A dramatic revitalization has turned Glade Spring, once nearly a ghost town, into a thriving community.
"At the beginning of this process, there were two stable businesses in town and about five jobs," Mayor Lee Coburn says. "Today we have over 14 businesses and more than 40 jobs."
Gathering Momentum for Revitalization
Though revitalization had been on the town's radar since the 1980s, momentum really picked up once Coburn bought and renovated two condemned downtown buildings between 2004 and 2006. His own business, marketing agency Coburn Creative, occupies part of one of the buildings.
"The key component to getting anything like this started is that people have to see it," Coburn says.
Around the same time, Coburn and friend Dirk Moore began brainstorming how to encourage community involvement and widespread beautification. The two quickly realized a need for significant public-private cooperation. So Coburn ran for town council and eventually mayor, and Moore founded nonprofit development organization, Project Glade.
Together, the town and the community have brought Glade Spring back to life. Even the recession and a devastating 2011 tornado couldn't stop the progress.
"When the tornado came through, we were applying for a grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development," Coburn says. "They were concerned that we couldn't continue because so many people had personal matters to deal with, but I told them the community could do both, and they did."
Residents were so dedicated, in fact, that they purchased and began restoring every single downtown building before the grant application was complete. That initiative will bring Glade Spring maximum matching funds, for a total benefit to the town of about $600,000. Coburn says the money will pay for many projects, including next-stage renovations, signage and a $100,000 loan pool to help businesses hire workers. The town has also acquired historic designation for the square, which opens the door to tax credits for major projects.
Filling the Downtown District
Highlights of the revitalization include the development of Fiddlehead Junction, an old hardware store that now showcases local artisans' wares. The building also houses Salt Trail Outfitters, named for the historic walking trail that will soon terminate in the Glade Spring square.
Other downtown businesses include Surber & Son General Store, which has anchored the district since the 1980s; Whistlepig Bistro, which serves delicious Southern-influenced meals; and photographer Jonathan Bailey's One K Studios.
On the volunteer side, Project Glade acquired a condemned bank building – contractors said it was just six months from collapse – and turned it into an arts and business incubator. Residents also brought plants from their own gardens for street-side landscaping and engineered the relocation of the town's library to a previously blighted building.
"Each town in the county has a distinctive personality," Coburn says. "Glade Spring is a little more diverse, more artsy. And we all look out for and take care of each other. It's like a big family."