Merchants look to revitalize Boykins

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 26, 2007

BOYKINS—The plan has been in the works for some time.

Restoring Main Street in Boykins has been a pipe dream of a few for many years.

Some buildings have been vacant. Some are falling in on themselves. And while owners seemed interested in doing something — the turnout has been strong for meetings to discuss the idea — few were neither interested nor motivated enough to actually put hammer to nail, or brush to paint and paint to wall.

There was a sense that something needed to be done, according to Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards. Still, the impetus wasn’t there.

Then, according to Mayor Edwards, two newcomers to town rolled up their sleeves and started grabbing the idea by the scruff of its neck and taking action.

&uot;You’ve got to have somebody to head&uot; such a project, Edwards said.

Those two recent transplants, Mike McManus and Tina Botdorf, have emerged as point people for making a change in the town that was founded in 1884 and is home to about 650 residents.

Other small towns, McManus believed, rejuvenated by remodeling older buildings into niche shops, or specialty shops, have been revived.

It’s being called the &uot;Main Street Initiative,&uot; based on the theory of &uot;curbshifting.&uot; That’s defined as &uot;niche marketing or destination marketing.&uot; It is meant to create &uot;a retail destination people are attracted to and will travel to from outlying areas consisting of a group of businesses that feed each other customers and do not compete with big box stores.&uot;

The theory seems to fit well with Main Street Boykins, where some older buildings are in need of an infusion.

Two years ago, Edwards tried to generate momentum by calling downtown businesses &uot;sick&uot; and in need of care. The newsletter carried an illustration of a tombstone marking the death of downtown, with the inscription: &uot;I told you I was sick.&uot;

Then along came McManus with a plan and plenty of his own construction tools.

According to a newsletter published by Mayor Edwards, The &uot;Main Street Initiative … is a group of business owners and property owners who own buildings on Main Street and other streets within our town….

&uot;The objective of this group is to promote new and existing business and to help beautify the downtown area.

&uot;Mike McManus originally thought of the idea and came to a town council meeting last year to discuss it with the town council. Since that time, Tina Botdorf had joined forces with Mike in promoting this group.&uot;

Potential members met last week at the fire hall and 34 business owners or concerned citizens attended. Also in attendance was the human resources manager of Narricot Industries located just outside the town limits. It employs more than 300.

&uot;If Mike hadn’t come along,&uot; Edwards said this week, &uot;we’d still be floundering like we were back then.&uot;

Another meeting is planned next week, followed by electing officers and filing for non-profit status, among other strategies. Eventually, the group hopes to be able to apply for grants or low-interest loans to make the project happen.

The long-term plan is to work with Realtors, organize fund-raising festivals, and start working to revitalize downtown.

McManus, particularly, is taking an active role. He is a 42-year-old retired Navy lithographer. After the Navy, Mike and Debbie McManus found themselves in Virginia Beach. As it sprawled, it made the couple look to the west for more room and a chance to play a greater role in their community. They found Boykins to be a town they thought they could enjoy.

Born and raised in a small town in Massachusetts, McManus longed for the small-town feel he had in his blood.

But the age of the town and the apathy of the younger residents moving in allowed the town to disintegrate.

&uot;I didn’t think I could go back there.&uot;

But the beach wasn’t the answer, either.

&uot;In Virginia Beach, no matter how hard we worked, we were just another number there,&uot; Mike said. &uot;We thought we could make a difference in a small town.&uot;

The couple bought a damaged and neglected house on Virginia Avenue — not far from the town office. The house was heavily damaged by fire and left vacant for four years before McManus went to work and renovated it, returning it to the jewel of the neighborhood that it had been.

But he had his eyes on bigger projects.

He looked into buying property on Main Street. The Super Market was, at the time, a three-sided shell of a red brick structure, with a collapsed roof having fallen into the middle. It was also a building owned by someone choking in back taxes.

With Edwards leading the way, the so-called Wayne Rock building was cleared of debts by the town and then the county. McManus started rebuilding a year ago, on Nov. 22, 2006. His plans are to open a gourmet coffee and high-end ice cream shop downstairs, and a bookstore upstairs. A May opening is his timetable.

His secondary plan is to keep people who pass through town in town, to make it attractive to others wanting to move from the Tidewater area to a small town that has some amenities and to motivate those who live in Boykins to get even more involved.

It is McManus who is restoring the 4,800-square-foot Super Market on the east side of Route 35. The exterior work is complete enough to allow him to work on the interior as colder weather approaches. Inside, the framing is nearly complete. Outside, the building is enclosed and secured, and an awning is up over Main Street, as are the signs for &uot;Boykins Beans & Ice Cream.&uot;

Much of the work is being done by himself, and his $37,000 budget comes from his own pocket. That includes the purchase price and the expense of getting the building ready. Equipment to make coffee and ice cream is not included in that $37,000 goal.

So why do it? McManus said he’s got the feel of a small town in his blood, and a sense of duty to make a change.

&uot;You can sit around and do something,&uot; he said last week, &uot;or at least try something.&uot;