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That doesn't mean the city doesn't still have a long way to go. Says Brian Borne, the GDDC's executive director, restoring the downtown is a project that's being tackled "one building and one business at a time." Borne, who signed on with the GDDC six years ago, has a passion for bringing the model of small-town life that once flourished back to the fore, and he's put his money where his mouth is. The home he shares with his wife and son is located in the York Chester Historic District, which is adjacent to the downtown, just the other side of Franklin Boulevard.
The National Trust Main Street Program out of Washington, D.C., currently being implemented, has been successfully applied in over 1,500 downtown communities across the country and even abroad. Says Borne, "It's both incremental and comprehensive in nature. The hardest part is changing attitudes and perceptions that have been around for 30 years. The downtown didn't decline overnight. It didn't just all of a sudden curl up and die. It took years. It was a slow process. The revitalization and rebirth is going to take the same gradual effort. A lot of the work is laying good foundation, you're looking at changing ordinances, changing codes, tweaking uses. You're doing a lot of things that aren't visible to get developing incentives. You're having events that get people to come downtown and experience it in a fun, safe environment."
For further proof that Gastonia has lots to offer, read on for a compendium, by no means complete, of some of G-Town's hippest locales and most notable citizens. (If you have any more suggestions, meet me at the IHOP on Cox, for a cup of coffee, and we can talk.)
Gas Town Online: Anthony Michaels, CharlotteGastonia.com
Whether they know it or not, almost everyone in Charlotte is familiar with Anthony Michaels. Serving as on-air foil and producer for Cooper Lawrence and Pam Stone on WLNK (107.9), Michaels has voiced countless radio and TV commercials, both locally and nationally. Michaels is also the brain behind CharlotteGastonia.com, a Web site purposed with building the bridge between Charlotte and Gastonia through business.
CharlotteGastonia.com was launched in 2005 and has grown from a small site to what Michaels describes as "a major one," featuring up-to-date traffic, weather, and news for both Charlotte and Gastonia. Michaels says the site currently receives around 150,000 hits a month, from all over the world. Michaels also owns BelmontMountHolly.com, an extension of CharlotteGastonia.com that focuses on Belmont and Mount Holly, GastoniaNews.com, providing updated local and national news and weather every minute, and Gastonia.name, a complete business directory to local business in the Gastonia area on the Net.
Michaels says that the only drawback he foresees to progress for the area are the people who fear change. "They want Gastonia to stay the same as it's always been. They're afraid of growth," he says, "but with 485 so close now, it's going to be hard to stop that growth. What I'm trying to do with CharlotteGastonia.com and my other sites is to give business in Gastonia an outlet that everyone can see, and to show the world that Gaston County is a great place to live, raise a family, and shop." (All of which, Michaels does.)
Renaissance Redneck: Elmo
This gifted artist (no relation to "that stupid Muppet") hails from Iron Station, N.C., which she describes as a "town in the middle of nowhere with maybe one traffic light." Even as a young girl, Elmo says that she felt like a stranger in a strange land. With few friends, she submersed herself in art and fantasy. Elmo took up art classes in the sixth grade and says she has yet to sate her appetite for all things creative. Her figurative paintings and collage work, which she describes as fantasy/surrealist, are perennial faves at Charlotte's Purgatory affair. She also counts among her clientele Ann Rice and the rock and roll band L.A. Guns.
Elmo has a degree in graphic design and fine arts from the Art Institute in Charlotte, but it took a mid-life crisis to launch her on her current career path. "I had a corporate job," she laughs. "Suits and pantyhose." But after a dire medical forecast (fortunately a misdiagnosis), she simply walked away. "I thought, 'I'm going to die. I'm not going back to work,'" she says. "I called the company and said, 'Clean my desk out, mail me my check.'" At the time, Elmo's best friend was a tattoo artist, who taught her the trade. "I would never go back to a 'real job,'" she says.
In addition to a full-time job tattooing (for Ink Link on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte), Elmo is working on a series of vampire books and is also a stand-up comedian. "I auditioned for Funniest Mom in America, but had a hard time staying PG-13," she admits. "I don't curse a lot, but in my act, I'm a 'bad tattoo bitch.' I'm clean, but I skirt the edge. It's probably too raw for Nickelodeon."