By Mary Zahran
I have lived in Fayetteville since 1983, and in those 38 years, I have seen our downtown undergo a dramatic transformation from a rather raucous area to a vibrant, engaging place for all of our city’s inhabitants.
I first saw downtown Fayetteville in the summer of 1977, when I came to visit my boyfriend, who later became my husband. Eager to give me the grand tour of his hometown, Sam would drive me around in his bright yellow Camaro to show me the sights.
And what sights they were. Without going into any detail, I will just say that I looked at the parade of people on Hay Street and concluded that it was not a family-friendly place. It was lively and memorable, but it was not for everyone.
Little did I know how much my impression of the downtown would change. In the summer of 1983, my husband and I moved to Fayetteville from Raleigh with our 3-year-old daughter. Initially resistant to the idea of leaving Raleigh, I eventually decided to stop sulking and to begin exploring the city I now called home.
At that time, the Birdcage restaurant, located on the second floor of the Capitol Department Store, was a popular place to have lunch. So many people had recommended it to me that I decided to check it out. I took my daughter there one afternoon after I picked her up from preschool.
I will never forget walking into the restaurant and seeing what looked like the world’s largest birdcage. As we entered the area to take our seat, my daughter, mesmerized by the scenery, asked me where the birds were. When I told her that this was not a real birdcage, she seemed disappointed but kept looking around as if I might be mistaken and that any moment a real bird would appear.
We ordered our lunch, and I remember eating the best egg salad sandwich I have ever had. I also remember how friendly the employees were. As we were leaving, one of the waitresses came over to tell me how beautiful my daughter was. My daughter, who was (and still is) beautiful, beamed with pride at this remark. She also continued to look for birds as we walked out of the restaurant.
The Capitol closed in 1990, but I will always have fond memories of eating lunch there and seeing the look of astonishment on my daughter’s face.
My first visit to the Cumberland County Public Library was also a memorable experience although a bit more challenging. At the time, the fiction and nonfiction collections were located in buildings several blocks from each other, one on Anderson Street and the other on Hay Street in the building that is now home to the Arts Council. As luck would have it, I was looking for a novel and a biography, so I had to go to both locations.
I was very happy when the Headquarters Library opened on Maiden Lane in June of 1986. I no longer had to deal with the fiction/nonfiction dual location issue. I could check out as many different books as I wanted without having to go to another building. Needless to say, I was thrilled!
The longer I have lived in Fayetteville, the more attached I have become to it. After forming a rather skeptical view of the downtown during my first visit, I eventually became a fierce advocate as I saw a gradual revitalization taking place. I was offended by criticism from others who were not familiar with Fayetteville and were only repeating the remarks of other uninformed people.
I now have many wonderful memories of our downtown. I remember going to see “Songcatcher,” one of the first films shown at the Cameo. I also remember laughing hysterically while watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and crying while watching “Dunkirk.” When the Cameo showed “Cinema Paradiso” a few years ago, I laughed and cried. Watching films in a theater and watching them at home, no matter how big the television screen may be, are just not the same.
I love to sit on the sidewalk and have dinner at Antonella’s and Circa 1800 and watch people stroll by. I love to get take-out from Archway Burgers so that I can eat at home and be as messy as I please.
Downtown Fayetteville has come a long way since I first saw it. Who could possibly have imagined that one day we would have Segra Stadium and the Airborne & Special Operations Museum on Hay Street? I certainly didn’t have the vision to see our downtown as the thriving, family-friendly place it now is, but I’m grateful for those who did.
Mary Zahran, who is thinking about an Archway burger at this very moment, can be reached at email@example.com.