The first-ever Clinton Main Street Program Awards honored those whose contributions have been key to the success of Sampson County’s growing core. Fittingly, dinner hosts Alfredo and Samantha DiPinto were recognized for their renovated two-floor restaurant overlooking a revitalized downtown, whose merchants and contributors were lauded for their efforts.
The DiPintos were nominated as Clinton’s 2016 Main Street Champions for their business, Alfredo’s Ristorante Italiano. They were also among several individuals honored during the inaugural ceremony for specific awards, with other winners including Deborah and Gary Wayne Hall of Sessoms Jewelry, Tonya Parrish of Royal Gifts and Fine China, Rebecca’s, Wendy Carr, the Downtown Dash Committee and Donald Starling for Daughtry, Woodard, Lawrence & Starling.
A nominating committee developed the award categories, made nominations for the individual awards and then each Clinton Main Street committee member voted. Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose, who serves as the Clinton Main Street manager, emceed the Tuesday night banquet and reviewed the year’s accomplishments before dinner and dessert were served. Awards were given out afterward.
“You have all been an integral part of what we do and I thank you,” Rose said to those gathered in Alfredo’s second-floor banquet room. “This is our first-ever awards program, so you can say you were here.”
She gave credit to the Main Street program in Goldsboro, which holds a similar annual ceremony.
“We took a great idea and we stole it, which is what Main Street communities do,” Rose said with a laugh. “These awards may change from year to year based on what the Main Street program deems were significant contributions throughout the year. The Clinton Main Street Program is fortunate to have a wonderful group of volunteers, sponsors and community partners who work diligently to create and maintain a vibrant downtown Clinton.”
She offered her gratitude to everyone in attendance.
“Many thanks to each person here tonight,” Rose said. “Each of you have been a valuable asset and ambassador for downtown Clinton and the Clinton Main Street Program. As Main Street manager, I look forward to working with you to accomplish great things in 2017 and beyond.”
The DiPintos, along with their recognition as a 2016 Clinton Main Street Champion nominee, received the Design Improvement Award, honoring the person who made a significant design improvement to a building or property “creating positive, aesthetic improvement to all of downtown.”
Each award winner received a small glass monument with Clinton’s familiar millstone, used in all of its branding, etched into the glass.
In April 2016, the couple completed the renovation of the former Belk building at the corner of Wall and Main streets. They purchased the 12,000-square-foot building in 2015 and began a major overhaul that included the use of a $200,000 Main Street solutions matching grant that enabled them to incorporate a 2,000-square-foot second floor banquet facility, first floor fine dining and a state-of-the-art gourmet kitchen and coffee and wine bar.
“Significant time and expense was invested in creating an upscale restaurant with fine dining, banquet facilities, and coffee bar,” Rose stated. “As the recipient of a N.C. Main Street Solutions Grant, they were able to place all the added touches to this project which has made it something for Clinton to be proud of. With a total investment of over $650,000, this project has been a true game changer for downtown Clinton.”
The 2015 Clinton Main Street Champions Marshall and Michael Thornton were also nominated for their interior and exterior improvements to the building at 109 Wall St. The structure was given a total facelift with all new interior walls, flooring and other upgrades, as well as a new paint scheme, awning and exterior door.
The Best Curb Appeal Award, given to a business owner that pays attention to the small details to improve their ability to capture a customer’s attention and improve downtown’s overall appearance, was bestowed to Royal Gifts and Fine China at 117 Wall St. and owner Tonya Parrish. Others nominated were Atrium Florist at 121 Fayetteville St.; Bryant’s Florist at 120 Fayetteville St.; Powell’s Insurance at 110 Lisbon St.; and Vance Street Market and Flower Shoppe at 119 Vance St.
The Best Promotional or Marketing Effort Award was given to Rebecca’s. The award goes to a downtown business or organization that conducts a marketing or promotional effort “that effectively improves their bottom line or benefits all of downtown.” Those voting for Rebecca’s specifically noted their use of Facebook, sidewalk sales, Midnight Madness Sale, Fall Fashion Show, and the late hours they stayed open for other special sales.
“This business is a great example of how to positively market and promote,” Rose stated.
The Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Wendy Carr, who was lauded for giving her time and resources to help the Clinton Main Street Program succeed in its endeavors.
A member of the Clinton Main Street Design Committee, Carr “is always ready and willing to jump in and get things done — or jump into a recycling container for a video,” said Rose, alluding to Carr’s participation in marketing the Downtown Recycle Art Walk (DRAW).
She is a member and past president of the Clinton Kiwanis Club and helped to spearhead the “Kiwanis Secret Christmas Shop,” where kids shop for grown-ups. The event just completed its second successful year, providing kids an opportunity to shop for their parents for Christmas.
Carr has also worked with Alfredo’s, Mutual Distributing Company, and Sunrise Wines regarding their sponsorships of the upcoming Mystery Masterpieces event on Jan. 26, an event that is already sold out.
Also nominated was Deborah Thompson, a member of the Clinton Main Street Program Promotion Committee, who gave her time on that committee and as part of the Shop Small Saturday Committee formed last year. Thompson volunteered her business, Simply NC, as a drop-off point for the Shop Small Saturday Passport Program, which tallied over $2,700 in receipts from Sampson businesses on Nov. 26, 2016 alone. She has encouraged businesses to stay open late on Thursdays in the hope of providing additional opportunities to citizens who wish to shop in the evenings.
The Thank You Award, given to a person, business or organization that the Main Street Program wishes to recognize, was awarded to the Downtown Dash for their contributions to the program and to downtown Clinton beautification efforts. Since the first Downtown Dash was held in October 2012, members have annually contributed a growing amount of event proceeds. Those funds have been which have been used to purchase two picnic tables for the Clinton City Market, landscaping for the “Milling Around” art piece and a “Welcome to Downtown” sign.
The Historic Preservation Award went to Daughtry, Woodard, Lawrence & Starling for their property at 401 College St. The award is given to a project which has been accomplished “with much thought and effort given to preservation of the historic character of a downtown property.”
The award specifically praised “the 2016 addition to this historic property which was accomplished with great attention to detail in mirroring all exterior features of the original structure.” Special recognition was given to project manager Donald Starling, who accepted the award.
Sessoms’ legacy honored
The last award of Tuesday night’s banquet was the Outstanding Legacy Business Award, which was given to Deborah and Gary Wayne Hall.
The award, Rose explained, is given to a downtown business that has been open for more than five years and has proven that they best embody the essence of downtown — friendly, personal, neighborly and supporting of the community.
Sessoms Jewelry has been located in downtown Clinton since 1967 and are celebrating 50 years this year.
“Deborah and Gary Wayne Hall have worked diligently to maintain this anchor downtown business as well as give back to the Clinton and greater Sampson County community,” Rose remarked. “They have sponsored many downtown events, such as Alive After Five and the Downtown Dash. They have also been that downtown business which is also involved in the greater community.”
Accepting the award, an emotional Gary Wayne Hall said it was bittersweet, as they lost founder Fletcher “Minson” Sessoms in December 2015. Father of Deborah, Sessoms gave Gary Wayne an opportunity many years ago that he will never forget — and the he and his wife have carried on that name and the legacy of a man known for helping his community, church and those who needed aid. In addition to his business endeavors, Sessoms was a charter member of the Sampson County Rescue Squad.
“This has been the toughest year,” Hall said, noting the passing of several relatives, including his brother, Sessoms and Sessoms’ sister. The family is still dealing with some health hardships and he asked for prayers for Deborah’s family.
“Mr. Sessoms gave me an opportunity to go into business with him. Bless his heart, he didn’t make it with us to celebrate 50 years,” he said as his voice cracked and a tearful Deborah looked on. He sang the praises of those in attendance, calling out names of business owners and the businesses they hold dear. Downtown in growing and thriving and it is due to each of them, Hall said. He expressed his thanks for the award and said it was an honor to be downtown.
“This pat on the back and to see the smiling faces from my friends around the room here … it helps get past the tough times,” said Hall. “Sessoms Jewelry is going to be fine.”
Downtown is economic development, Rose attested, wrapping up the ceremony.
“We all need to shop and support local because these businesses are vital,” she said.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.