(EDITOR'S NOTE): This concludes a three-part series of stories examining revitalization in downtown Thomson. This week, our story will focus on comments from Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry and a local businesswoman, who is excited about her recent move to downtown and what she thinks the future will bring for much of the historic area.
Downtown Thomson is changing and in a dramatic way. Some 35 years ago, downtown was a bustling area with nearly every building occupied - not just along Main Street, but along Railroad and Greenway streets, too. When shopping centers became popular, however, it brought about changes in downtown - the kind that caused a number of longtime businesses to shut their doors.
The end result: a ghostly-looking downtown with lots of empty buildings. Through the years, many of those old buildings stayed empty. Or when new business owners tried to make a go of it, they couldn't, because a key component was missing - shoppers. Those shoppers were catering, instead, to the shopping centers that had sprung up in the area. Two big stores later had an effect - negative to downtown businesses, but advantageous to the overall economy of Thomson and McDuffie County. Those two giants included Kmart, which soon went out of business after Wal-Mart decided to come to Thomson.
Within the last two years, city officials and owners of buildings have sought to get downtown spruced up and brought back to a vibrant, friendly place to shop and to deal with hometown people.
"We're going in the right direction with our new streetscape and private investment," Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry said during a recent interview. "We're just 18 months away from having a new city/county government complex and we couldn't be any more excited about that and the fact that our downtown is coming back to life."
Mayor Usry commended local business people who have settled in downtown of late.
"It's great to see that these people have opened all kinds of businesses in our downtown," the mayor added. "We believe that once the government complex is completed that it will bring even more business people to our downtown. It's going to be advantageous for everyone involved."
Mayor Usry said he sees downtown sitting on the edge of prosperity - not just for small business people, but the city, as a whole, too.
"We're already starting to see signs that that's happening," an excited mayor pointed out. "The ground was laid for this to happen some five or six years ago. It's great to finally see it happening right before our eyes. This shows that we have community pride."
The improvements to downtown, which now offers a museum, ice cream parlor and other varied shops, "is the result of a vision that many people in our community have shared for a while, now," Mayor Usry said. "It's really going to be nice once it all comes together."
One of downtown's newest business owners is Frankie Galbreath.
She purchased an empty old building, renovated it and turned it into a money-making business on Railroad Street. The business is known as It's a Southern Thing.
"We love being downtown," Mrs. Galbreath said.