especially considering barely half of us have received the shots. When events reach full capacity again and life returns to some form of normalcy, one of the biggest changes we’ll see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is increased mask usage in public. Think back to March 2020, and it was jarring to many of us to see people covered up from the nose down. Eventually it became normal. And soon, it will no longer be normal. But if you choose to continue on with a mask, we’ll no longer give it a second thought. And we ask that all of you who gave us a hard time for wearing masks DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC lay off of those who will continue to find comfort in a piece of face cloth. You have no idea why they’re wearing it, and really, it’s none of your business.

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OP/ED COLUMN | BILLY LIGGETT

Dangling an antiquated report card system over teacher pay is insulting

T

o suggest that Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kirk Smith has gone off the deep end and spouted off some tone deaf statements about public education isn’t necessarily “breaking news.” This is the same man who suggested the local school district save money by just serving peanut butter and jelly at lunch to the kids whose families can’t afford a hot meal. The same man who called local high school students “tools for Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement.” The same man who accused local basketball players of “ignored federal law” for locking arms during the National Anthem. And the same man who voted against a program offering tuition-free community college to qualifying students in and around Lee County. But a recent email where Smith suggested the county should increase teacher supplements because of the school district’s performance on North Carolina School Report Cards (last updated in 2019 and skipped in 2020 because of the pandemic) is perhaps the chairman’s most ill-informed statement on education to date. And that’s saying something. In his April 23 email, forwarded to The Rant in May, Smith wrote that he “discovered” Lee County has the 14th highest teacher supplement in the state, out of 115 separate school districts, with $4,586 going to teachers in addition to their salaries

set by the state (updated numbers show Lee County teachers now earn $4,626 in supplements, which ranks 15th in the state). He then wrote the district’s performance on the N.C. School Report Cards — designed to grade schools on student performance and academic growth — is “not reflective” of the money the district is paying its teachers. Just another half-cocked rant from a local Republican, you might say? True, but Smith’s words are significant, because it’s our commissioners who hold the purse strings for school funding. “In light of the rather mediocre performance, I really don’t see the need to increase the supplement,” Smith wrote. “I suggest we keep it at the current rate allowing the schools to work on improving their performance.” I’ll begin by saying that if the county decided to freeze supplements at the current rate, so be it. It’s true — Lee County currently pays better than most districts. But it has to. That $4,600-plus might look good in the eastern or wester part of the state, but teachers in our surrounding counties are getting more (Wake County at nearly $9,000, Orange County at more than $8,000, and Chatham County at $6,400). Moore and Harnett counties aren’t terribly far behind us, and Harnett nearly doubled its supplements in 2018 to stay competitive. Where Smith veers way off the tracks is his suggestion that school report cards should be the deciding factor in whether or not our teachers get a supplement bump. After his big “discovery,” had he dug deeper, he would

have learned that even the best teachers in our region are doomed to fail in North Carolina’s current grading system and that the No. 1 deciding factor in a district’s performance is NOT whether our teachers are earning their keep, but rather the economic status of our students. According to the state’s grades, in Lee County only Lee Early College has an A rating, and only Tramway Elementary School has a B. Several schools have a C, and two of our three middle schools have a D. Nine of our schools met or exceeded academic growth, and three did not. But the most important number Smith left out of his email is this one: 66.8. It’s not another grade, but the percentage of students in Lee County who are economically disadvantaged. And according to the Public Schools Forum of North Carolina — which bills itself as a “nonpartisan champion of better schools” — of the state’s 325 schools that serve at least 85 percent low-income students, none of them received an A or a B grade. Yet, of the 222 schools serving fewer than 25 percent low-income students, none received an F, one received a D and nearly 90 percent got an A or a B. Lee County leans more toward the former group. The district has one school — W.B. Wicker Elementary — that serves more than 80 percent low-income students, and the other elementary schools all serve between 60 and 80 percent. The county’s top-performing elementary school, Tramway (which earned a B), is the only school in the district below the state


The Rant Monthly | 11

rantnc.com average for economically disadvantaged students with 39.7% (the state average is 43.4%). The one A (Lee Early College) is right at 48%. The Public Schools Forum sums it up nicely: “What would you think if state legislators created a new A-F school grading system based on poverty, giving A’s and B’s to the schools that serve the fewest poor students while tagging the highest-poverty schools with D’s and F’s? Unfortunately, the current grading scheme produces the same result.” And under the current scale, if little Amy started the fourth-grade with a first-grade math level and ended the fourth grade with a third-grade math level, she’d still be deemed a “failure,” despite her growth. Of course Lee County has great teachers. I have three children in elementary school this year, and I’ve seen teachers cry for joy at my daughter’s academic triumphs, I’ve seen them take my son aside in their free time to monitor his speech, and I’ve seen them spend their mornings talking sports with my youngest because they know and care about his interests. I also understand their frustrations when the children they teach aren’t getting the support from home they need to keep up with their peers. It’s not all on teachers. Tying teacher pay to these outlying factors that our teacher have zero control over is not only unfair, it’s insulting. If you don’t want to pay them more, fine. But don’t threaten their pay. Find out what teachers need and make it happen. And, really … an extra $4,626 over a year is nice, but it doesn’t go nearly as far as you’d think. Smith’s email is void of depth and research. Rather, it’s another dog whistle for the anti-tax, pro school-choice crowd that is quick to point out the education system’s shortcomings but reluctant to really do anything about it. Not only does Smith want to feed most of our kids peanut butter and jelly, he wants to make it damn near impossible to bring in teachers and keep teachers who want to help them succeed. o Send your anger to Billy Liggett at gordon@rantnc.com. Sign him up for a bunch of junk mail while you’re at it.

READER RESPONSE We need our community college system now more than ever To the editor: As North Carolina faces an economic crisis amidst a pandemic, our community colleges will be key to recovery efforts. North Carolina will undoubtedly turn to our 58 community colleges to train and retrain our state’s workforce to meet the increasing demands of a recovering economy and changing business world. To do that, our colleges need to be able to retain and recruit the best faculty and staff who can provide the training our students and businesses need to be successful. Central Carolina Community College is committed to its mission of fostering individual, community, and economic development through transformative lifelong learning while serving the citizens of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. Our vision for the College is “Exceptional learning for all.” CCCC offers a wide variety of more than 50 career and university transfer programs, as students can earn associate degrees or college transfer credits, diplomas, or certificates. CCCC also offers instruction in such areas as short-term job training, college & career readiness, personal interests, business & industry, and emergency services training. The CCCC commitment led to two national recognitions in 2020. CCCC was nationally ranked as No. 25 in The Best Community Colleges & Trade Schools of 2020 by Best Colleges. In addition, CCCC was ranked among the Top 50 community colleges in the nation by College Consensus, a unique college ratings website that aggregates publisher rankings and student reviews. Yet, CCCC has its challenges – like other community colleges. We have been fortunate to have outstanding faculty and staff who have greatly contributed to our mission. We would like to continue to retain and recruit quality employees who are dedicated to continuing our successful mission of service. Many businesses face the challenge of recruiting qualified, in-demand employees and then keeping those employees from leaving to go to another employer. North Carolina’s community colleges are no different. Attracting and keeping highly qualified

professionals to prepare North Carolina’s future workforce continues to be a significant challenge – especially in high-demand, highskilled areas such as healthcare, technology, and trades. Although North Carolina has the third largest community college system in the nation, community college faculty salaries, as a whole, consistently rank near the bottom in national comparisons. As lawmakers consider many important issues to our state during this legislative session, our North Carolina Community Colleges are supporting legislation asking for a 7 percent salary increase for faculty and staff. If community college faculty and staff were to receive this salary increase, it would be a significant step toward ensuring that North Carolina has the professionals in place to train the 700,000 students who enroll annually and to help business and industry emerge from the pandemic and rebuild the economy. Julian Philpott Jr. Chairman, Board of Trustees Central Carolina Community College

________________

With great interest To the editor: I read with great interest your article entitled, “City, county unsure of how to spend millions in aid,” in your April 2021 edition. Ben Brown Smithfield ________________

Do the right thing (Re: The state and county’s decision in May to lift the COVID-19 mask mandate) The fact is, the vaccine works. And the science, thanks to our great doctors, is also fact This is not political. This is a global pandemic. Be a good steward, and get the shot. Be concerned about others, and stop the name calling. We are adults expected to be the example and to do the right thing. Kimberly Stone Sanford

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JONESBORO CORONET BAND MURAL IN DOWNTOWN JONESBORO. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT

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The Rant Monthly | 13

rantnc.com

COVER STORY

SANFORD’S SECOND DOWNTOWN

JONESBORO REVIVAL New businesses — most owned by women ­— are breathing life into the Jonesboro Heights area, which has slowly regressed over the last 20 years. These entrepreneurs see huge potential along one of Sanford’s busiest thoroughfares. By Gordon Anderson and Billy Liggett

W

hen Birdiana Frausto began seeking out a location for Fonda Lupita in 2019, there wasn’t a whole lot happening in the Jonesboro Heights area of Sanford. When Frausto discovered that the space formerly occupied by the then recently-relocated Landmark Breakfast Shop was available, it seemed like as good a space as any to put a small Mexican restaurant. “My parents used to come here when it was the Landmark,” she said. “And I was like, ‘this is a cute little small space.’” Frausto didn’t know at the time that she would be among the first in a string of new businesses that have been slowly but surely breathing new life into a part of Sanford that had been fairly dormant for a long time. Merenda’s Soul Food Kitchen. Brick City Boba. Valenti’s. The Eyelight Coffee and Comics. All have sprung up or are set to open soon on Main Street in downtown Jonesboro, and there are plenty of reasons to believe more

are on the way. “I felt like everything was dying here at one point,” Frausto said. “The coffee shop wasn’t there. The boba place wasn’t there. So, for a lot of locals to come into this strip, I think it’s a good thing.” Chelsey Ruta is one of the owners of Brick City Boba, which opened in May at 104 E. Main St. She said the location jumped out at her for more than one reason.

A shaded brick courtyard along Main Street in Jonesboro Heights is now used for seating for Brick City Boba customers. Photo by Billy Liggett.


14 | June 2021

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Main Street, which runs through downtown Jonesboro, is the second busiest street in Sanford, behind Horner Boulevard. Photo by Billy Liggett. “Main Street is actually the second busiest street in Sanford,” she said. “They just redid the street and the streetlights and really cleaned the place up. The fact that it’s a standalone building and we didn’t have to share it with anyone, and it came with the park next door. So I cleaned it up and gave people outdoor seating. We’ve also gotten a lot of people knocking on our door, asking if we knew of any vacancies on the street. There’ve been people from Raleigh come in to scout the area, too.” Jonesboro, once a town of its own, is actually more than a decade older than Sanford, according to Daniel J. Pezzoni’s “The History and Architecture of Lee County.” The book notes the “first real growth (in the town) in 1861, when the Western Railroad established the Jonesboro Depot (named for the road’s engineer, Leonidas C. Jones) and the general merchandise firm of Bryan & Company built a store.” The town became an industrial center, boasting turpentine distilleries, sawmills, cotton mills, and more, as well as “stores and barrooms clustered around the depot,”

“It’s taken six or seven years, but I’d argue we’re finally seeing the fruits of that labor. [Jonesboro] has gone from a blighted area to one where we’re seeeing a lot of demand.” John Ramsperger according to Pezzoni’s text. Sanford, incorporated in 1874, wouldn’t overtake Jonesboro in size and population until around 1900, and while details on the exact “why” of the two towns’ merger are scarce, they officially became the city of Sanford in 1947. Still, the neighborhood and downtown strip now dubbed Jonesboro Heights developed into and remained an active center for commerce in subsequent years. The Kendale shopping center was built in the 1960s and had the quaint distinction of being North Carolina’s longest shopping center. Three prominent churches sit along or less than a mile from the intersection of Main Street and Woodland Avenue, all surrounded by close-knit neighborhoods. “There’s a proud heritage to this day that

people who are from that part of Sanford have,” said Mayor Chet Mann, who noted that a good chunk of his own lineage comes from Jonesboro. By the late 2000s and the early 2010s, however, much of the area had declined significantly. While a few restaurants, barber shops and storefront churches remained, the area had become considerably more sleepy than in prior decades, and Kendale had deteriorated significantly, with boarded up windows in many of the storefronts and the entirety of the southernmost portion closed off by 2017. So what’s changed in the few short years since then? There are multiple factors, but one of the primary ones is the streetscape project city voters approved in 2013. The messaging around that effort mostly sur-

rounded downtown Sanford, and much has been written about the successes there in the years since. But Mann and others point to the same work being done in Jonesboro as setting the table for the successes being seen today — work that wasn’t always popular when it was first undertaken. “There was a lot of pushback at the time — people were asking why the city should be making that kind of investment in Jonesboro,” said John Ramsperger, the owner of Sanford Real Estate. “And it’s taken six or seven years, but I’d argue that we’re finally seeing the fruits of that labor. It’s gone from sort of a blighted area to one where we’re starting to see a lot of demand. And that kind of activity and success just breeds more activity and success.” Another factor is the renovation and reuse of Kendale’s bottom third as the MINA Charter School, which opened its doors to students in August of 2020. The school currently serves nearly 250 children, and expects to add more than 100 more next year, meaning the structure has gone in the space of a year from one which housed nothing


The Rant Monthly | 15

rantnc.com and was surrounded by a crumbling parking lot to one which brings hundreds of families to and from the facility each weekday.

Ramsperger said he expects growth to continue in the area.

Williams said the school had already partnered in some ways with some neighboring businesses, some of whom even send their kids to the school.

“Downtown Sanford has more foot traffic, but you’re starting to see that spill over into downtown Jonesboro as well,” he said. “And investors are starting to realize that this place is up and coming. “In commercial real estate we talk about anchors. You’re starting to see some new anchors in that area, like the new Valenti’s and (Christians United Outreach Center) occupying the old O’Connell’s Grocery.”

“Things seem to be thriving again in this area, and the growth has been exciting,” he said In addition to MINA’s transformation of Kendale’s bottom third — an expansion into the portion that used to house Kendale Cinemas is underway — there’s evidence that the portion still dedicated to commerce is seeing a turnaround. While many of the storefronts remain vacant, the complex was purchased by Moore County-based Par 5 Development purchased the property in 2019. And while the company hasn’t publicly disclosed its plans, some renovations have been done and some sources have indicated seeing more consistency among tenants since.

“Good leadership looks 10 or 20 years out. We looked at Jonesboro and saw a once vibrant area that we knew could be vibrant again, but if we needed to have some public investment for that to happen,” he said. “Now you’re seeing a coffee shop, these new restaurants that are coming in — it all started with that bond referendum, and it was a very intentional plan.”

“It was central, it had the parking, and while we knew we had to do some upfitting, we knew right away that it had the best potential for us,” said Dr. Shawn Williams, the school’s lead administrator.

The Jonesboro boom will impact the residential sector as well, with a 200 unit apartment complex on tap near the intersection of Dalrymple and Main streets, and a senior living facility on Woodland Avenue coming in the near future. Mann said these things are all tied together.

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BRITTANY NAU AND CHELSEY RUTA, CO-OWNERS OF BRICK CITY BOBA. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT

BRICK CITY BOBA

POPULAR ‘BUBBLE TEA’ SHOP FIRST OF ITS KIND IN SANFORD

What to Know Brick City Boba held its grand opening on May 29 after a two-week soft opening. Here’s what you need to know: •

Location: Located at 104 E. Main St. in Jonesboro Heights, Brick City Boba is a tea, smoothie and ice cream shop with indoor and outdoor seating.

The Bobas: We’ve tried the chewy tapioca balls and the popping bobas and loved them both.

Learn More: Brick City Boba owners Chelsey Ruta and Brittany Nau are active on social media, with photos and regular updates on what they have to offer. @BrickCityBoba

B

oba tea — or “bubble tea” — has been around for nearly 40 years. Popularized in Taiwan, the sweet, creamy, chunky drinks have gained in popularity in the U.S. in just the past 10 years.

Ruta wanted to bring it to Sanford, but she didn’t want to just jump into a business without doing her research. For two years, she did that research — visiting different shops around the state and looking at locations locally where a shop could succeed.

Perfect timing for Chelsey Ruta, who discovered the bubble-filled beverage while living in Japan, where her husband was stationed in the U.S. Army. They also had stints in Thailand and the Philippines, where boba is big.

“I just felt like this could be something people in Sanford would love and something they shouldn’t have to travel an hour for.”

“I just loved it, and I got used to being able to have it until we moved back to Sanford [in 2016],” says Ruta, a native of Moore County. “The only places near us that had it were Pinehurst, Raleigh and Fayetteville.”

Ruta didn’t have to go far to find a business partner. Her next-door neighbor Brittany Nau — whose husband was also in the military and deployed when Ruta approached her — knew nothing of boba tea when approached with the idea. But she trusted her friend. “We bought our houses [in Sanford] within a month of each other, and my

family and her family instantly became connected,” Nau says. “Our kids are best friends. We hang out all the time with our husbands. It was just an instant connection. We’re more like family now. So when she told me, ‘Hey, guess what? I want to start a boba shop,” I just said, ‘Oh. OK.’ And the partnership was formed. “I’d never even tried it before, and it’s become one of my favorite things now. I’m not a huge dessert person, so this fills that void.” After a year-plus of studying and taste testing potential products, Ruta and Nau were ready to take the plunge. They just needed a location. They settled for 104 E. Main St. in Jonesboro Heights in an old garage and auto shop. The building needed

SEE BOBA, PAGE 18


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BOBA (PAGE 16) a lot of love, but the location — steps away from a shaded brick-lined courtyard and small area for parking — had a ton of potential. “Main Street is actually the second-busiest street in Sanford,” says Ruta. “And the fact that this is a standalone building that we don’t have to share and that it came with a park next door … we put tables out there, and it just had character. And we both love old buildings — we’ve put a lot of work into this, and I feel like we’ve breathed new life into this building.” Already, the hard work is paying off. During their two-week soft opening — when Brick City Boba offered teas and smoothies (while still working on their ice cream station) and were open for just three hours in the evenings on weekdays — business was brisk and, at times, slammed. Their marketing consisted of a strong social media presence and a lot of word-ofmouth. As for the offerings — the tea is the headliner. Black tea, green tea and jasmine tea on ice with your choice of several flavors, from coconut to Oreo, strawberry to mango, Earl Gray to coffee latte. “We have all different kinds of boba,”

(Left) Brittany Nau and Chelsey Ruta prepare a coconut-flavored tea with tapioca pearls at their new shop, Brick City Boba. Photo by Billy Liggett. (Right) Rolled ice cream is another Asia-inspired treat offered at BCB. Submitted photo. Ruta says. “There’s the popping boba, which is liquid-filled and kind of bursts in your mouth. And that comes in several flavors. We also specialize in the tapioca pearls, which are little brown balls with the consistency of a gummy bear. And all of these are there to enhance the flavor and provide a snack and a cold drink at the same time.” Each drink is sealed at the top with a plastic covering and comes with a large straw (big enough to get the bubbles up).

The teas cost between $4.50 for a small to $6.50 for a large. Brick City Boba also offers smoothies and slushies, and most recently, it added rolled ice cream (also known as stir fried ice cream), which originated in Thailand. Ruta and Nau believe in their product. Now they’re banking on Jonesboro Heights becoming more of a business-friendly strip full of walk-in businesses, with fewer empty buildings.

“We feel like based on the businesses that are here, the businesses that are coming, this area is really going to grow,” Ruta says. “We’ve already gotten a lot of people knocking on our door asking if we know of any vacancies on this street. We’ve seen people coming in from Raleigh scouting the area to do different things. We hope this happens, and we’re hoping for big things at Kendale [shopping center].” — by Billy Liggett

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BIRIDIANA FRAUSTO RUNS THE SHOW AT FONDA LUPITA, WHICH OPENED IN JONESBORO HEIGHTS IN 2020. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT.

FONDA LUPITA

MEXICAN COMFORT FOOD SHOWS AREA’S POTENTIAL

What to Know Fonda Lupita opened in Jonesboro Heights a year ago and has become a popular spot for local foodies and fans of Mexican comfort food. What to know: •

Location: The cornerstone of Jonesboro Heights, Fonda is located at 129 W. Main St. in the old Landmark building. The Food: Recipes, flavors and love passed down for generations in Biriddiana Frausto’s family. From the popular quesabirria to gorditas, menudo, tacos and much, much more. Website: Go to fondalupita.com to see the menu, but see tons of pictures on Instagram @fondalupitaNC

B

iridiana Frausto’s take on the quesabirria — a fried taco filled with stewed meat and cheese, accompanied by a broth for dipping — is absolutely irresistible (and yes, we’re editorializing here). It’s also extremely popular right now, so much so that what was once a special Fonda Lupita menu item available only a few times a week is now a daily staple. Frausto describes it as “Mexican comfort food,” which makes the trendy dish right at home in her year-old restaurant located in the building that once housed the Landmark. Named for the small, simple “mom and pop” restaurants or markets in Mexico and for Frausto’s mother, Fonda Lupita has become the centerpiece of the growth and the model of potential for new businesses in Jonesboro Heights.

The restaurant’s mission is to offer traditional homemade Mexican food from recipes passed on from generations of Frausto’s family from the Quretaro, Mexico region. The menu at Fonda Lupita — which changes daily (aside from the birria) — isn’t your typical tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Instead, it’s dishes and flavors many in Sanford have never experienced. The corn tortillas and gorditas are hand made, the salsas are made in house, and it’s all owned and run by proud immigrant women.

“My grandma used to run a fonda in Mexico, and she always said that she never taught her kids how to cook,” Frausto says. “When she came to the U.S. and had to leave my mother and her siblings in Mexico, they had to figure it out. But what she passed down to them was a passion. It was something they had inside of them — a

gift she passed down. These recipes weren’t really ‘taught,’ but our tastes and our palates come from them.” Frausto was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in Sanford. She started working in the restaurant industry in the Triangle when she turned 18 and worked in several places popular among foodies until she got the experience and confidence to open her own place. She wanted to return home to Sanford to start her business, but she was unsure how the city would embrace something new and unfamiliar. “At first, I was scared to do it,” she says. “In the Triangle, if your food is amazing and you have good ambience and good drinks, you’re going to make it. In Sanford, that doesn’t always guarantee [success]. I feel like

SEE FONDA, PAGE 22


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FONDA (PAGE 20)

buildings. Frausto says she’s building strong relationships with her surrounding business owners, because their success is dependent on the success around them.

here, it helps more if you know somebody or somebody knows you in order to get the word out. Or they’d rather have something a little cheaper. There’s uncertainty.”

“I was just telling Brian [Mitchell from Eyelight Coffee & Comics] that I like having a neighbor that if he needs something, he can rely on me, and if I need something, I can rely on him,” she says. “Or if I’m out of town, I know they’ll help keep an eye on things. These businesses can become a family, and we’d all benefit from that.”

Fonda Lupita opened in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Frausto adapted with a full take-out menu and Door Dash option. Business was slow in those early weeks and months, but as word of mouth got out and as she built her now impressive social media following, the restaurant began to get noticed Business is good now, she says — a credit to not only the hard work from her and her staff and the food (of course), but also to the work she puts into social media. Fonda Lupita has more than 1,500 followers on Instagram and Facebook each, and her feeds are full of colorful photos of her dishes, shot by a professional photographer. “We’re very strong on social media, because I’ve always been big on looks, and many of us ‘eat with our eyes,’” Frausto says. “If the food looks amazing, people are going to be interested and they’re going

Fonda Lupita’s quesabirria. Photo by Billy Liggett. to want to try it. We started pushing our Instagram to be beautiful and colorful so people would get the idea of what we were about, because our restaurant is a fairly new concept here. You know, it’s casual. It’s not your typical fajita place.”

Fonda Lupita isn’t the newest business in the Jonesboro Heights area, and it’s certainly not the oldest. But it does represent the “young blood” that is revitalizing the stretch of Main Street that not long ago was filled with empty storefronts and deteriorating

Frausto’s only a year into her business endeavor, and she’s already eyeing expansion. Her location in Jonesboro Heights is perfect for to-go orders and casual dining, whether inside or outdoors, but she would love to open a full restaurant in the future. If that happens in Sanford, she says she would still keep her location on Main Street should it all come to fruition. “A lot of people have come up to us and called this place a ‘hidden gem.’ We want to keep building on that.” — by Billy Liggett


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MERENDA BROWN OPENED HER SOUL FOOD KITCHEN IN 2019 IN JONESBORO HEIGHTS. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT.

MERENDA’S SOUL FOOD KITCHEN

LIFELONG LOVE OF COOKING INSPIRES MERENDA’S KITCHEN

What to Know Merenda’s Kitchen arrived on Main Street in Jonesboro Heights before Fonda Lupita and Valenti’s, and business is good in Merenda Brown’s second year. What to know: •

Location: At 116 E. Main St., Merenda’s is located next to Brick City Boba.

The Food: Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, beef and pork ribs, collard greens, banana puddding ... soul food.

Website: merendaskitchen.com has the menu, which changes daily.

Reviews: Regulars of Merenda’s Kitchen swear by it. So do visitors. “Great food and great service,” wrote Joshua S. from Nashville on Yelp.

M

erenda Brown found her passion at 5 years old. And it wasn’t just cooking, but cooking for her family and for other people. Putting a smile on their faces. “Making people happy just makes you feel great,” says Brown. “At the end of the day, if you can make one person happy by doing what you love, then it’s not been a bad day.” Brown held this passion close to the vest until a trip to Boston in the summer of 2019 changed her life. Her cousin had a soul food restaurant there, and that visit inspired Brown to follow her own dreams. “At the time I had a daycare,” she recalls. “I got back home on July 6, and I went out and found this building. And I just went

from there. I closed my daycare on Aug. 31, and I started this place.” “This place” was Merenda’s Soul Food Kitchen, specializing in home cooking — menu items like fried chicken and hamburger steak, chicken and dumplings and fall-off-the-bone ribs. Everything is made by Brown, she says, with fresh ingredients. Located at 116 E. Main St. in Jonesboro Heights, Merenda’s arrived before the recent rush of new businesses on the busy thoroughfare. While she’s glad to see the arrival of her neighbor, Brick City Boba, and other new restaurants like Fonda Lupita and Valenti’s, she was dismayed by the lack of established eateries in the area when her restaurant opened in 2019. “When I first got here, I was a little

worried,” she says. “But you know, God is good. I really had to pray hard, because there was nobody here but me. It took maybe six to eight months before people realized there was a restaurant here. But then I started getting out there and advertising. And we started getting a lot of walk-ups and people started to discover us. Business is good now.” So good, in fact, that Brown hopes to expand. A former karate studio sits empty in the same building, and that area would make for a great addition to her restaurant. “There are some parking issues, but we have great neighbors [in Jonesboro], and for all of this to work, we have to work together as neighbors,” she says. “I’m excited to see this area grow.”


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CHELSEA FIELDS AND BRIAN JOHN MITCHELL ARE OWNERS OF EYELIGHT COFFEE & COMICS. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT.

EYELIGHT COFFEE & COMICS

GREAT COFFEE THE GATEWAY TO COMICS, PLANTS AND ART

What to Know Eyelight Coffee & Comics offers more than coffee and comics. Floral arrangements are available, and the shop highlights the work of local artists. Here’s what to know: •

Location: Located at 122 W. Main St. in an old single-screen theater.

The Coffee: Chelsea Fields is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, and she insists her handcrafted brews will satisfy even the most discerning palates.

The Comics: Brian John Mitchell’s comics corner is a work in progress, but he already offers current books from Marvel, D.C. and more, and also sells collectibles, like the much-indemand Pokemon cards.

L

egend has it the building in Jonesboro Heights that now houses Eyelight Coffee & Comics was a single screen movie theater that showed the movies they wouldn’t screen at the larger theater in nearby Kendale shopping center. Many of those films were R-rated, and the owners were lax on the age limit — more than a few underage teens caught their first Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the historic building. “You could use a library card to get in,” Brian John Mitchell says. “Or, so I’ve been told.” Mitchell and his wife Chelsea Fields offer a new form of pop culture at Eyelight, which opened its doors in April. As stated in the name, comic books (as well as other collectibles and memorabilia) make up a small but

growing portion of the new business. But it’s the coffee that serves as the centerpiece of Eyelight, and Fields — a 2021 graduate of Central Carolina Community College’s Real Investment in Sanford Entrepreneurs (RISE) program — has the experience and talent to satisfy even the most discerning of “coffee snobs.” “I’m from Detroit, and when I was growing up, my best childhood friend’s parents came straight off the boat from Italy,” she says. “And every Sunday, they would take me across the border in Canada and Windsor, where there’s this really strong Italian population. And they would take me to these traditional cappuccino cafes. So I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 6, and I’ve always had the real thing. Even my first job was serving coffee in a

small French bakery in Detroit where they roasted their own beans.” Fields uses a traditional analog machine to make her coffee. She describes her product as “handcrafted,” and says she would rather take it slow to match a customer’s particular tastes than rush a bad cup. “I had a customer come in recently who said they only like ‘gas station cappuccino’ and asked if I could make something close to that, meaning a strong and sweet coffee,” she says. “So I turned him on to our horchata latte, and he loved it. I just try to listen to what people want.” The coffee is a gateway to Fields’ and Mitchell’s other passions, namely comic books and floral design.

SEE EYELIGHT, PAGE 28


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EYELIGHT (PAGE 26)

They chose Jonesboro Heights because Mitchell saw potential in the building (Fields wasn’t sold on it, but has since come around) and potential in the area. Across the street, Fonda Lupita has established itself as a popular restaurant and has drawn a lot of foot traffic. To the east, Brick City Boba is drawing nice crowds. The foot traffic is improving, and the couple has big plans for the huge open space behind their coffee shop (art and recording studios are a possibility).

Mitchell’s love of comic books and collectibles goes back to his childhood, around the time Return of the Jedi hit theaters. Mitchell would spend his allowance every week on Star Wars action figures, but as his collection grew and the stores stopped stocking Ewoks, Mitchell searched for something else to spend his money on. That’s when he found comic books. “I wasn’t a very good reader at the time, but something really just jelled for me,” Mitchell says. “It was the sense of world building that comics offered that really drew me in. It was a place for me to get lost in — I loved the universe building and the visual appeal.” To prepare for his own comic shop, Mitchell says he visited other shops in and around the Triangle and got insight from the men and women who ran them. He realized each shop was unique and each provided its own service to its community. “You just can’t take a comic shop that works in one city and expect the same thing in another city,” he says. “So that’s

Eyelight is active on social media and has already hosted several workshops, readings and art classes. Already in June, Mitchell and Fields have six public events planned, including a “play, swap and trade” event with Pokemon cards and a family comic book making workshop. Chelsea Fields mans tthe coffee maker at Eyelight Coffee & Comics. the challenge for me here – to find out exactly what kind of comic shop Sanford wants and needs and what will work best in this location.”

In the first two months, business has been good for Mitchell and Fields. They knew from Day 1 the coffee would be the main draw, but both have been pleasantly

“We feel like that you’re coming here for one thing, whether it’s comics or coffee, you’re going to experience some other element that maybe you didn’t expect,” says Fields. — by Billy Liggett


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CONSTRUCTION IS WELL UNDER WAY ON VALENTI’S IN THE JONESBORO HEIGHTS AREA. PHOTO BY BILLY LIGGETT

VALENTI’S

JONESBORO WILL BE SECOND HOME TO POPULAR EATERY What to Know The popular Italian restaurant Valenti’s will expand from its location in Vass to a second spot in Jonesboro. The restaurant is currently under construction. •

Location: Valenti’s will be located on Main Street in downtown Jonesboro at the Dalyrmple Street intersection (behind Piggly Wiggly).

The Food: Pastas, chicken, steaks, pizza, cannolis ... Italian all the way.

Website: Learn more at valentis.biz, where you can also apply for a job

Is it any Good?: If you trust the reviews on Trip Advisor, Valenti’s rates a 4.5 out of 5. One reviewer called the Vass location a “hidden culinary gem.”

J

ust a few blocks from Jonesboro’s main downtown strip rises a two-story Tuscan-style building that will house Valenti’s Italian Restaurant soon.

Second-generation owners Adam and Lucy Valenti are betting on Jonesboro as the site of their second location for the popular Moore County restaurant (located in Vass, a stone’s throw from U.S. 1). “We did a lot of research on demographics and knew we wanted to be in Sanford,” Lucy Valenti said about how they chose the Jonesboro area. “We get asked a lot why we didn’t go to Pinehurst or Southern Pines, but our current location is just 10 minutes away from there.” They happened upon the spot where

O’Connell & Martin Eye Associates sat at the corner of Main and Dalrymple Streets. A tree had recently fallen on the practice, and it was for sale. They jumped at the opportunity. “It was really fate and luck,” she said about choosing Jonesboro for a new location. “We looked at some places in Tramway and other places in town, then we found this location. We owned it for four years before we started building.” Valenti’s, now in its 25th year in Vass, is well-known in the Sandhills area for its pizza, Italian dishes, salads and more. They expect to bring people into the Jonesboro area who may not normally visit. “We’re a destination restaurant for peo-

ple,” she said. “We have customers from all over who drive to Vass to eat with us. I expect our customers to do the same in Sanford.” An opening date for the new restaurant has not been set yet. Lucy Valenti said it could be later in the summer. Like most of the country, the construction job has dealt with supply issues for materials, delaying the opening. They are also having trouble filling open positions at both restaurants, she said. “We are very excited,” she said of the opening. “We’re hoping and praying that people get back to work and we get back to normalcy.” — by Jonathan Owens


The Rant Monthly | 31

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LOCAL CCCC NAMES NEW VP, CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER Central Carolina Community College has named Dr. Kristi Short its new vice president and chief academic officer. She succeeds Dr. Brian Merritt, who now is president of McDowell Technical Community College. Short most recently served as the director of the Texas Success Center, with the Texas Association of Community Colleges in Austin, Texas, a position she held since 2017. She also coordinated the Texas Association of Chief Academic Officers of the 50 community college districts in Texas and managed partnerships with national organizations including the Aspen Institute and Community College Research Center. “Throughout the interview process, I was impressed by the faculty and staff who served on the hiring committees, and I got a sense they genuinely enjoy working here,” Short said. “There is nowhere I’d rather be than Central Carolina Community College.”

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER AIMING FOR NCGOP SEAT Lee County Board of Education member Sherry Womack is running for vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. Womack was first elected to the school board in 2016 and won a second term by leading the ticket in Lee County’s 2020 school board election. Womack’s husband, current Lee GOP Chairman Jim Womack, sought the chairmanship of the NCGOP twice, losing in 2017 and 2019. The NCGOP will elect leadership in June.

SANFORD AREA GROWTH ALLIANCE

THROUGH THE STORM SAGA CEO Randolph has helped Sanford thrive during the global pandemic By Charles Petty Even after a year-long battle with the obstacles and heartache of the coronavirus pandemic, the business community in Sanford and Lee County is thriving. At the heart of it all is a man very dedicated to seeing business ventures thrive in Sanford and in Lee County. Jimmy Randolph was named CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance — better known as SAGA — in August of 2020. SAGA helps to lead with development and growth, ranging from small storefronts to major companies making multi-million dollar investments. But Randolph’s relatively new leadership role doesn’t mean he’s new to the organization. Indeed, he’s played more than one central role with SAGA, and even the organizations which preceded it. He joined SAGA officially in 2018, but previously served as the community partnership coordinator and later president of the Sanford Chamber of Commerce in the 90s and early 2000s before running a payroll company locally for several years. “I could not have picked a better time to serve with SAGA,” Randolph said. “The community had done such a fabulous job of positioning SAGA to lead the way for growth and development, and it was amazing to jump right in with those efforts.” Born in neighboring Harnett County,

The staff of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, from row left to right: Shinita Williams, Darien Thomas, John Dean, Meg Moss, (back row) Bob Joyce, Morgan Barbour, Jimmy Randolph and Austin Thomas. Randolph said he’s always seen the potential Sanford had and has. With recent announcements by companies like Pfizer, Audentes Therapeutics, Through6, Abzena, Bharat Forge and more that they were bringing more than 1,500 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax base investment to Lee County, that potential has been realized. “Lee County’s location is incredibly strategic,” Randolph said. “With regards to business expansion like Apple is doing in Raleigh, we have an opportunity to capture all of the business activity that is erupting in the Triangle area. We are ideally situated to be part of the activity and help foster that growth.” SAGA has a team of eight people who help assist Randolph and help to expand

business interests in the county, as well as to work with county and city government to ensure a smooth process for not just potential but also current businesses. Randolph cites one of those existing businesses, Caterpillar, as just one example of the many manufacturers already making major investments in the community, as further evidence that Sanford is posed to see a boom. The existence of these established companies only increase the possibility of becoming a part of the supply chain for other major businesses moving in. “It has been a remarkable thing to watch and to be a part of as our community has responded to the challenges of the pandemic and how we are looking forward to the future,” he said.


The Rant Monthly | 33

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COUNTY PURCHASES LAND ADJACENT TO O.T. SLOAN FOR PARK EXPANSION An overhaul of four of Lee County’s parks facilities will include a physical expansion of O.T. Sloan after the Board of Commissioners recently purchased nearly two and a half acres of land at Bragg and Nash streets. The board voted unanimously on May 19 to exercise an option to purchase the 2.46 acre property from Thomas Harrington for $500,000. The park, which is already home to the Boys and Girls Club of Central Carolina, as well as a seasonal swimming pool, a disc golf course and more, has also recently seen the addition of a dedicated

tee ball complex consisting of four fields. Residents can expect to see an indoor recreation facility for activities like basketball and volleyball at the intersection of Bragg and Nash streets. The expansion will also include a retractable structure around the existing pool, pickleball courts, walking trails and areas for BMX biking and skateboarding, and a realignment of the disc golf course. Lee County Manager John Crumpton said the county has been interested in the property for at least a decade. The expansion of features at the park is part of a $1.8 million overhaul of county facilities at O.T. Sloan, Temple Park, Horton Park, and Kiwanis Children’s Park. A full overview of the changes can be found on the Lee County Government website.

SCHOOL BOARD ATTORNEY: NO VIOLATION FOR KELLY Jimmy Love Sr., the attorney for the Lee County Board of Education, told the board in May that he was unable to find any violation of school board policy by member Patrick Kelly, who was at the center of controversy back in March when photos of him engaged in legal, consensual sexual activity were brought to the board’s attention. “I pursued all the allegations I could hear or possibly find. I’ve talked to students, I’ve talked to parents, and my conclusion after all of that is that there was no violation of ethics policy 2120, or any other policy of the Board of Education,” Love said. “It would be my recommendation that no action be taken because

I have been unable to substantiate the allegations that have been made regarding board policy 2120.” Board Member Sherry Womack, who herself was cleared of ethical wrongdoing in February after questions were raised about her participation in a Washington, D.C. rally for Donald Trump just prior to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, asked multiple questions of Love, including whether he had any role in a similar investigation into Kelly by Central Carolina Community College (by whom Kelly is employed) and whether his investigation looked into any policies other than 2120 (which is the board’s code of ethics). Love, who is also the attorney for CCCC’s Board of Trustees, said the college’s investigation was a personnel matter with which he had no involvement, and that he considered “all the policies I felt would be relevant to this issue.”


34 | June 2021

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HEALTH CARE

Partnership brings top surgical care close to home

A

and the area’s only medically-based fitness center.

new provider service agreement between Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Sanford is giving people in Lee County and beyond greater access to specialty medical services.

Riggs was one of the first orthopaedic patients to receive follow-up care from Pinehurst Surgical Clinic providers at FirstHealth’s Lee Campus. The new location offers on-site physical therapy and state-of-the-art imaging, including digital x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography.

People like Siler City resident Jeff Riggs, who underwent a total hip replacement earlier this year, are benefiting. Riggs works in the gene therapy division of Pfizer in Sanford and ensures its facilities adhere to stringent manufacturing regulatory guidelines. He is constantly on the move. A lifetime of sports led to hip and shoulder issues. For years, Riggs received non-surgical care such as steroid injections from Pinehurst Surgical Clinic orthopaedic physician Dr. Neil Conti in the practice’s Sanford office. However, in late 2020, Riggs’ hip took a turn for the worse. Moving was painful and difficult. “We always try non-operative measures

“The new facility is beautiful and gives patients and families confidence that they are getting great medical care,” said Conti. Pinehurst Surgical Clinic orthopaedic physician Dr. Neil Conti talks with Jeff Riggs, a Siler City native and Pfizer employee in Sanford. first, but they weren’t successful for Jeff, so surgery was our best option,” said Conti. He performed a hip replacement on Riggs at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst in early February.

Just before Riggs’ surgery, Pinehurst Surgical Clinic’s orthopaedic practice in Sanford moved to FirstHealth’s Lee Campus in Sanford. The 65,000 square-foot building opened in 2018 and houses numerous medical offices

Just eight weeks after his surgery, Riggs was back on the golf course and at work soon after. He said he looks forward to walks without pain when he visits the Florida Keys later this year. “This partnership between Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and FirstHealth allows Lee County and nearby residents to get surgical care at a top-flight hospital and subsequent follow-up care close to home,” Conti said.

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The Rant Monthly | 35

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COUNTY BUDGET PROPOSAL RECOMMENDS 1.5 CENT TAX DECREASE Lee County Manager John Crumpton’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2021-22 includes a 1.5 cent property tax decrease, bringing the rate from 77.5 cents per $100 in valuation to 76. In an interview with The Rant ahead of his presentation of the budget proposal to the Lee County Board of Commissioners in May, Crumpton said a 7.23 percent growth in tax revenues allowed for the decrease, as well as the setting aside of a penny’s worth of revenue (equal to about $615,000 per year) to pay for debt service on new projects like the sports complex and a new public library.

“It’s pretty amazing when you consider what happened with the economy over the past year,” Crumpton said. North Carolina requires cities and counties to adopt budgets by July 1. Crumpton said the county is a little ahead of its usual pace on budget deliberations, due in part to the Board of Commissioners’ recent decision to ask for line item budgets in each county department. Crumpton’s budget proposal includes a two percent increase — or about $378,000 — for Lee County Schools. The district has yet to make its annual formal request for funding from the county, but the number is well below the roughly $1.5 million the schools are expected to request. The school district has yet to make its annual formal request for funding from the county.

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PODCAST FRIENDS OF THE RANT The Friends of The Rant podcast is record (almost) weekly and distributed through our website, rantnc.com, and at rantnc.podbean.com. It can also be downloaded and streamed wherever you find your podcasts. Recent and upcoming podcasts include:

Lisa Chapman Julian Philpott CCCC leadership discuss the school’s importance to Sanford and Lee County

Sandra Torres Angel Mills Women behind El Refugio in Sanford talk about the impact the nonprofit is having

Bret Schaller Entrepreneur and inventor shares his experience on reality show ‘Assembly Required’

Kelli Laudate Joni Martin Big announcement about downtown Sanford’s future agri-market

WEDDINGS AND MORE Sugarneck owner talks about the history behind his popular event venue and why more and more couples are choosing it for their weddings

Friend of The Rant John Cawley joined The Rant’s podcast in May shortly after his event venue, Sugarneck, was featured in the publication’s wedding venue edition. Cawley’s previous experience was in the music industry, working with some of the biggest names in the business. Today, Sugarneck hosts 30 to 40 weddings and large gatherings a year. THE RANT: Our guest today is John Cawley, co-owner of Sugarneck on Buckhorn Road in Sanford, which was featured heavily our recent wedding edition of The Rant Monthly. As you’ll learn in the interview, Cawley’s career includes much more than event planning and hosting. He was involved in the music industry in Houston and was COO of a company that managed Destiny’s Child and Beyonce. We’ve asked John to join our podcast and talk about the wedding industry and all the things that he and other venues are doing locally. John, welcome to the Friends of The Rant podcast. Please tell us a little about Sugarneck and how you and your wife started this thing up and what it’s become. JOHN CAWLEY: Well, it’s an interesting business, because it was first started by

Sugarneck, located on Buckhorn Road in eastern Lee County, hosts weddings and other large gatherings. Learn more at sugarneck.com. Photo by Ben Brown. Judy Womack, who is my mother-in-law. And Judy had been asked by a friend if they could have a wedding down there. And we happened to be living in Houston at the time — I was in the music industry for a long time — and we heard that she was doing a wedding. And so we said, “That sounds great.” And on our arrival back into the Sanford area and Raleigh area, another couple came forward and said they wanted to have a wedding there. And so really one led to another and the rest is sort of history. We just really dove in both feet to create a venue down there. THE RANT: And it’s really impressive. In fact, all the venues that we visited were really

impressive. Talk about what you guys offer and what makes Sugarneck a unique place. CAWLEY: Yeah, I think the interesting part about Sugarneck is the history. We have an 1874 cabin that we had renovated, and we obviously added on several new buildings. We added a pavilion and commercial bathrooms. But the property itself has the old post office of what was the town of Sugarneck around the 1890s. So our whole goal was to incorporate or sort of merge yesteryear with modern conveniences. And I think one of the big benefits that people feel and the feedback we get is that they just feel really relaxed and comfortable down there.


The Rant Monthly | 37

rantnc.com THE RANT: When you were showing us around, you showed us the post office and talked about a road that went through there. I’m sure you’ve done a lot of research on Sugarneck — any idea how it got its name? What was it mostly known for, and why did it never materialize beyond a post office and dirt road? CAWLEY: What we hear — and whether it’s folklore or not — from the history is that people would come down the Cape Fear River. And the Sugarneck nickname came from the sugar and the neck of the river there, where moonshine was made on the property going back 100-plus years. So the Sugarneck part of it came from the geography meeting the moonshine. THE RANT: That’s awesome. It’s just fascinating to imagine the sort of lifecycle of these little towns that sprung up and disappeared, and it’s cool that you’re able to preserve some of that as you conduct your business. CAWLEY: I think that’s where we started with building the brand. We wanted to retain as much of the old as we could. But of course, as you know, time goes on and generations go on. You implement some of the modern conveniences as I mentioned, and but we’ll never give up that yesteryear feel. And so when people drive down the road, they’re not really sure what to expect. And then they come to this sort of vast opening, and they see the old buildings, they see the fire pit and this area we’re renaming the moonshine bar — which is a little area where people can gather. We really have become known as the place where — on a day that’s supposed to be really stressful — we’re a place where you see their stress melt away. And that’s part of us handling a lot of the details for them. We also take them through the process saying, you know, this is your day, and everybody tells you it’s stressful. However, you should enjoy it as much as everyone else that’s there. THE RANT: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you about your experience in the music industry. You were chief operating officer of an organization that managed Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, among others. What was that experience like? And how did it bring you to North Carolina? CAWLEY: I was COO for Music World Entertainment, which was a series of 33 companies owned by Matthew Knowles and the Knowles family. And so I originally started in the music industry here in

Raleigh. By way of that, we had begun acquiring management companies around the world, Elton John’s management company, Matthew Knowles’ Music World Entertainment — and I must have done a fair enough job to to build a strong relationship with Matthew, so that he had offered me a position to come down to Houston. There we had a city block, and it had the studios where Destiny’s Child, you know, started their early performances and recording. We had dance studios, we had what was like a House of Blues on the property where we would create live performances and events of all types. We would do MTV, “Sweet 16” filming — we had a reality show filming there. So it was really a city block of diverse music and experiences. And so building a brand and a venue and all that is is really kind of second nature to me. THE RANT: And one of the things that you talked about in our story about the wedding industry was that it’s not entirely accurate to say Sugarneck is a wedding venue. Sugarneck is probably more of an event venue. Is that the way you’re thinking of it? CAWLEY: I think that’s fair. I think because we do such a wide range of events like during the first weekend of June, on a Saturday, we’ve got a celebration of life for a girl whose mother passed away in December. And they’re having 100 guests come to honor their mother. We have that next day a 50th birthday celebration. We have weddings, and we have corporate events. We’ve got a new relationship, which we’ll be announcing here shortly, with a national charity. So, you know, I think that’s exactly right. We just look at ourselves as a performance venue that can host lots of different stuff. THE RANT: There are,a good number of weddings, too. I can’t say every venue that we visited gave us a number, but they were all in the 30- to 50-a-year range. And did you want to talk a little bit just about your relationships with these other venues? The other businesses that support weddings and what this all means for Sanford in the bigger picture? CAWLEY: We had mentioned it during our discussion when you guys came out that we don’t view and I don’t believe a lot of venues in Sanford view this as a competitive environment. There are beautiful venues all around us. And so we often share ideas or somebody will ask us a question. And particularly during COVID, you know,

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38 | June 2021 and I come from a deep operational legal background, I was fielding a lot of different questions about legal contracts, and how do you approach certain tough situations and rescheduling events and requests for refunds and those kinds of things. So I think we have a community in Sanford within the wedding venues that allow us to work together. And I think most importantly every place isn’t for every bride. You have that feeling when you step onto a property whether it’s ours or someone else’s. And you know, it’s kind of like when you’re looking for a home or an apartment, I think you know exactly when it feels right. And so if someone doesn’t look at our location like that, they’ll find a great location for them. And I think it’s vice versa. THE RANT: We wanted to ask you about the potential for a music scene in Sanford. We are at a time where the downtown is booming, we’ve got this music festival coming in September. Just having been in the music industry, what kind of prospects do you see for Sanford to be a place where not just bands come, but bands develop here? Do you think that there’s potential for that sort of thing in Sanford?

@therant905 walk by and discover you. Small towns are deceiving because there’s an enormous amount of talent in Sanford and they’re just waiting to be discovered. CAWLEY: The reason why I think that the future’s so bright for Sanford is because what people would look at as a small town as maybe potentially being a drawback, it’s actually so much better for navigating and getting the partnerships in place that you need to execute on a big idea. Like I was always taught, it’s as much energy and work and time to do a small idea than it is a big idea. It’s the exact same — same pressure, same focus. THE RANT: Can you tell us how people can learn more about Sugarneck? CAWLEY: I believe that talent is just basically everywhere. I mean, what you saw with the advent of The Voice and American Idol is that you see how many amazing artists there are. Before social media and before these contestant-based music shows, it was really difficult to find the talent. You typically found him in some random bar or the bars that were known for hosting new talent. So there was a scene, but it was really L.A., New York, Nashville, right?

Nowadays, it can be anywhere due to social media. I randomly get asked questions about how do I get discovered … you’ve got to look at yourself as a brand. Because if you start like that, you’ll start building your brand and taking care of your brand, step by step. And that’s how it will grow. So I tell artists, take care of your social media, play every opportunity you can. You don’t know — you could be in a subway or on the street corner, you just never know who’s gonna

CAWLEY: You can reach us at Sugarneck.com. We have the ability for you to send a message. We get back to people within a couple hours. So if you reach out to us, you could also always hit me personally at john@sugarneck.com. We’d be happy to help you. o Learn more about Sugarneck at sugarneck. com or visit their page on Facebook.

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Profile for The Rant

The Rant Monthly | June 2021  

The June 2021 edition of The Rant Monthly, a product of LPH Media LLC in Sanford, North Carolina.

The Rant Monthly | June 2021  

The June 2021 edition of The Rant Monthly, a product of LPH Media LLC in Sanford, North Carolina.

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