China Grove bucks the downturn

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó Small business is doing quite well in this small town.
Amidst a sea of bad economic news worldwide, China Grove is experiencing something of a boom.
There’s only one “For Rent” sign on Main Street.
A new mini-center is under construction on U.S. 29 that will include the town’s third pharmacy and a large Pizza Hut.
A large tract of land on U.S. 29 is being readied for business development, with a Mayflower seafood restaurant one of the planned occupants. Developers have also spread the word that a large, national drug store is in the works at Bostian Road and U.S. 29.
Parking spaces are harder than ever to find on Main Street.
The Dixie Coffee Shop and next-door neighbor Corner Books and More have spurred an increase in foot traffic.
The three banks ó F&M, Wachovia and Community One ó continue to serve as the anchors for the downtown business district.
Bob Fallis, vice president of F&M, served three years as president of the China Grove Board of Trade. He’s worked to promote and develop the downtown.
“The south end of the county is growing at a fair pace for the last several years,” Fallis said. “It’s a nice place to live. That leads to the demand for small business.
“The banks have done a good job of promoting the downtown,” Fallis said. He also credits a diverse business mix that includes Sidekick Karate. “Businesses like that bring traffic to downtown.”
Michael Hanzlik, the new Board of Trade president, is very optimistic about the future of the town.
“People in China Grove and Rowan County like locally owned businesses. They want to put a face with a name when they do business. They know the profits will stay local and won’t be siphoned off to a national headquarters.”
Hanzlik, financial advisor with Edward D. Jones Investments in China Grove, contends having a strong business plan is key to success.
He cited Corner Books and Dixie Coffee Shop as having very strong business plans.
Another strong area of the town’s economy, he said, is the restaurant trade.
“It’s almost recession proof. All the restaurants here offer a good value, good food for a good price.”
China Grove has nearly two dozen restaurants that draw customers from a wide area.
Finding a niche
Having local connections and a willingness to find a niche can also work well.
Arthur Heggins and his sons, Stephen Heggins and Levar Heggins, opened up Wash Me Detail on Main Street.
And they’re cleaning up a lot a cars.
Arthur Heggins admitted the business is doing a lot better than they expected. He credits a good location, a lot of traffic and word of mouth.
The business is located in the former East Coast Tire building. The tire business was a fixture for decades. A couple of other businesses operated briefly at the location before the Heggins family opened their venture.
Virtually swamped as weekends approach, Arthur Heggins said he’s hoping business will even out, with more people booking service earlier in the week. Wash Me offers several packages. It’s open six days a week.
New businesses, such as Wash Me Detail will get a boost from a new Board of Trade venture, a Web site that will allow businesses to have their own Web pages.
“It’s a good way of getting an inexpensive but effective presence,” Hanzlik said. “A web presence is obviously the wave of the future.”
Kicking up traffic
Allen Welter, a town alderman and major downtown property owner, stays a bit nervous about downtown business.
All of his properties are full at the moment, but he said recently he’s carrying one or more, letting them get by without paying rent in an effort to keep the foot traffic up.
A Canadian who moved to China Grove more than 20 years ago, he’s created minor quakes for such efforts as getting rid of the crape myrtles in town.
When the Board of Aldermen recently acted on plans for a pickup window at the new drug store on U.S. 29, Welter was shocked. He couldn’t believe the town would be getting another drug store.
Welter won’t be seeking re-election this year. Instead, he said, he plans to keep working on building business and keeping his properties full.
One of his tenants has to be a pleasant surprise.
Bam Bam’s Full Force Fighting Gym opened in September on the south end of town at 117 South Main St.
Curtis Brinkley teaches boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts jiu-jitsu.
“We’re the only (place) I know of that teaches the full MMA (mixed martial arts) style game … the only one I know of and the cheapest,” Brinkley said.
Business was down for a while but Brinkley said it’s starting to pick back up. “We got a good bunch of guys.”
More growth on way
China Grove is also getting attention from the Salisbury Rowan Economic Development Commission.
Altec Industries, a Birmingham, Ala. company that manufactures equipment for utility companies, has bought property adjacent to Hitachi and is expecting to start construction later this year.
The company plans a service center that will create 15 new jobs paying an average of $41,000 each.
Robert Van Geons, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said a state grant that will pay 75 percent of extending a sewer line to the site is on track.
And the vacant HanesBrands factory on Thom Street is drawing some interest from companies.
Van Geons said a couple of companies are looking the property and its complex of buildings for a different type of operation.