State of the downtown

Don Lively

Don Lively

Waynesboro’s Downtown Development Director, Don Lively, recently celebrated ten years in that position. During his tenure the downtown has seen much growth with many new businesses opening up. Recently, The True Citizen sat down with Lively to discuss the “state of the downtown”.

Citizen: Things seem to be going very well downtown. How does it look from your perspective?

Lively: I am very pleased with our growth and with the caliber of businesses that we’ve been able to attract. Even during the two years of Covid, new businesses continued to open and all of them seem to be doing very well in spite of enduring the pandemic. Most of the shop owners, the minute the shutdowns began two years ago, began to put more emphasis on online and internet sales and that has worked very well. I’ve learned that, given the choice, Waynesboro and Burke County folks love supporting local businesses and shopping and dining at home, and that support has been nothing short of amazing in recent years.

Citizen: What kind of changes have you seen in your ten years as Downtown Director?

Lively: When I first took the position there were basically six viable retail shops downtown and a couple of those were more part-time than full. There were two restaurants on the main drags. As of this week, with a new shop opening up a week or so ago, there are now eighteen locally owned retail shops and a total of seven eateries in the downtown, with at least two more shops on the way. Of course, like any business district, we’ve had a couple of shops that opened and were not able to make it, but for the most part, the growth has been very healthy.

Citizen: That’s pretty phenomenal growth. What do you attribute it to?

Lively: Well, as you know, many small downtowns around the South have been badly hurt over the years by large corporate stores moving in. Waynesboro was no exception to that. But, unlike many nearby towns, we have been able to make a real comeback over the last decade. We have an active Chamber of Commerce. We have our Downtown Organization of Retailers (D.O.O.R.) that is also very active. And my organization, the Downtown Development Authority has, during my tenure, been blessed with many forward-thinking board members who have the best interests of the downtown at heart.

Citizen: Okay, I’m going to give you another chance. Blow your own horn.

Lively: Well, honestly, a lot of it has been good timing. But, if there’s any one thing, I’ve done it’s to try, and I think I’ve succeeded, to meld downtown development with historic preservation. As I understand it, in the years before I got here the two functions seemed to work against each other, at least that’s what I’ve been told. Every building in the downtown business district is also in the historic district so one of the first things I talked to Jerry Coalson (City Manager at that time) about was that I believed that there were plenty of ways to meld the two together to work for the common good. I think we’ve done that. Also, I’ve pushed to get some of the buildings that have been neglected renovated and there’s been some success with that, and there’s more coming. I’ve completed a draft of a blight ordinance that addresses how to compel owners of dilapidated buildings to either sell or renovate the buildings. Allowing them to sit and rot will no longer be acceptable. I’m an encourager by nature so every time that I’m approached by someone wanting to open a shop or restaurant in the downtown, I spend as much time as I am able talking to them about their business plan, asking pertinent questions and making them feel welcome and giving advice if it’s appropriate. It seems to have worked.

Citizen: You also seem to have become quite an event planner with the Christmas Parade and the fireworks show.

Lively: Well, some of that came about because I don’t know how to tell anybody “no”. People don’t know this but other than downtown open houses and fundraisers, the other events don’t fall within my job description. But when the groups that ran those events in the past came to me, I took them on because even though they’re not specifically downtown events, I kind of consider the whole town mine. What’s good for Waynesboro is also good for the downtown.

Citizen: And you still find time to be Boss Hog.

Lively: Yes. I guess I will until Nan and Lindsey say I can quit. (Said with a wink.)

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