By Mary Elizabeth Dial
Kay Moore knows the importance of history. The offices of Downtown Gadsden Inc., of which Moore is the director, are located in what used to be Runt’s Place on Broad Street. A small memorial to the building’s past sits in the corner of the conference room, featuring some tableware from the restaurant, a photo of its proprietor and a photo of Matthew McConaughey from the film Failure to Launch, which Moore proudly explains was shot in the very same room. The entire building proclaims pride in Downtown Gadsden, but Moore isn’t only concerned with its history. She also has her eye on the future.
Downtown Gadsden Inc. was formed in 1992 as a nonprofit responsible for the welfare of the downtown area, and Moore came on board in 2007. In the past nine years, she said, things have been improving steadily.
“It’s been a tremendous growth spurt over the last eight or nine years. I give a lot of that credit to First Friday,” Moore said. The monthly street fair, which features classic cars and food vendors, began with small business owners going the extra mile to connect with citizens. Today, the event brings welcome attention to local merchants and shows off the best downtown Gadsden has to offer. First Friday also fulfills one of Downtown Gadsden Inc.’s biggest goals: getting people to walk up and down Broad Street. Moore wants the people of Gadsden to get out of their cars and stroll around one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas of the city, rather than speeding through the streets.
“If you don’t walk the streets, you don’t see what’s going on,” she said.
Moore also believes strongly in the idea of window-shopping, and for good reason. Many downtown shops are locally owned and bring something completely unique to Gadsden.
One of the best examples of a unique downtown business, according to Kay Moore, is Back Forty Beer Company.
“When [the Back Forty brewery] chose to come to Gadsden… it was almost a little mini explosion. That was, I think, the biggest thing that’s happened in the time that I’ve been here.”
Many see Back Forty as the business that put modern Gadsden on the map, and Moore points out that the brewery just hit a huge milestone for any business, but especially for one based in a small town: shipping its wares to China.
Moore realizes, however, that neither events nor businesses make Downtown Gadsden great alone. The magic, she believes, is in the combination.
“To have a good downtown,” she said, “takes the correct mixture of retail, restaurants, and professional things.”
She adds that culture and art are key ingredients. Downtown Gadsden Inc. partners with the Cultural Arts Center and the Gadsden Museum of Art, both located on Broad Street.
This mixture of culture and economy is what made Gadsden a “Main Street City.” Main Street Alabama is a program that connects towns in Alabama and helps revitalize their downtown areas, which many think are fading in the modern world. Kay Moore is proud to say that Gadsden has become one of the program’s biggest successes. In fact, she is often asked to visit other towns and share with them what has helped downtown Gadsden thrive.
“We’re so excited to be what’s sometimes classified as the leader,” Moore said. “People look to see what we do, so that makes you proud of Gadsden.”
She credits the Main Street Alabama program with getting Downtown Gadsden on the right track in the past, but is now confident that Downtown Gadsden is a significant asset to the program.
Despite its accomplishments, Downtown Gadsden Inc. is not slowing down. Most of its plans for the future involve making the area even more diverse in shops and businesses.
“We have the pleasant problem of not having a whole lot of space available,” Moore explained, so Downtown Gadsden Inc. is always on the lookout for ways to fill those few vacant spaces that will bring something new to the table. While she can’t share which small businesses were vying for Broad Street storefronts, Moore is optimistic that the people of Gadsden and the surrounding areas have great ideas that will continue to improve downtown Gadsden.
To Kay Moore and the other board members of Downtown Gadsden Inc., past and future are not opposites. Downtown Gadsden has a rich history, seen in the architecture of its physical presence as well as its small-town personality. Their efforts in bettering the area have gone a long way in recapturing what made Gadsden such a remarkable city in the past and in realizing its modern potential as a center of economy and culture.