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Eclectic businesses making Jamestown a destination

by Robert Lopez

Emily Wagoner takes a seat on the patio outside Potent Potables, glass of wine in hand, and looks out over Jamestown’s Main Street.

She sees plenty that wasn’t there when she was growing up. Across the street is The Deck at River Twist, a live music venue. To the left is Southern Roots, a gourmet restaurant. New shops are all around.

Even Potent Potables, a craft beer and wine shop, is a fairly recent arrival, as are the food trucks that regularly set up shop outside. Tonight Baconessense, from Alamance County, is peddling dogs, wraps and sandwiches.

“I feel like I’m at the beach, the mountains, like you can be at a little resort area right here in your hometown,” Wagoner, 32, said. “You have all these places you can walk to, all the entertainment. It’s really built up. Just driving through the main road, on a Friday, Saturday, or even during the week, you’ll see a lot of people looking for a good night out.”

Nestled in between Greensboro and High Point in southwestern Guilford County, Jamestown has emerged as an unlikely hot spot.

A compact, walkable downtown, some eclectic businesses and proximity to Interstate 74 and Business 85 have combined to make the town of 3,600 something of a destination.

“You still have that small town feel,” Wagoner, who works as a medical assistant, said. “But within the last five years, it’s built up, gotten a nightlife. I’ve been to Pilot Mountain, and had people asking about Jamestown, asking about The Deck. We’re becoming pretty well-known.”

Lydia, Quakers and new businesses

Visitors entering Jamestown on Main Street will pass under a graffiti covered railroad bridge.

Lydia’s Ghost is said to reside in a tunnel nearby. On some nights she can supposedly be seen trying to flag down a ride.

According to lore, when the driver arrives at the address Lydia provided, her mother answers the door and says she died in a car accident. And Lydia is nowhere to be seen.

During the day, visitors on the approaches into town are more likely to see rolling farmland, maybe an occasional remnant of the industrial age.

Measuring three square miles, the town today stretches roughly from GTCC on the east to High Point City Lake on the west.

The area was settled in 1752 by Quakers and named after James Mendenhall, whose family owned much of the property that was to become the town. A small bit of the family’s plantation remains on West Main Street and is open for tours.

The Oakdale Cotton Mill served as the town’s main employer in the years after the Civil War and up through much of the 20th Century.

The mill closed in 2009, but some industry remains, mostly notably Highland Containers, whose brick smokestack continues to loom over downtown.

Keith Volz, who has served as Jamestown mayor since 2007, moved to the town for work in 1983 from Pennsylvania.

“In a lot of ways it was basically like it is today,” he said. “It was very quaint. It wasn’t very big. But frankly, it can’t get very big, because we’re being squeezed by Greensboro on one side and High Point on the other.”

The town, Volz said, started becoming something of a draw when Southern Roots moved from High Point into a storefront downtown in 2009.

The restaurant, noted for its southern dishes made with local ingredients, had been a big draw during the furniture market.

“In the late ’90s, early 2000s, there were a lot of people wringing their hands over the vacant buildings, thinking that we had a ghost town,” he said. “But when Southern Roots came to town, it was followed on the heels by a couple of other places.”

Even today, though, the town’s business district stretches only a few blocks. One Many establishments in town have their own small lots, but most parking is on the street, and on weekends those spaces can fill up quickly.

“We’re an older town that just doesn’t have the available property to put in parking, or the type of money large cities have to build large lots or parking garages,” Volz said. “We have to make do with what we have.

“But walking, it’s a good way to take in the ambience.”

Never a follower

Many evenings, Wade Gabel will walk around The Deck and ask people where they’re from.

“A lot of folks will say Asheboro, Burlington, Winston,” he said. “There used to be a mentality of ‘Why would I drive all the way to Jamestown to do something.’ But once people come, they realize how much is going on. And headcount-wise, we might have a couple hundred on the weekend, depends on the band, depends on the weather.”

Gabel, 52, grew up in Jamestown. “A lot smaller, a lot quieter” is what he remembers. A hardware, a pharmacy, a drycleaner, a Bi-Rite grocery and not much else lined Main Street in those days.

After spending most of his career in corporate sales, he said, he saw an opportunity in what had been a gift and garden shop, and four years ago opened The Deck.

“I wanted to take a chance,” he said. “So I opened a bar. I never worked in a bar. I’ve frequented one or two. But, I just wanted to do something different in my home community, and I’ve always been a huge music fan. I’ve never been comfortable being a follower.”

The Deck features live music every Friday and Saturday, and the occasional Thursday and Sunday. It also hosts an open-mic on Wednesdays.

With its potted plants, fountains and cement statuary, the place still does somewhat resemble a garden shop from the outside. The inside is decorated with throw rugs, couches and chairs. A bar area, with garage-style doors opening to the outside is carpeted with artificial turf.

In the back is the stage, which he upgraded last year. Jaxon Jill, Narrow Gauge and Exit 180 are among the acts that have performed there recently.

Gabel has also started an event on the first Thursday of each month, featuring live music and “giving folks an opportunity to network.”

“We’ll have small businesses coming in here setting up booths to get word out about what they’re doing,” he said. “We have Foothills on board to do a tap takeover. It’ll be similar to a trade show. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of professionals and local people.”

He plans to host the event over the next five months, and “if we have success with that, we’ll maybe do something in the cooler months.”

“We’re always trying to add something,” he said. “You’ve got to keep re-inventing yourself. You can’t get complacent. You get comfortable, you go under.”

A lot of the touches you find in the city

A waiter sets down a big plate of shrimp and grits, the color of butter and adorned with ham, mushrooms and diced tomatoes.

On a Tuesday evening, Southern Roots is packed with diners indulging in fried green tomatoes with caramelized onions, lemon rosemary pound cake with fresh whipped cream, okra fries and other rich regional specialties.

Lisa Hawley opened the restaurant 14 years ago in High Point, where it operated out of the J.H. Adams Inn.

In 2008, her lease ran out at the inn, and she went shopping for a new space.

“There wasn’t anything in that spot in Jamestown,” she said. “I decided to make a move and it was the best move I ever made. I feel like I’m right in the middle of a lot of places. It’s easy for people to get to me. I’m five miles from High Point, less than that from Greensboro.”

Steve Kim, who opened Potent Potables with his wife Abby in 2012, said he had originally thought about opening his shop in Greensboro, but he too liked Jamestown’s central location.

“I live in High Point and always did business here,” said Kim, who used to run a cell phone store. “It’s a small community, but it’s near (I-85), it’s a good middle ground. So we decided to take a chance and found a building that we just fell in love with.”

The shop is in the former Sadie May’s Ristorante. A sign for the Italian eatery is preserved on the back wall.

Shelves are stocked with 700 different beers and 200 types of wine. The shop also has a bar with several brews on tap and a machine that dispenses vino. An old video game console sits in one corner, and on a typical night a few families can be seen playing some of the many board games Kim keeps on hand.

“It provides a different option, if people want to bring their kids in and relax,” Kim said. “So it’s beyond just being beer and wine.”

Food trucks park outside five or six nights a week, and in late April the store hosted a food truck festival that attracted about a dozen mobile eateries and benefited the autism society of North Carolina.

Such happenings, residents say, have given the town a bit of an urban vibe, attracting those who still want to “hold on to a little bit of the city.”

“It’s a nice place to live if you’re a young family,” said Chris Sandman, 31, who moved to Jamestown last year with his wife Aden Hailemariam and recently had a baby boy named Yonas.

“We used to live down by UNCG and go out a lot. We’ve calmed down a little bit. But it’s still nice to have a local bar and a little bit of entertainment. It’s a suburb, but with a lot of the touches you find in the city.” !

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