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To beautify vacant downtown storefronts, Weston Ewart brought nonprofits to window displays

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Weston Ewart didn’t want to see empty storefronts in downtown. So, he did something about it.

Ewart, a designer, had setup numerous window displays, including at South Main Book Co. and Caniche in downtown. He looked at the numerous covered-up storefronts and wondered how to liven up the downtown blocks. He turned to Downtown Salisbury, Inc., who invited him to bring nonprofits to the empty Empire Hotel mezzanine window display.

Now, when passersby walk down the 200 block of South Main Street, they’ll see window displays from Meals on Wheels, the YMCA and the Rowan Public Library.

Ewart, who started the project in March 2018, said the need to fill vacant window displays was long overdue. Now, when a display is put up it allows for pedestrians to stop and learn about the county’s nonprofits.

“Even if the building is not being used for a business or apartments at the time, it still lets people know that is not a vacant rundown building,” he said. “It can still be used for something else. They can envision their own business going in or their own ideas for that property. Anything is better than trash bags and cardboard.”

Cindy Fink, the Meals on Wheels executive director, and volunteer Carol McNeely set up a window display in the mezzanine of the Empire Hotel on Friday. Since setting up a display, they have gotten more inquiries about volunteering. Their setup shows a homebound senior receiving a Meals on Wheels delivery.

Fink said the display, especially being across the street from the Meroney Theater, has given the organization great visibility, something they wouldn’t have been able to afford.

“Maybe they learn more about what Meals on Wheels is,” McNeely said. “Some people have heard the name forever but they have no idea what it is. Maybe they’ll be inspired to volunteer or to donate or just help in some way.”

Next to their display is one for the YMCA, which will be transforming from fall to the holidays this week ahead of the city’s annual holiday parade.

Ester Marsh, associate executive director of the Rowan Y, said it was a no-brainer to set up a display because it came at no cost. Not only is decorating the display fun for Marsh and her co-workers, it makes downtown Salisbury look better, she said.

Ewart said decorating the window displays ends up being a fun, team-building exercise. And the decorators generally take pictures of the finished product, too, he said.

For the Rowan Public Library, the display allows the agency to get information out about all the programs it offers. The display also allowed Chelsea Childers, the children outreach program supervisor, to show her creative with their cornucopia display.

“It’s just engaging the community,” Childers said. “People walk past the library all the time, but they don’t get to see something as beautiful as that unless they come in. This is out in the open, and they see the programs, all the information is there and they come.”

Hope Loman, the library’s youth services supervisor, said the display allowed the library to put all their free programs — for children, teens and adults — in one place without having information overload.

But there are awards involved, too. On Dec. 6, the city’s Community Appearance Commission will walk around downtown to judge and award the best holiday decorations awards, taking in creativity, night displays and best representation of the business.

Jane Creech, the commission’s chairwoman, said the awards are a way to thank the merchants for putting in the effort of adding to the energy of downtown.

“We don’t take for granted the work that they do,” Creech said. “It is inviting and welcoming of the spirit of the season.”

Creech said appearance goes a long way and shows that the owner or merchant cares about their shop.

Caniche Co-owner Lesleigh Drye said Ewart decorated her store’s window last year.

“Your window is your first impression to get foot traffic in,” Drye said.

Decorating is worth the small investment to make downtown beautiful, she said.

Ewart says he is looking to bring more organizations into the downtown window display project. He is currently only working with city-owned buildings and has been starting to work with private business owners, asking if he can set up displays in their vacant buildings.

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