Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe handed his pair of oversized scissors to Thomas Goins, who cut the ribbon at the grand reopening celebration of Canteen Alley held Thursday.
The gesture was one of many ways the ceremony honored the city’s history as it stepped into the future.
In his teens, the 82-year-old Goins was an employee of the The Canteen, the restaurant owned by Archie and Margaret Barker that stood in the now revamped alleyway.
The Canteen building was constructed in the 1930s but was torn down several years ago to create a walkway access between Main Street and the municipal parking lot on Franklin Street.
Over the past year, a collaborative effort of several community organizations led to a series of renovations to the alley, which now features seating areas, landscaping, a small granite stage, and twinkle lights woven through a wooden trellis overhead.
“I think it’s lovely,” Goins said. “I think Archie and his dad would be very proud of this.”
A crowd of about 65 gathered in the heat shortly after 3 p.m. in the alley located on the northern end of Main Street.
City officials and representatives from partnering organizations spoke, most acknowledging the cooperative effort involved with making the project a reality.
“It’s with great excitement when the community comes together to improve a downtown space,” said Lizzie Morrison, coordinator of Mount Airy Downtown Inc., which along with partnering organization Mount Airy Professionals of Surry, led the revitalization.
Various city departments such as planning, public works and parks and recreation, also contributed to the project, along with architect Tom Starbuck; Chazz Elstone, a musician and sculptor, along with other local artists; North Carolina Granite Corp.; N.C. State Shelton Scholar students; and the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., whose restoration of the historic Coke mural in the alleyway sparked the further revitalization efforts.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Justin Puckett, president of Mount Airy Professionals of Surry, and city commissioners Susan Brinkley, Dean Brown and Steve Yokeley.
Brinkley said Mount Airy is proud of the groups that made the project a reality.
“You all are going to be recognized for years to come,” she said. “People are going to come here and say wow.”
Barbara McMillian and Ted Ashby dedicated the “Susan Pendleton Ashby Memorial Wall.”
“He is continuing what his mom started with all this revitalization,” McMillian said of Ted Ashby.
“She’d be proud of everybody,” Ted Ashby said.
Mayor Rowe said he thought about what it meant to be down in an alleyway.
“Back in the alley you probably did some things you didn’t want to do,” he said. “This has certainly changed the definition of that.”
Rowe delivered an award of appreciation to Elstone, whose metal sculptures were placed in the alley, and also mentioned Barker.
“I’m sure Archie would be very pleased,” he said.
The sense that the Barkers would be happy with the alley was prevalent among those in attendance.
“They would just be so proud of this today,” said Donna Hiatt, their goddaughter.
“I spent many a year on those stools,” Hiatt recalled, those memories making the revitalization project “very meaningful.”
Goins recalled that when he worked at The Canteen, “hot dogs was a dime and a hamburger was 15 cents,” he said. “Cokes was a nickel.”
Commissioner Brown said, “About 60 years ago, probably on this same day, I was sitting here in about this same spot having a hamburger and a coke. We never dreamed it would be like this.”
Shortly after the ribbon was cut, gathering musicians launched into “I’ll Fly Away,” with Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Randy Collins singing and playing guitar.
Rowe stood back, singing along, as did many who gathered to listen.
One musician yelled at the mayor to jump in.
“This cane lost its strings,” Rowe joked in reply.
As the project was conceived as a small outdoor music venue, “Probably the most exciting thing I can see is the musicians using it now,” said Morrison.
“It’s definitely one of those feel good projects where a lot of different groups were involved,” said Morrison, adding that she doubted any one single entity could have pulled off a similar accomplishment.
“We definitely had hiccups,” she said. “We were all very determined to get the project done. There was never a time when I thought it wouldn’t happen.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.