Downtown Fayetteville exposure: Grassroots coalition effort comes together for Chinese New Year
By Michael Futch Staff writer
Posted Jan 28, 2017 at 12:01 AM
The Fayetteville Pie Company cooked up a special baked dish with the downtown Chinese New Year celebration clearly in mind.
“We created a pie just for today - General Oh Tso Good, a Chinese Pienese,” owner Leslie Pearson said with a little laugh.
Most Saturdays, her business is closed.
Not Saturday, though.
The Fayetteville Pie Company was open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to take part in the special event along with 27 other small businesses that mostly operate in the downtown district.
Two hours and 20 minutes into their business day, Pearson reported sales of about 50 General Oh Tso Good pies, a play on General Tso’s chicken, one of America’s most popular Chinese takeout dishes. The 34 seats for dining inside this West Rowan Street restaurant were nearly filled just before 1:30 p.m., as patrons took advantage of the extra day open.
“Any time you can celebrate with pie is a good day,” pitched the blue-eyed Pearson, “including Chinese New Year.”
The idea for the event, she said, originated with Josh Choi, the owner of the Winterbloom Tea shop on Hay Street.
She said he contacted her and asked if she wanted to partner with him in this grassroots commercial coalition.
“I’m game to try anything,” Pearson said from a booth. “For us, it was important to do it in conjunction with other businesses. The enthusiasm that Josh brought as a new business owner - I just wanted to be part of any effort to bring more business downtown.”
In conjunction with the festival, participating businesses handed out red envelopes sealed with coupons.
It’s all about boosting the level of exposure.
The 31-year-old Choi, who opened Winterbloom Tea on Oct. 15, calls the Chinese New Year celebration “the first brainchild of the year for a new reinvigoration down here. We’re hoping to get a new push on it. We’re hoping to get more new ideas going.”
With the support of the cluster of stores and restaurants that took part, Choi is eager to bring more people, more potential shoppers, to the city’s downtown.
He considers downtown Fayetteville “the heart of the matter,” and he said he wants to get the word out that it’s the place to be.
“We didn’t get any city funding with this event. We had a small budget,” said Choi, who has lived in Fayetteville for two decades. “We’re trying to show the community that there is vested interest, that we do care about the community, and we’re trying to make it a better place. Once we get more people down here, we’ll show them.”
Choi noted the downtown activities already on the annual calendar, including the pair of Dogwood Festivals, the International Folk Festival, the Zombie Walk and A Dickens Holiday. The Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County stages Fourth Friday in the downtown district and, on Jan. 12, a coalition of studios and businesses held the Downtown Fayetteville Art Walkabout.
“There are those events that are staples down here,” he said. “We’re trying to make more events down here to put Fayetteville on the map, or give the community more things to do and put pride in our city. There are ulterior motives, of course. We want to be financially stable. But it’s more than that.”
Chinese New Year is celebrated in many parts of the world that have sizable populations of Chinese immigrants, and other Asian cultures have similar celebrations. The festival lasts about 15 days - this year from Saturday through Feb. 15 - and the hope for a prosperous New Year is a constant. It wraps up with a Lantern Festival on the final night.
Early Saturday afternoon, pockets of people shuffled along the sidewalks in the business district off Hay and the side streets, emerging from the chilly squares of late January shade and into the crisp, warm sunlight of the day.
Katrina Patterson had come with her husband and their 3-year-old son, Tre. The couple has made Fayetteville their home for five years, and late last year discovered the selection of teas in Choi’s shop. Their love of tea - and Winterbloom offers a variety of flavors - keeps bringing them back to downtown.
Earlier, they had stopped at several other participating shops in the celebration and at the City Market at the Museum before securing squatter’s rights in a seating area at the front of Winterbloom Tea.
“We’ve been coming, and it’s good to try something new every time,” Patterson said.
Tracy and Latasha Dudley, too, have evolved into downtown regulars. They make it to this part of the city about every weekend.
On this day, they had just finished eating lunch at the Blue Moon Cafe.
“It’s just the relaxed setting,” said Tracy Dudley, a 29-year-old dump truck driver. “There are friendly people here.”
“I like the historic setting,” said his wife, 31, a banker for Wells Fargo.
Should Choi’s populist marketing plans take hold, the small businesses that depend on downtown foot traffic hope to see a larger influx of people like the Dudleys.
McKena Aubrey, 20, called Saturday’s celebration a concerted effort “to revamp downtown.” Her mother, Stevie Aubrey, owns the Olde Towne Apothecary on Hay Street.
McKena Aubrey reported that it had proven successful, with sales after only 95 minutes matching what the store would normally do on an average Saturday. The store, she said, had also passed out about 80 of the celebration coupons.
“This has definitely helped. A lot of foot traffic all around,” she said from behind the counter. “I’m hoping the businesses can come together downtown. This is definitely an effort. It seems like a good way to bring the community together.”
Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3529.