Downtown Norton gets a glow-up
Like other coalfield communities coping with the downturn of its signature industry, Norton is working to reinvent itself, says City Manager Fred Ramey.
This fall, the city’s three-year, $2.3 million downtown revitalization reached a “technical end, but our project is not over and we’ll keep going,” says Ramey, who spearheaded the Downtown Norton Revitalization Project.
Work included installing lampposts like those the city had in the 1940s, and adding new building façades, trees, sidewalks and signs, all in the hopes of drawing more businesses downtown. The city received two Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development grants for streetscape improvements and the redevelopment of a former auto dealership that has become a farmers market and the home of Sugar Hill Cidery.
Greg and Jennifer Bailey, who started Sugar Hill Brewery in nearby St. Paul, weren’t planning to start a new business, but Ramey’s persuasiveness eventually won them over.
“That’s a whole lot of why we started in Norton. We could see Fred’s vision,” says Jennifer Bailey. “It was really him communicating his vision to us and us catching that vision.”
The Baileys aren’t the only business owners who are bullish on Norton. The Glass Slipper Boutique and G2K Games, a comics and games retailer, returned downtown after moving to a shopping center. A pizza restaurant is taking over a building that housed the local newspaper, The Coalfield Progress, which moved across the street last year. A coffee shop, a bakery and a furniture restoration company also have opened downtown this year.
Norton already has a reputation for outdoor activity. The city owns 1,000 acres on High Knob mountain, which overlooks downtown and includes Flag Rock Park, so it it’s only natural the city’s reinvention involves outdoor recreation.
The park has 10 miles of mountain bike trails, a campground, an overlook and a statue of Bigfoot’s cousin, the Woodbooger — as well as an annual Woodbooger festival, although it was canceled this year. A 10K race, a half-marathon and a 100-mile ultra-marathon also connect downtown Norton to the park.
“We want people to come and enjoy that, and then come down and eat and enjoy themselves downtown,” Ramey says. “We look at our downtown to try to keep it vibrant, keep it active, keep people working downtown, and this is just our latest project to try to keep doing that.”