For the Greater Good
Southport’s tall blue and white water tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. Folks can see it from boats in the Intracoastal Waterway, and they can even see it from the peak of the Oak Island bridge. I, for one, love driving south on Howe Street and watching the water tower come into view. That image solidifies the feeling of being home. In fact, the stars of the water tower were the inspiration for Southport Magazine’s logo—we just made them red as an ode to Southport’s long history hosting the NC 4th of July Festival!
Though some tourists aren’t aware, beneath the water tower is a slew of fun shops and cozy eateries. This spring, those stores and restaurants decided to cement their status as a destination in Southport. In total, 18 businesses within the 200 to 400 blocks of Howe Street joined together to form what’s now known as the Water Tower District.
“[We] have long used Southport’s water tower as a point of reference—‘We’re located next to the water tower; across from the water tower; under the water tower, etc.,’” Kimberly Bandera, the owner of Howe Outrageous Art Gallery and Marketplace (307 N. Howe St.), explains.
Bandera initially posed the idea to neighboring businesses Mr. P’s Bistro (309 N. Howe St.), Boo & Roo’s (303 N. Howe St.), and Four Legs Good Pet Boutique (310 N. Howe St.). To become a specific district meant the branding of a unique area—somewhere locals and tourists alike could refer to and recognize. Bandera knew it would take teamwork.
“The Water Tower District is a marketing strategy we are using to bring attention to our three-block area,” Penny Watkins, owner of Boo & Roo’s, describes. “We are asking every Water Tower participant to include ‘located in the Water Tower District’ in all their advertisements. The City of Southport has been very favorable toward our efforts.”
An artist from Howe Outrageous designed the blue, white and yellow logo to help the district stand out. Flags can be seen outside of participating businesses. Naturally, the water tower is part of the brand. “As we are all balancing promoting this burgeoning district with running our own businesses, we have been taking baby steps in order to do everything right the first time,” Johnna Jalot, owner of Four Legs Good Pet Boutique, tells. “Besides flags with our logo, a brochure highlighting the district participants has been created, and many merchants are using their Facebook pages to draw attention to the Water Tower District.”
The businesses are also hoping to gain support from the city in the form of light posts and matching, more attractive trash receptacles. “We have a lot of letter writing in our future,” Jalot muses.
As the idea formulated, other businesses joined in, seeing the district as a valuable tool to strengthen the economic prosperity of the area. “I thought the Water Tower District idea was a great marketing tool for getting more people to shop in our area,” Laurie Driver, owner of Magnolia Gifts (301 N. Howe St.), shares. “A lot of people who come in by ferry shop downtown, and that’s it. They don’t even know we are here. By collectively having flags and getting the word out about what we all have to offer, I think it will be a success. The name will bring new awareness to our area and the water tower is a landmark.”
Because these shops and restaurants are not on the tourist-laden waterfront, the businesses rely more heavily on locals, Jalot says. “So we offer more practical goods and services in addition to specialty items and souvenirs.”
Despite being just a couple blocks north of Bay Street—well within walking distance—the impact of less foot traffic takes a toll. The Water Tower District is hoping to combat that with the addition of a special weekly event: Water Tower Wednesdays. Businesses stay open later, at least until 6 p.m., and many offer unique specials only available that evening.
“Water Tower Wednesdays kicked off after Memorial Day,” Jalot continues, “and a strong majority are keeping later hours.” Such is true especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
On Water Tower Wednesdays, Magnolia Gifts offers discounts on varying items, such as wall art or jewelry. Southport Taffy and Fudge Factory (412 N. Howe St., Unit D) offers a 10-percent discount on all purchases. “We also make our taffy, so people can watch it being made,” owner Mark Salyer adds.
Bandera ensures she’s scheduled something intersting to take place at the gallery on Water Tower Wednesdays. “I time special events like kiln openings or new art installations to occur then,” she reveals.
Marcia and Dan Bridgeman, owners of the Shops of 424 North Howe, joined the district because they felt a group can accomplish much more than if they were to promote themselves. The Bridgemans perhaps are experts on groupthink! “Our shop consists of 19 vendors who take great pride in creating and finding wonderful treasures to sell to our customers,” Marcia Bridgeman details. “We have antiques, vintage items, painted shabby-chic furniture, local photography, local arts and many more collectibles.”
As the building on 424 North Howe supplies shoppers with a one-stop location, the Water Tower District offers the same appeal, and the Bridgemans recognize this. “Our customers like the idea of parking once, and they are able to shop in many stores in one area.”
For Lisa Botnick—the proprietor of Baked with Love, a quaint gourmet sandwich shop at 302 N. Howe St.—taking part in the district was a no-brainer. “I think it is a great idea to pursue any and all avenues that get the business information out there,” she says. “So, when I was asked to join, I said, ‘Sure!’”
Aside from reaching out to new customers and keeping contact with regulars, joining as a specific community offers the benefit of camaraderie. “Sitting in the shop all day can be isolating, so being part of the Water Tower District makes me feel part of something bigger,” Bandera shares. “I find myself recommending the businesses up here more often because I now have a vested interest in their success.”
Jalot reports there has been a great spirit of cooperation within the area. “I’ve seen increased interaction between the businesses via Facebook,” she tells. “We all want a thriving district and realize that each participant plays a vital role in it.”
Salyer agrees, saying that the support received from others has been incredible. “I think the increase in customers coming to the Water Tower District will just take time and a constant dedication on behalf of all the businesses to promote it,” he assures.
Other district shops are: Darrell Edwards Art Gallery (319 N. Howe St.); Ropa Etc. (417 N. Howe St.); Talefeathers Home Décor (414 N. Howe St.); Backyard Wild (105 E. Brown St.); Art@211 Ricky Evans Gallery (211 N. Howe St.); Rebecca’s Fabrications (416 N. Howe St.); Beach Designs (306 N. Howe St.); and Anastasio’s Stained Glass Studio (420 N. Howe St.). Dry Street Pub and Pizza at 101 E. Brown St. and The Wine Rack, a wine and craft beer store at 102 W. Brown St., are additional participants.