The square has always been the heart of Covington, but there were more and bigger events during the past 13 months than in recent years, and there was also plenty of business activity, including some new retail stores and construction projects.
Downtown Covington hosted 65 events from July 2012 through June 2013, paid homage to its film-industry popularity through the unveiling of the Covington Walk of Stars and construction on a real Mystic Grill restaurant, and had some new businesses provide greater variety to the district’s retail. Main Street Covington, the nonprofit downtown advocacy group, held its annual meeting last week. While the program is undergoing changes, including a search for a new director and likely being placed under the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, officials said the program and downtown in general had a strong year.
"From outside, people may be thinking Main Street is in turmoil, but we’re getting more focused and more effective, in my opinion," said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who thanked interim Main Street Director Randy Vinson and Main Street board Chair Serra Phillips for their leadership efforts during the transition.
"You drive around the square, and there are construction projects going on and great things to see. I think some folks are starting to understand what we have here," Johnston said. "It’s not just the phenomenal structure and place called the square; it’s the fact (we’re) blessed right now with people coming from all over world, coming to see the Covington square."
Phillips said the Main Street program’s numbers during this past budget year (which runs from July to June) were impressive. The annual report said "Downtown Covington’s" Facebook page had 4,511 likes and Covington drew between 5,000-7,000 people for this year’s Independence in the Park event (technically in the new budget year) and had $11,000 in donations. Also, about 1,500 people attended the annual Lighting of the Historic Courthouse and annual Christmas parade.
However, Phillips took most of the annual meeting to look back and focus on the business owners whose successes were driving downtown forward.
Southern Heartland Art
The gallery is growing, with 20 artists now featured there. Local artist Cindy Murphy had a career highlight in 2012 when she was chosen by Gov. Nathan Deal to create Georgia’s official state Christmas ornaments. Murphy’s 24 ornaments graced the Georgia Christmas tree at the 2012 National Christmas Tree display in Washington, D.C.
Rick Gunter works for Ramsey’s Produce stand on Usher Street, but he’s also a local Cub Scout leader, and he and his scouts sold 160 pounds of boiled peanuts and more than 400 drinks during the city’s Fourth of July celebration, allowing seven scouts, whose families couldn’t afford camp, to attend.
Because they don’t have children taking part, many people are unaware of the quality performances presented by the Arts Association in Newton County, Phillips said.
She said the elementary and middle school ballet performances and choral concerts are incredibly advanced for those age groups, including performances of "The Nutcracker" and "Les Miserables."
The nonprofit has a regional ballet, which added a contemporary dance performance program, and multiple choirs for young children and older youths, programs that weren’t around when Phillips was participating in such arts programs.
"Now, we even have opportunities for 3-year-olds to start dance, and (the programs) go up into high school,’’ Phillips said.
The Arts Association purchased the Mainstream Dance studio to expand its ballet program and created its first musical theater camp last summer.
Sweet Treats Bakery
Though the bakery isn’t a new business, a redesign, including a new layout, fresh paint and a bigger display case to showcase the desserts and baked goods, has improved the bakery’s appeal.
LeShonia Maybin has no ties to Covington, and, in fact, when she first moved to Georgia from Michigan, she figured Covington would never be on her radar. Fast-forward a few years, and the businesswoman is opening a new hair studio, O’Hannah’s Hair Studio and Boutique, at 1118 Brown St.
Maybin said she chose Covington because of the city’s vision and recent growth.
"I wanted to be a part of that and bring something to that," said Maybin.
Mayor Johnston said excitement is building, as he recently met with two industrial prospects who could bring as many as 1,500 jobs to the community. While it’s always tough to close those deals, Johnston said Covington is always an easy sell.
"You can be as aggressive and creative as you want to be in this community. You are in a great spot," Johnston said. "To me, it’s an exciting time; it’s a great time."