If you talk to longtime Burlington residents, the beginning of decline of its once thriving downtown began in the 1960s as the migration from urban centers to the suburbs hit its peak and shopping Meccas were constructed to meet this new demand for proximity and convenience. Sears, Belk (then Belk-Beck) and Woolworth were the most notable anchor stores that made a move out of downtown Burlington to then brand new Holly Hill Mall.
As traffic declined downtown, locally owned stores followed. Some like C.F. Neese jewelry store had sites in both locations before moving from downtown and going all in at the mall, said Walter Boyd, a historian in Burlington who has studied the multiple evolutions of downtown and witnessed a few decades of it. As stores moved outward from the core of Burlington, downtown emptied of the retailers that made it a happening place in previous decades. Efforts to revive it starting in the 1970s largely failed. Folks mainly came downtown to do business with local government, the post office, the Times-News, attend church or eat at Zack’s.
But today it is Holly Mall struggling to stay afloat with diminishing customer traffic and downtown that is becoming an attractive place to go, do business, shop and have fun. It has a growing amount of foot traffic.
The latest business opening is emblematic of the change. Brothers Vintage Toys and Games, owned by brothers Chris Faircloth and Robbie Johnson (hence the name) has set up shop on Davis Street in the storefront last occupied by Persnickety Books before it moved to South Main Street. Johnson said Brothers opened in Holly Hill Mall two years ago and is leaving due to low foot traffic. The new location is at 117 W. Davis St.
I walked by on Thursday and noticed activity inside and outside the store. Johnson and his wife were setting up for a soft opening on Friday night. The place was filled with action figures, Hot Wheels, collectibles, older video games, comics and other cool toys from the mall location — including one of my wife’s personal favorites, Funko POPs!. Saturday Johnson said the soft opening, promoted on the store’s Facebook page, went well. “We had a pretty good number of people and they seemed to be liking it,” Johnson said.
Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis, who owns Persnickety Books with wife Kristina, said he was speaking to Faircloth a few months ago when the used book store was moving to the former site of the Treasure House on Main Street. Faircloth told Baltutis he and Johnson were looking for a downtown storefront and Baltutis introduced him to the Davis Street site.
Johnson said he likes the vibe downtown and called the new location “a better environment for us.” Johnson and Faircloth decided to go into the toy business together more than two years ago. Both love old and new toys. “It’s just been my dream and he wanted to open something to do with toys and comics, too.”
The store’s website bills Brothers as Burlington’s only toy store and invites people to stop by and relive their childhood. Brothers not only sells toys but buys them as well. Johnson said Brothers specializes in Masters of the Universe, “Star Wars,” and action figures but it has a large variety of interests when it comes to toys and games. Brothers is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Brothers fills in a gap on Davis Street and joins the Downtown Barber Shop, Burlington Nutrition and Roz-Shon Alterations and Redesigns on the block down from Zack’s. The building on the corner of Worth and Davis streets has been purchased and the owner, Brandon Martin is hoping to develop apartments on the second floor and is looking for suggestions about what could go on the ground floor, he announced on his Facebook page on Oct. 11.