Nestled in northern Sampson County lies “The Circle of Opportunity.” Or, perhaps you’ve heard it called “Circle City.” Of course we’re talking about the town of Newton Grove.
Established in 1879, the small town of roughly 600 people serves as a major thoroughfare where highways from all over eastern North Carolina converge. With the recent expansion of N.C. Highway 24 and the outer reaches of Fayetteville and Raleigh slowly trickling this direction, not to mention the amount of traffic that already pours into the area, there is no doubt Newton Grove is a town of opportunities.
A snippet taken directly from the official Newton Grove website echoes those thoughts.
“Nestled strategically amid the major and developing eastern North Carolina urban centers of Raleigh/Research Triangle, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Goldsboro, Newton Grove represents an excellent base area for selling, servicing and distributing to eastern North Carolina and the Research Triangle area, only an hour away by interstate highway,” it reads.
That’s where Gary Mac Herring comes in.
Herring is a longtime resident of Newton Grove, where he currently serves on the Board of Commissioners. In addition, he is also the vice chairman of the Sampson County Planning Board, a member the Sampson County United Way Board of Directors, the Sampson Community College Foundation, the CommWell Health Board of Directors and the Newton Grove Fire Department board.
Herring has quite the resume, but what is equally impressive is his love and dedication to the town of Newton Grove.
“I was born and raised here in Newton Grove,” he said. “I graduated from Hobbton in 1993.”
Between managing his time with all of the organizations in which he is associated, Gary Mac also has a large – and highly successful – business that he owns and operates in town.
MaryMack’s, Inc. is Herring’s shaved ice business.
Situated on U.S. Highway 13 in Newton Grove, the well-kept and cleanly-managed warehouse and operations center stands out to anyone passing through town.
“I was in college and having worked at Two Dogs Pizza here in town, it gave me a background in food and restaurant, Herring reflected, recalling his inspiration to get into an industry that ultimately led to MaryMack’s. “Being in college I needed some extra money, but I wanted to stay around Newton Grove, stay around Sampson County.”
“To do that, I wanted to do something on my own, start my own business. During college I started looking at ways to make money during the summertime and that led to me selling shaved ice.”
Before the business was located in Newton Grove under the name MaryMack’s, the business was actually established in Clinton.
“I opened up in 1994 in Clinton and it used to be called Tropical Shavers. My father and I built the stand and the Sampson Independent did a story on us, which really helped business and it was really a family effort,” Herring continued.
So what started as a summer shaved ice stand quickly began to transition into ideas of a supply company.
“People used to buy our syrup out of our window in the summertime. So I thought if they’re buying syrup out of our window, what if there is someone in Texas that wants syrup? Or someone in Florida? I needed something to do in the wintertime and with the internet starting to come along with online ordering, we launched our website. It launched on Feb. 12, 2000 and on Feb. 14 we had our first order.”
Now, MaryMack’s employs 14 employees year-round and Herring attributes a lot of the success to his associates.
“I couldn’t do it without them. They’re the key — people who have been with me a long time and work hard every day. I couldn’t do this by myself.”
MaryMack’s now operates using four basic websites.
“One of the websites focuses on the business aspect. If you’re wanting to open up your own stand or take a job at the fair or something like that, then we sell the kits, the carts, the machines — everything you need to get started,” Herring noted. “Another website sells smaller packages if you want to have shaved ice like a birthday party.”
“We also have a cotton candy website,” Herring continued. “And finally we have a completely different company called Sticky Life that does decals and stickers.”
MaryMack’s now sells and distributes shaved ice materials all over the United States. Business in California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina keep the company the busiest.
Given the success of the company, there is one thing that Herring keeps near and dear — the community.
He wants to see Newton Grove grow and be successful and one way to help make that happen is to give back to the community. Using the platform he’s been given, Herring said that he tries to give back to the community every way possible through time and service, as well as financially.
Herring lives by the old saying “be the change you want to be.” He admits that he may not be able to change the world, but he can change the community and help his fellow citizens.
In discussing the future of the town, Herring reaffirms that he’d like to see Newton Grove grow and attributes the towns proximity to Raleigh and Wilmington, as well as being alongside Interstate 40, as one way that could happen.
“Hopefully in the next 10 years or so, as Raleigh and Wilmington maybe expand, we can see some benefits from that and see some growth. I’d like to see more quality jobs come to town.”
As for MaryMack’s , the company is planning an expansion of its own. Herring said 2016 was the company’s best year ever and expanding the product line is key to matching that success. MaryMack’s has some upcoming projects and is exploring their options for acquiring a new and bigger space.
Herring said his love of Sampson County and his hometown of Newton Grove runs deep, and he looks forward to continuing his work there.
Reach Daron Barefoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.