Architects will be in Tabor City as early as next week to begin mapping out the future of the former Heilig-Meyers building downtown, now destined to become a business incubator fueled by an $800,000 US Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant announced last week.
Town Manager Al Leonard, speaking at the annual banquet of the Greater Tabor City Chamber of Commerce last week, called the proposed incubator one of the top ten list of opportunities to address the “rural dilemma” challenging most of America’s small towns.
Leonard spoke a day before the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the grant “to renovate a historic building for use as a business incubator that will support business growth in the region,” a news release said.
“We commend Tabor City on their strategy to help support local entrepreneurs,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs Dennis Alvord. “This project will strengthen the local economy by providing new and existing businesses with the tools they need to grow and thrive.”
There is no available space left in Tabor City for new business opportunities, Leonard told the Chamber audience, a good problem that can be remedied by converting the long-vacant former retail space into a business incubator, where fledgling business and industry can take root and grow.
Tabor City’s first business incubator, located in the Tabor Industrial Park, is full, Leonard said. A variety of businesses are operating in every one of the former tobacco warehouses across town, and in other available industrial space.
A business incubator downtown is part of an ongoing and renewed focus on that area of Tabor City, Leonard said last week.
Architects will be charged with assessing the buildings town government took possession of last year, Mayor Royce Harper said. A bank that had foreclosed on the property donated it to the town.
“The bank gave it to the town to keep it from code enforcement,” Harper said. “They were either going to have to fix it or tear it down.”
Industrial space and offices for the business incubator are expected to go on the first floor, Harper said. It’s possible that apartments could be constructed on the second floor, if architects and inspectors deem that feasible, the mayor said.
Inspections and assessments will be among the first steps, and should begin soon, Harper said.
Downtown Tabor City
EDA officials, in a news release, said the business incubator in Tabor City “will help the region recover from damage caused by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, which caused significant business disruption and loss in 2016 and 2018 respectively. The new incubator will support local disaster resiliency efforts by helping new businesses grow and established businesses start over or expand.
“This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Southeastern Economic Development Commission.
“EDA funds the Southeastern Economic Development Commission to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.”
Founded in 1913 in Greensboro, Heilig-Meyers went into bankruptcy in 2000, the Tabor City store one of the first 302 slated for closure at that time. Heilig-Meyers did not survive bankruptcy.
Tabor City’s store occupied four buildings on East 5th Street, opening in 1978