As many of you know by reading this blog and Facebook page, I am opening a candy store in York, SC. I was trying to open it in May and then June, but had too many renovations and challenges which are finally being tackled. Praying that the soft opening will occur the second week in July and have the Grand Opening (including ribbon cutting ceremony) a week or two later. I will be relocating to York, SC middle of July. York is going to officially be my home, my business, and my community in July.
Over the past few months of spending pretty much every day in York, it is feeling like home and not just home, but home as in reminding me of my roots back in Pennsylvania where I grew up and various places I lived. The small town feeling you cannot get just anywhere. The friendliness that is extended to all who visit not just to those who live there. The southern hospitality is alive and well in this great historical town and I am glad to become a part of it.
I grew up on an eight-acre farm outside of three small towns, Darlington, New Galilee, and Enon Valley which are located about 50 miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was not a working farm where we produced products for sale to stores like you might think of when you hear someone grew up on a farm. On our farm, we raised our own beef and grew our own fruits and vegetables that fed our family and relatives. Besides the cows on the farm we also had horses, ducks, chickens, rabbits, barn cats, and a dog. While I have some bad memories from things that occurred inside the house, I loved that we lived on a farm. My love of animals came from my childhood. I spent a lot of time with all of the animals and yes, I talked to them and I know they understood everything I said. When I got big enough to reach the gas pedal of the tractor, my chore was to cut the grass on the farm. That was one of my favorite things spending hours on the tractor listening to music and dreaming of the future.
There was a lot of land, woods, creeks, and dirt roads in our part of town. To get to our house you turned up a dirt road that later was a gravel road. In the summer (sometimes in the fall) we would have bon fires just to roast marshmallows. We had a lot of picnics sometimes planned sometimes spontaneous. In the evenings, you could sit outside or on the porch and just stare at the stars in the sky.
The three small towns were very quaint, businesses were family owned and supported by the communities. When you drove from my house to either of the towns you passed hay fields, corn fields, soy fields, several creeks, and we even had a wooden bridge. Everybody knew everyone and if they didn’t know you, they knew someone in your family. That is where you made your first friends in your life. In the small towns, back in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s you didn’t worry so much about burglaries. I know there were nights we went to sleep and forgot to lock the doors. I remember my mom telling me when they moved out there (when she was pregnant with me) that she didn’t lock the doors. You really didn’t have to worry about someone breaking into your vehicle or house in the small towns. It did happen occasionally, but it was not a common occurrence, and usually the police or someone in the community knew who did it. Again, it was a small town so you couldn’t get away with much without someone knowing something.
That was my living environment for my first 18 years. Then I went off to college, came home for two summers, then got an apartment with my ex and stayed near the college. The two places I lived in the next eight years of my life were nowhere near a small-town atmosphere. They weren’t big city either, but they were not the friendly and safe areas that I was used to growing up.
In 1998 my ex and I decided to buy a home. We looked at several places but Zelienople, Pennsylvania won us over at that time. It is located 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It reminded me of a small-town. They did have a small airport that small planes that flew signage and helicopters ran out of, it was cool watching them from our porch. The town itself had old buildings that were refurbished and a lot of history. The shops were family owned. There were a couple bigger businesses than those on Main Street, but those businesses were also family owned. I worked at one of the companies that was started in 1934 and is still in the same family. If it wasn’t for the divorce and starting my life over, I would probably still be living there.
After my divorce, I moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania which is located about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and 110 miles South East of Cleveland, Ohio. While it seems like a small town, it wasn’t really. They have a college right there in town. Not far from town is the Outlet Mall which gets busloads of people from Ohio and Canada on the weekends. The company I worked for in the area had a lot of employees in the area. It just did not feel small town like Zelienople did. I was looking for that feeling I had when I was growing up.
Fast forward to December 2014 as I embark on a journey that led me away from the Pittsburgh area and into a big city like Charlotte, North Carolina. While I am grateful for the time I have spent in Charlotte and in no way, would I change that, it is still a big city and so not me. I have enjoyed my two and a half years living in the apartment, the talks with the neighbors, and the experiences. But I am in the process of embarking on my greatest journey of all that started in March and has me feeling like I finally found my forever home.
York, South Carolina is a beautiful county and the City of York is a fantastic place to set up roots. In March this year, I was looking for a place to open a candy store. My friend, Ashlee Bryant said “hey you need to come down and check out York.” I had looked at some places in Charlotte, but they were either too expensive or did not feel right. So, several weekends I spent one or two days with Ashlee walking around historic downtown York and her driving me around the York area to see what it was like. I have to admit that I immediately took a liking to the area. Before people knew I was going to open a store and move to the historic downtown district they were very sweet and friendly towards me.
There is a lot of history to be discovered in the city. It is the White Rose City (Lancaster is the Red Rose City – the history goes back to war of the roses over the control of the throne of England). The building where I am opening my candy store used to be the Moore House and Store constructed around the 1850s. The Historical Society and Board of Architectural Review (BAR) strive to preserve the historic look and feel of the downtown area while still realizing the necessity of preparing for the future.
I had to go in front of the BAR earlier this month to get approval on things I wanted to do for the store that affected the cosmetics of the outside of the building. The three things I asked to do were approved. My colors for the store are pink and yellow. So very bold and bright. The three things I asked permission for were to replace the existing doors, paint the outside of the new doors the same yellow I am using on the inside, and to paint my logo on the windows which are pink and yellow. I was going to replace the double doors that are existing with one door, but that would have taken away from the original look of the front of the building. So, my permission to do that was based on the replacing with double doors. Luckily, I have a contractor who worked very hard to get similar doors and he is intending to use as much of the existing hardware that he can to keep the look.
This past week there were two events for business owners and residents of the city of York that got me excited to be a part of this town and its growth. The first one had a speaker, Jason Broadwater, talking about the future economic development of York. The other event was an after-hours function to show off the new Visitor’s Center located in the Chamber of Commerce building. I personally learned a lot from the presentation and talking to people at the after-hours event. Both of these functions got me thinking about a few things as we try to grow York.
The first one is communication being the key to growing the downtown York area. Those who are on committees to make the changes and improvements to reshape both the economics and appearances in downtown York need to work with the businesses and residents. The committees involved need to have a good Change Manager on their teams to help bridge any disconnect between committees and business owners/residents that may come up. Trust me, with my experience in the corporate world of managing change, disconnect will occur. I could hear a little disconnect or doubt in people at the presentation, but I think a good change manager and communication will fix it.
The second is preserving the historic base of York while still keeping up with technology and growth. Let’s take my shop for example. I want customers to come into my candy store, feel welcomed, feel happy, sit and talk to each other or me and my employees, and still connect to the internet. I will be offering free wifi in my store because in this day and age, you need to make sure that people can connect to each other and they do it via the cell phones or tablets. I also look at it as free publicity, they can come in my store, get on the wifi, and use the “check in” function on Facebook to let people know about the store. Or use Twitter or Instagram to post pictures or information about things they found in the store that are cool. Since they are on wifi they are not using their data. This is where the Historical Society and BAR will have to figure out how to allow certain things in the downtown area technology wise without it affecting the long rich history of the town. It will not be easy, but compromise will go a very long way.
The third is know your goal for the city and this downtown area. My thought, and again this is just me. If you want to improve anything you need to have a clear goal, a plan to achieve it, backup plans (because you will need to rely on plan B, C, D, etc at some point during the process), budget, and everyone (business owners and residents) on board. The goal does not have to be one thing. Ultimately the goal is improving the economic future while preserving history. But think of other goals that the city wants to achieve such as making the City of York (and the county of York) a destination for vacationers or businesses.
Things I notice as I drive to York every day from my apartment in South Charlotte. You can easily get to York. If you are traveling on I-77 or I-85 York is not far from either major highway. You just take RT 161 and it will lead you into the historical district of downtown York. North Congress Street in York where the shop is located is also RT 49. The drive is beautiful. It really does remind me of my youth and the small towns with the fields, woods and even some roads where two vehicles have a tough time passing each other. There are farms and businesses. Southern hospitality still exists.
When I get to my shop and walk around the downtown area or go to events/functions the business owners and residents are very welcoming to a newcomer in the area. Not only am I not from this area, I’m a northerner. I may have lived in Charlotte for two and a half years, but I’m still a northerner. Yet I’m treated as though I’m one of them and welcomed into the neighborhood and into my friend’s family. There are so many great shops and restaurants in this downtown area. They are hidden treasures that I want to see found. I want to see York become a destination.
To those reading this, if you have not given York, South Carolina a look or thought, I encourage you to make it a stop on your next vacation or business trip. You can come see me at 13 North Congress Street and visit the other shops and restaurants. I guarantee that when you visit us once you will be back. This town hooked me after my first visit and I haven’t looked back. I hope it will do the same for you.
As you read this, you are probably thinking that things are going fantastic for me. While things seem to be going well, I am still experiencing a few lemons in life, but somehow, they don’t seem as bad because I have a place to call home (York) and friends. Literally I will be living in a temporary home for a month or two until my permanent home is available (which I’m praying is only a month or two). I should be worried about things not working out as planned, but I’m not. My friends help me see perspective even when I have days where I treat them bad (again I had a lemony weekend and took it out on friends).
Life is about taking the lemons, drinking the lemonade (or drinking the tequila) then moving on to tackle another day. It’s not always easy, heck life is not easy, if it was easy it would be boring. I get depressed when things go wrong, I’m not perfect (even though I try to do things perfectly), I hurt people, I try to make amends, I struggle with life at times, I get lonely and there are days where I feel alone. However, I reflect a lot on the past to see where I was and how the heck I got to where I am. When I do that I realize that I am stronger than I think I am (mentally and sometime physically), life is too short (I don’t know how many times I can escape death), I am smarter than I think or others have thought of me (I don’t have a high IQ, but I have common sense and analytical thoughts), and people do like me (I would have never imagined having this many people in my life who love and support me – no matter what).
If you are reflecting on the lemons in your life remember a few things. You are alive (stay that way), you are cared about (yes, I do care about my readers and non-readers), you are beautiful/handsome (don’t listen to haters), and you can do anything you put your mind to (don’t give up).
Live the life you were meant to live, be the person you were created to be, love everyone without prejudice, love yourself, and know you are loved.