Businesses expect positive impact from Asheboro’s social district

ASHEBORO — The newly created social district in downtown Asheboro is being embraced by some business owners involved in providing food and beverage.

“I do think it will be a positive impact,” said Barbara Gallimore, an owner of The Flying Pig Food and Spirits on Sunset Avenue. “Economically, I think it will help businesses that were hurt during COVID.”

The City of Asheboro approved the social district in a downtown area that will be available three days per week. This will allow alcohol beverages in public spaces, something endorsed by Downtown Asheboro Inc.

“It makes for a community gathering place,” said Rebekah McGee, executive director for Downtown Asheboro Inc. “They can come and go from restaurants and bars within the district.”

It has been dubbed Zoo City Social District. It’s open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays beginning this week.

“We think for businesses this was a good decision,” McGee said. “The social districts tend to work really good downtown. This fits well in a city the size of Asheboro.”

The city council approved the formation of the social district in a 6-1 vote earlier this month.

Joel McClosky, co-owner/CEO of Four Saints Brewing Company, said he’s uncertain of what level of boost his business will receive, but he figures it’s worth a shot.

“Like any decision, it’s made with the best intentions,” McClosky said. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt my business or anyone’s business.”

Downtown Asheboro Inc. has provided the five key guidelines. They are:

* All alcohol must be purchased from a location within the district.

* All alcohol must be in approved container with logo of business and district.

* Alcohol cannot enter an ABC permitted establishment. 

* Alcohol cannot enter private property unless otherwise noted by social district logo.

* Business participation is completely voluntary as there is no fee to participate. 

Gallimore said she expects the impact to be largest when there are special events taking place in downtown. It will allow patrons more flexibility and freedom during those activities.

Gallimore said her restaurant is approaching the 13-year mark in Asheboro. She said compared to three years ago, there’s much more activity and foot traffic in the area.

McClosky said he expects the atmosphere stemming from the social district will add vibrancy to downtown. It could be a marketing advantage for Asheboro.

“We have some new industry coming to the area,” he said. “Maybe they’ll move to Asheboro instead of moving to Greensboro. We have a social district, too.”

McClosky said he has talked to business owners in a few other cities in North Carolina and there are positive reviews from those social districts. He said retail shops have tended to experience bumps in business based on additional foot traffic other than patrons entering the restaurants or bars.

McGee’s non-profit group put together a proposal, working with city staff. There were adjustments and tweaks along the way to approval.

“We were the catalyst,” McGee said. “We were happy with the compromises.”

State legislation was put in place in response to the pandemic, which had limited many establishments and their abilities to stay in operation. Those included capacity limits.

McGee said Kannapolis was the first city in the state to adopt a social district, with many other similar-sized cities following that. 

“Each city does it a bit differently,” she said.

McGee said Asheboro will begin somewhat cautiously, thus limiting it to three days. Beverages permitted in the social district will include mixed drinks.

Gallimore said she’s pleased that Asheboro is taking small steps with the social district.

“It’s a good way to kind of ease into it,” she said of the three days per week. “We don’t want to promote anything that’s detrimental to downtown.” 

There could be a nice increase for businesses in the coming weeks even as any kinks are worked out.

“The first week some people may come out for the novelty of it,” McClosky said.

Signage will go up to designate the boundaries of the social district. 

By Bob Sutton