Resilience, Spirit, and Community Support—Redemptive stories of 2020 from across Gaston County
In April, Kyle and Shawna Moore held an art supply drive at their temporarily closed, Dallas tattoo shop, handing out markers and paint sets so kids—suddenly learning from home—could continue to create.
In October, the Moores set up a drive-through trick-or-treat station in front of their shop, providing a creative solution to safely keep the spirit of the Holiday alive in a time of pandemic.
Now, the husband and wife team’s tattoo business, S’more Ink, is growing. They’ll soon open a second location in Lincolnton, making space for more jobs and more opportunity.
In short, the Moores set an example of resiliency, creativity, and caring through the most challenging time we’ve experienced in generations.
The Moores are not alone. Throughout Gaston County, students, business owners, and community leaders rallied to provide help where it was needed and set the stage for an incredibly prosperous new year.
As our view of 2020 shifts from foresight to hindsight, we’re taking a beat to remember just a few of the moments that remind us why Gaston County is such an amazing place to live, work, and play.
Unmatched Community Support
You can tell a lot about a community by the way it reacts in a time of need. Gaston County residents showed up this year in ways no one would have imagined. For all the other reasons to live and work here, community is the best of them all.
Muddy River Distillery donated hand sanitizer to frontline workers
The same distillery equipment that turns out tasty rum is also good for making hand sanitizer. So when the germ-killing commodity became scarce in the early days of Covid response, Muddy River Distillery leapt into action, creating and donating 300 gallons of hand sanitizer to first responders, health care workers, and local non-profits.
Husband/Wife Media Team created SupportGaston website
Things moved quickly in the early days of Covid response and small businesses had to pivot quickly to stay afloat. Getting the word out about changing store hours and offerings was tough but critical.
As experts in communication, Heather and Walter Burks of GarlandBurks Marketing saw the need and knew how to help. They created the temporary SupportGaston website, which became a portal for Gaston County residents to find out which stores, services, and restaurants were still open. More importantly, it encouraged residents to support local businesses when they needed it most.
Downtown Belmont transformed into a food distribution center
On April 17, there was a parade of a different kind in Belmont’s downtown. Volunteers lined Main Street, danced, waved, smiled, and handed out food and cleaning supplies to over 500 families.
Kevin Jonas, owner of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, partnered with Convoy of Hope and Elevation Church to organize and staff the drive-through event. In all, they provided over 30,000 pounds of goods in under two hours.
Pharmacist provided safety supplies
Police and fire crews don’t take time off because of a pandemic, so one local pharmacist made it his mission to help protect the people who help protect us. Vimal Patel, the pharmacy manager at Gaston Pharmacy in Gastonia, personally packed and delivered bags filled with sanitizer, gloves, acetaminophen, and N95 masks to local firehouses and police stations.
“They are working day and night for everyone’s safety and security. They are not taking day off even though their family are sick or something like that, so I appreciate a lot [sic],” Patel told WBTV.
Parkdale Mills handed out free face masks
Overnight, face masks became a ubiquitous accessory worn the world over, though it was incredibly difficult to get them in the early days of Covid. Parkdale Mills made sure they weren’t in short supply here in Gaston County. In a single day, Parkdale Mills employees handed out 5,000 free face masks to local residents (not to mention producing and distributing over 100 million masks to first responders across the country).
Muralist makes Gastonia a little bit brighter
Bree Stallings applied her considerable talents to three huge murals in Gastonia this year. The colorful paintings tell stories about the city and county while making great use of big brick canvases.
Murals like these continue to pop up all over the County. They’re a physical expression of Gaston’s growing position as a place for the arts.
Unparalleled Business Resilience
Economic development is a bit like gardening. You invest in seeds and create a favorable growth environment to start off. Eventually, the crops get strong enough to grow on their own and create more new life as they do.
Close to the airport, uptown Charlotte, and full of historic buildings and a ready workforce, Gaston County is fertile ground for economic prosperity. Thanks to so many business owners, educators, and municipalities that tilled the soil, the economic seeds planted in Gaston grew strong in 2020—even in the face of unprecedented challenges.
FUSE District ignited growth in Gastonia
“Build it and they will come” was the philosophy behind the Franklin Urban Sports Entertainment complex. Well, construction on the development has begun and private investments in the district, current estimates in the $100 million range, are coming.
Where’s that investment going? To preserve and upfit the historic Trenton Mill for attractive loft apartments, the Coca Cola building potentially for an amazing urban market (think Charlotte’s Optimist Hall) and the development of several new sites throughout the district. As it takes shape, FUSE will bring new housing, entertainment, dining options and a brewery. More importantly, it will create jobs and spur generations of new economic investment throughout Gastonia.
The FUSE District scored a pro baseball team
At the heart of FUSE is the 5,000 seat multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility. This year, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball announced its newest franchise will call the FUSE facility home.
Beyond baseball, you can expect to see football, lacrosse, concerts, and other family friendly events at the park.
Voters approved the next phase of downtown Cherryville’s revitalization
One community in the region that has shown tremendous heart and grit is Cherryville. After losing two significant industries in the 1990s, the people of Cherryville have worked hard to successfully re-energize their historic downtown.
Most recently, voters in the town approved bonds that will rebuild sewer and water lines as well as add more streetscape features to an already beautiful downtown. The vote is a signal that Cherryville invests in it’s local businesses so they can prosper. Seriously, if you haven’t been recently, check out the Children’s Artway and growing collection of murals throughout as well as their museums and skate park.
Cherryville's Dr. Thomas White received North Carolina Physician of the Year award
Speaking of Cherryville, the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians presented Dr. Thomas White with their highest award in November of this year: North Carolina Physician of the Year.
Dr. White has practiced medicine in his hometown of Cherryville since 1988. Most recently, he opened a clinic downtown that’s helping to put the “care” back in healthcare. Congratulations Dr. White.
Apple Creek Corporate Park lands its first project
Just two months after breaking ground, the 330 acre Apple Creek Business Park in Dallas landed its first tenant. GNT USA has staked a 49.2 acre claim in the park and will eventually bring 40 jobs to the area.
The corporate park creates a rare opportunity in the Charlotte region for manufacturing companies to build out their own facilities without the need of a developer. That’s an attractive feature for many companies and an upper hand for Gaston when recruiting for good paying jobs. And with Ole Dallas Brewing right in the back yard (and a hopeful greenway connecting the two) this is the perfect spot for business growth with a bonus.
Gaston County Schools earn top marks in career preparedness
When a company considers moving or expanding to a new location, they want to know there’s a trained workforce to staff their facility. Again this year, Gaston County Schools proved their ability to answer that call better than any other school system in North Carolina.
How do we know? Because in 2020, Gaston County students earned more credentials—like job-skill certifications—than any other school district in the state. In fact, Gaston County’s Career and Technical Education program is at or near the top of many competitive categories.
Museums and Art Studios go virtual
The arts don’t become less important in times of uncertainty. Actually, they can be a critical way to help us all process what’s going on. Gaston County museums and art studios rose to the challenge, taking their exhibits online so we could all appreciate them while isolating.
The Gaston County Museum curated a range of exhibits that could be viewed from their website, as did Gaston College. The Schiele Museum of Natural History has offered a variety of virtual and socially distanced opportunities, from Weather Wednesdays on Facebook to an outdoor events like the Winter Solstice celebration complete with stories around the Yule Log.
Gastonia-based artist Curt Butler brought his watercolor painting classes into our homes via YouTube. The Gaston County Art Guild kept their programs going virtually, including this miniature art show, so participants and followers could stay connected. The Gaston School of the Arts also expanded their online classes while Belmont’s A Little Bit of Art, along with their small classes, offered complete paint-at-home kits.
Yogis shift to practice online
If Yogis are anything, they’re flexible. Case in point, just about every yoga studio in Gaston County quickly adapted to the new norm, taking their yoga sessions online. Belmont Yoga even shared virtual classes before ever setting foot in their physical studio, which is due to open in early 2021.
Restaurants opened and expanded across Gaston County
It's the understatement of the year to say that 2020 was challenging for restaurants. Even so, some restauranteurs found a way to thrive this year, opening or expanding in Gaston County.
The Pita Wheel, for example, brought their food-truck favorites to a converted gas station in downtown Gastonia. Jekyll and Hyde chose Belmont for their second location as did Primal Brewery. Sammy’s, a Belmont mainstay, has opened its second eatery in Gaston County.
District 8 Beer Company is growing, taking over more square footage. All the while, String Bean was quietly winning yet another award for their extensive wine list as Charlotte's renown "farm-to-fork" restaurant and Heirloom announced its move to Belmont.
In Mount Holly, The Crab Boil started plating up all sorts of seafood, appropriately paired with boiled corn on the cob and potatoes. Around the corner, Smoke and Barrel became a local hot-spot for a well-curated collection of cigars and potent potables.
Two new coffee shops, The Notary at the Esquire Hotel and The Wandering Cup in South Fork Village's A Little Bit of Art poured their first cup a’ Joe this year. And the newly redesigned Everyday Market also opened, serving everything from lattes to wine, pastries and sandwiches.
Of course, let's not forget the al fresco dining event that took over Belmont’s Main Street this summer. It was a creative way to let people safely enjoy an evening out and expanded seating capacity for local restaurants by a large margin.
Undiminished Holiday Spirit
The Holidays have always been a particularly amazing time of year in Gaston County with Christmastown U.S.A. as the county’s North Star. Though things have looked different in 2020, the spirit of the holidays was as strong as ever. With generosity and resourcefulness, we saw long-standing traditions continued and new ones begin.
Kings Mountain Business answered letters to Santa
Santa may have been missing from malls this year, but one company wanted to make sure kids wishes didn’t go unheard.
Jolly Realty Group set up a mailbox outside their office in downtown Kings Mountain. Kids dropped their letters and wish lists in, and the team at Jolly wrote replies addressed from the big guy himself.
Artist featured Storybook Santa
For two decades, Bob Propst has played the part of Santa in Gaston County. His thick white beard and happy “ho ho ho” made him a natural for the part. This year, in-person visits weren’t possible, so local artist Jill Overton captured the “Story Book Santa” in a series of digital prints.
Making them even more special, each piece features one of the historic clocks from local townships.
Volunteers served Thanksgiving dinner to seniors
For 35 years, the Thanksgiving luncheon in downtown Gastonia has been a tradition that provides local seniors with a meal and a little holiday magic. Covid threatened the event, but organizers weren’t giving up so easily. Instead, they shifted gears and handed out to-go meals.
The determination and creativity was appreciated.
“This makes us feel cared for,” attendee Vicky English told the Gaston Gazette.
Sixteen-year-old Kate Klinger used her downtime to help uplift nursing home residents. The Gaston Day student hand-wrote dozens of holiday cards and then delivered them to senior care facilities in her community. Caregivers at the facility say the residents were delighted. As are we to have Kate in our community.
Gaston County High School Alumni invented a Halloween candy delivery system
Ingenuity: 1, Covid: 0.
2020 Forestview High School graduate Bailey Marquand designed and built a contactless candy dispense system that makes trick-or-treating safe, even during Covid. The EnderDragon 2000 (named for a character in the game Minecraft), earned Marquand an A in her engineering and technology class at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.
Holiday Markets brought local crafts to new outlets
Communities all over Gaston County have put in great effort to give artists the space to flourish. It seems to be working. There were so many local makers offering crafty gifts for the season that traditional holiday markets couldn’t contain them all.
Farmers markets, coffee shops, craft beer bars, and entire downtowns were temporarily transformed into Holiday themed markets where online vendors set up shop. Tasty treats, glittering ornaments, homey decorations, personal fashion and even toys for pups were on offer all created by local makers, making them extra special stocking stuffers.
Holiday Parades flipped the script in the time of Covid
When it became clear gathering in large groups was a bad idea, event organizers came up with a crafty idea of their own: reverse the way we experience parades. Instead of visitors lining a street while floats passed by, the floats stayed put while viewers drove by.
Emily Andress, Mount Holly’s champion for the arts, also used the same idea to hold the town’s lantern parade. Of course, we’ve come to expect creative solutions from Andress and can’t wait for next year’s lantern parade.
Unstoppable excitement for a prosperous new year
With good reason, many people are happy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. The bright side? It’s been a year of recalibration, reminding us how much power a single person has to change their community for the better.
As we turn the page on 2020, we’re excited to watch the seeds of prosperity that were planted this year blossom over the next 12 months. We’ll see the FUSE district in Gastonia, and The Chronicle Mill in Belmont become catalysts for growth.
We’ll watch as another group of students prepare for careers and solve problems in ways we never dreamed of. And we’ll enjoy the creations of Gaston’s artists, chefs, distillers and brewers in new venues and old favorites.
But most of all, we’re excited when we remember that so many people like Bailey Marquand, Kevin Jonas Sr., Kate Klinger, Vimal Patel, and Dr. White continue to make us proud to call Gaston County home.