Spirit of Rowan 2023: Discover Central Avenue: Small business owners revitalize Landis strip

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

Moments lost in time can be difficult to retrieve, but an economic rebound in Landis has revived a once barren Central Avenue into a destination for shoppers and conversationalists alike.

Looking at Central Avenue today, one can envision how it used to be thanks to a series of revived storefronts and the lively shopkeepers within.

“I remember when stuff was happening up here,” said Chuck Freeze, owner of Chuck’s Trains and Hobby Depot, located at 131 Central Avenue. 

Freeze grew up in Landis and was around for the block’s heyday. 

“The post office was right here,” Freeze said. “There was a doctor’s office. The building I was in (previously) was an arcade at one point and a place where you learned macrame. Then where the hair place is, was Noah’s, a five and 10-cent store.

“The sheriff’s department was a library, and they always had something going on in there. The street had a lot of business back in the day.”

Chuck and his wife, Deanna, began their business 17 years ago in a smaller Central Avenue storefront than they are in now. They were about the only business open on Landis’ main drag for a long time.

The hobby depot had a saving grace, though, as their reputation for purveying hard-to-find items meant they did a lot of business online and catered to out-of-towners. 

With bustling activity and regular foot traffic now, the Freezes have a reason for optimism. 

“It’s coming back,” Freeze said. “I talked to an ex-alderman, and he said that in his lifetime, he didn’t think this place would ever see a come-back.”

Deanna Freeze added, “Everyone is so excited. The look on people’s faces says it all. They walk in and are like, wow, this place has really turned around. As far as the whole area, people are happy to see it come back to life because it looked dead.”

Fletcher and Gaines

Another part of the Landis rebirth has been Fletcher and Gaines Salon, located at 119 South Central Avenue. Owner Heather Mariano grew up in the area and graduated from South Rowan. 

She started her career renting a chair at salons in Concord and Kannapolis and she credits a mentor during this stage in her career for “breathing life” into her dreams of salon ownership.

In 2017, while working there, Mariano did bridal work on the side. She called that business Sweet Magnolia Beauties. The business was booming, and she and her partner realized she needed more space.

“We had a God opportunity to come to Landis and open a studio called Sweet Magnolia Beauties,” Mariano said. “I felt like I was meant to open something bigger and felt like God was putting me together with another business partner, and we opened a salon in Kannapolis called Maven (in 2020). It was great, but I felt like my heart was being pulled back to Landis.”

She was only there a year and a half before selling her partnership in the business and returning to Landis. Some colleagues she made in Kannapolis followed her.

“We needed a name,” Mariano said. 

During this period in her life, Mariano’s grandmother offered some advice.

“For arrows to be shot, they have to be pulled backward first,” her grandmother said.

Feeling reassured that she was making the right choice, Mariano searched for a new name for the studio and looked over a list of possible baby names she had considered for her children. 

“Fletcher was on top of Gaines on the list,” Mariano said. “Fletcher means maker of an arrow, and gain means to increase, exceed or win.”

A perfect fit for the name, Mariano laughed and said, “It’s named after my Grandma without being called Lerline.”

Mariano’s stylists have built expansive clientele lists, drawing out-of-towners far and wide to Landis.  

“People come in and are from Fort Mill or the other side of Charlotte,” Mariano said. “We have someone come down from Virginia. Somehow we moved to a small town and got bigger.”

She’s thrilled with the move, though, because of the hometown atmosphere that Landis provides. 

“If you have your door propped open because it’s a nice day and the weather is nice, people are going to walk in and say hey,” Mariano said. “People pop in here to say they remember when it was X, Y or Z shop. Some people say they have lived here for so many years and just want to see what’s new and going on.”

Mariano indicated that the support goes all the way to town hall.

“The mayor (Meredith Bare-Smith) will be up here leaf-blowing in the middle of the night to prepare for an event we are having for the next day,” Mariano said.  

Whether in the market for gifts (Sweetest Beginnings), party goods (The Paper Factory), model trains (Chuck’s), a haircut (Fletcher & Gaines) or just a warm cup of joe (Willowbrook Grounds), Landis has it all again. 

Landis’ latest coffee shop, Willowbrook Grounds, has provided connoisseurs with a new hangout. The space has become a popular meeting ground for friends looking to swap stories or for working professionals to get a mid-day caffeine reboot.

Before the store opened, its owner Torrie Jarrett, saw the relatively blank canvas of Central Avenue but could also envision the possibilities. 

“I keep feeling like every time I drove through Landis, I just felt like, OK, it’s going to be here,” Jarrett said. “I am going to bring life back to Landis.”

Patrons at Willowbrook are feeling the love. 

Trisha Ritchie has lived in Landis for 21 years but is originally from Rockwell.

“The whole stretch has changed, and I am so glad it has happened,” Ritchie said. “I will come and just hang.”

When we caught up with Ritchie in mid-February, she was enjoying a green matcha tea but said she intended to try everything on the menu. 

“It’s good to see this happen,” Ritchie said. “I think neighboring towns have grown. I kept thinking, when is it coming to Landis? Why do I have to go to Kannapolis or Salisbury? When this came to fruition, I thought yes. I hope it stays for the long haul.”