As Chatham’s Growth Begins, Small Businesses See Opportunity – Chapelboro.com | Candle Made Easy

By Ben Rappaport, Chatham News + Record Staff

Sue and Rich Szary have become integral parts of downtown Siler City. Her retail store, Twin Birch & Teasel, has sold handmade products, offered fiber weaving classes and made the storefront a place for local artists to collaborate and create together for the past 12 years.

“It’s about experience,” said Sue Szary. “We’re really enablers in this community and we like it that way.”

Twin Birch’s fabric-filled brick and mortar store is about more than just selling products, it’s about community. This is true of many of the local businesses in and around Siler City – the owners know their customers and the customers trust them. It seems simple enough, but Szary said it’s part of the small town’s character.

“For us, this isn’t just a business, it’s not about money,” she said. “It’s part of my life.”

Maintaining the character of the community may become an increasing challenge given the expected large growth in the area. In East Chatham, VinFast is poised to create 7,500 jobs; Located closer to Siler City, a major chip maker or other large company could soon announce that it is locating at the nearby Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site.

The growth of megasites, which will inevitably bring employees and housing needs to Siler City, is coupled with ongoing downtown revitalization efforts. Small business owners in the city are keen to maintain the community feel of trading in the area, but several told News+Record they see the growth as an opportunity to grow their business and welcome new customers.

“We cannot become a drawbridge community,” Rich Szary said. “We can’t just sit down and let nobody in anymore. We know this community will grow and change, and that’s exciting.”

The Szarys are both members of the Siler City Merchants Association, which aims to help develop the city’s retail business. Angelynn Fox is Co-President of the SCMA and has been the owner of the Siler City Pharmacy for four years. She agreed with the Szarys’ assessment of growth in Chatham and said she is excited for the opportunity to expand the business and hire new residents.

“There can be a scared reaction because nobody really likes change,” Fox said. “Or we can look at it as an opportunity. This is where growth comes, this is where new potential customers and patients come in, and I find that exciting.”

Fox said growth is an obvious challenge, but it also represents an opportunity for the company to rise to the occasion. She said her passion has always been to serve and care for people, so more people means more caring for others.

“An influx of people means there’s a real opportunity to come together,” Fox said. “The heart and pulse of what we do is caring for the community and that’s not going to stop because those relationships matter.”

The pharmacy owner said change is one of the only constants in Siler City. She has seen the population become more diverse with an increasing Hispanic population, and Siler City’s agricultural roots evolved over time. So for Fox, the next phase of growth just feels like a natural next step.

“We are an integral part of this community as we are the first point of contact for patients when they have medical questions,” she said. “I’m so thankful that patients come here before they even get to the doctor’s office.”

There is a certain camaraderie between Siler City’s customers and business owners, Fox said. Employees know the names of their customers, which means that a company is often more than its name. The Siler City Pharmacy serves as a directory of medical information, and Twin Birch helps customers find the best art supplies in town — even if it doesn’t bring them direct profit.

Both Szary and Fox said it’s important to maintain camaraderie and character even as the city grows alongside VinFast and the CAM location.

Phillip Pappas, coordinator of the Chatham County Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College, said he believes balancing these two concepts will help the city realize a brighter future.

“Overall, it’s going to be positive,” Pappas said. “There will certainly be growing pains, but the tide lifts all ships. Expansion equals opportunity and we see that in Siler and throughout Chatham.”

Pappas said he is confident the city will be able to both retain its character and grow. The Small Business Center is helping with downtown revitalization efforts, and Pappas said it’s becoming harder to find space for potential new businesses as many of the downtown buildings are filled with other small, local businesses.

“There are gaps to be filled and new services needed that we cannot yet anticipate,” said Pappas. “But I’m sure the infrastructure will improve over time with an influx of capital from the industrial sites, and that can mean more space and more space for small businesses.”

The city’s current infrastructure needs are well documented. Siler City officials have recognized the limitations of the city’s existing water and sewage infrastructure and are working to expand the capacity, which is expected to come online in late 2024. However, more is needed to accommodate the growth that will come from CAM development and other businesses. And many of the industries that have chosen the area — Toyota’s battery plant in Randolph County, for example — have water needs that are two or three times those of existing industries, News + Record previously reported.

Despite these concerns, Pappas said the county is poised over the long term to be an opportunity for small businesses to thrive.

“When you’re courting a big industry like VinFast, you have to show them you’re educated and you have to show them that people want to stay here,” Pappas said. “The local places make the feel of a city because they are deeply connected to their customers… small businesses can even be competitive with the industry if they have the right atmosphere and the opportunity to innovate.”


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The Chatham News + Record is the source for local news and journalism in Chatham County. The Chatham News, founded in 1924, and the Chatham Record, founded in 1878, have combined to better serve the Chatham community as the Chatham News + Record. News + Record covers news, business, sports and more, and works to strengthen community bonds through compelling coverage of life in Chatham County.

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