Hillsborough is booming and business owners, town leaders work to maintain vibrancy: Boomtowns

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Monday, August 14, 2023
Hillsborough booming as leaders work to maintain vibrancy
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Like much of the Triangle, Hillsborough has seen rapid growth over the past dozen years. Now the goal is to make sure the town's long-standing artistic and historic ethos isn't diminished.

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Like much of the Triangle, Hillsborough has seen rapid growth over the past dozen years.

Now the goal is to make sure the town's long-standing artistic and historic ethos aren't diminished.

"I think a lot of the people that move in take on the citizenship part and become part and evolve. I know that Hillsborough has changed., with the inclusion of all the new changes with trying to keep the old part," said Michael Woods, who serves as Junior Vice President of Dual Supply Co. on West King Street.

Woods' father has owned the store since 1974, and previously owned other property along the street. The buildings have since been sold, and now house new businesses, a reflection of the town's fast-changing pace.

"We're probably one of the last old businesses that's still surviving," said Woods.

He's acknowledged challenges coming out of the pandemic, noting he and his brother work six days each to run the store.

"We've always been like a service to people, and we're more of helping people figure out how to do things other than just go (and buy a product)," explained Woods.

"I think with a town this size, people really value the personal contact and getting able to being able to meet the artist and see what they create," said Arianna Bara, a jeweler and member of the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.

The town has long held a reputation as an artists' haven, home to several galleries. The Hillsborough Gallery of Arts features 21 artists who live in the area, who own and operate the studio.

"It's a wonderful artistic scene in all areas of the arts, not just the visual arts. But we have a lot of writers, just people who express themselves in a variety of creative ways," Bara said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town's population has increased from just over 6,000 people in 2010 to approaching 10,000 as of last summer. While the size is still relatively smaller than several neighboring cities and towns, it's also ushered in new development.

"It's a difficult thing. And the call of construction is always there. The town is doing a great job, I think, of trying to keep the feel the way it is. I think it's kind of an uphill battle because people always want to go where things are great," said Bara.

Bara pointed to efforts by the Orange County Arts Commission to provide affordable studio space for artists, a key funding mechanism that helps artists continue their work.

"We want Hillsborough to remain a place where people of all types of incomes can live here and make this their home, start a business here. And that becomes more and more of a challenge the more limited the variety of housing stock is. And so it's really a balancing act that we are having to do with this," explained Mayor Jenn Weaver.

Now in her second term, Weaver moved here fifteen years ago and said the town's growth was apparent even then.

"Our community has the same concerns as all the other towns in the Triangle worried about growth, worried about development. And the truth of the matter is, it's like every nice thing we do for ourselves makes us a place, a more desirable place to live, and these amenities are things that people who live here have asked for and want and are glad to have. What's important for us is to just be really judicious and wise about what we say yes to and to do really good and thoughtful urban planning. We're a small town, but we're an urban community," said Weaver.

Hillsborough has its own water and sewer utility, a service that garners considerable attention as election officials consider proposed development projects. As for region-wide issues, Weaver pointed to the ongoing discussion regarding public transportation as an area where action is required, just one part of addressing affordability concerns.

"We are not keeping up with the transportation needs, our transportation network and overall system. I wouldn't even say we have a system, but the Triangle must have a transportation system so that people can get where they need to go, whether it's to health care, whether it's to work, or getting their kids to school. We cannot continue to rely on single-occupancy vehicles. That is not the network of the future. So really having viable opportunities for expanded mass transit is really, really important and also expanding opportunities for safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities because we want people not to think of that just as recreation," said Weaver.

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