Molly Arnold still remembers that day sometime in the mid-1990s when Sunday on the Square was interrupted by a steady rain shower.
She and her husband, Bruce Arnold, sought refuge.
“We kind of tucked up under this little building that looked so sad to escape from the rain,” Molly Arnold says. “I looked around and said, ‘I wish they would do something with downtown and these wonderful buildings.’”
Then why, Bruce Arnold said to his wife, don’t you do something if you think something needs to be done?
The vacant building at the corner of Hay and Franklin streets later would catch Molly Arnold’s eye.
“It was condemned. There was no glass, no floor upstairs, no electricity, no plumbing,” Arnold says. “And a lot of pigeon poop.”
The Arnolds would purchase the property in 1997.
“And that began my journey downtown,” says Molly Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee house on Hay Street and Cursive, formerly known as White Trash & Colorful Accessories, at 223 Franklin St.
Molly Arnold, 68, is one of three recipients of CityView’s Downtown Visionaries awards recognizing pioneers in the redevelopment of downtown Fayetteville. The awards will be presented at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. June 22 in the Aevex Veterans Club at Segra Stadium.
Also being honored in the third class of downtown visionaries is Bruce Daws, the longtime and retired city historian, and Mac Healy, a Fayetteville businessman who was instrumental in the Marvin Plan, an ambitious blueprint for downtown revitalization presented in the late 1990s.
Past recipients of the awards include Menno Pennink and the late Harry Shaw in 2022 and Mayor Bill Hurley, city historian Rosalie Huske Kelly, and the Rev. C.R. Edwards, the longtime pastor at First Baptist Church on Moore Street and a civil rights activist.
Downtown was calling
There was just something about downtown that was calling Molly Arnold.
“I found myself unexpectedly working downtown at a new job,” she says, recalling when she was working in the accounting department of Shuler Ferris & Lindstrom, an architectural design firm. “I would spend my lunch hours just kind of wandering around and seeing how many of the buildings were vacant and in complete disrepair and kind of lamenting about not having an active downtown. The places I had lived before had downtowns and, for me, downtowns are the core of what a city should have.”
In the 1950s through the 1970s, downtown was the centerpiece of the city with retail stores including Belk Hensdale, The Capitol, JC Penney, Fleishman’s Big Store, Sears & Roebuck, as well as small lunch spots, movie theaters and the local newspaper offices. Its decline began in 1977 with the opening of Cross Creek Mall across town.
Downtown was no longer the mecca it once was.
What today is Rude Awakening coffee house was once Brady’s Soda Shop. When Molly Arnold discovered it, the shop was shuttered.
But Arnold dreamed of what could be.
“I really didn’t want to be a restaurant owner or a coffee shop owner or, really, self-employed,” Arnold says. “But I wanted to renovate downtown. I came up with a business plan model for a coffee house. I love coffee. I love chocolate. I love cake, and all those sorts of things sounded like they might work there. There had been previous coffee shops downtown, but only one at the moment. I thought maybe this would be a go.”
Arnold says the city was considering demolishing the building to make way for a municipal parking lot.
Finding ‘great partners’
Arnold would need some help for her coffee shop to become a reality. The old soda shop, you see, adjoined three other buildings. She says that a dollar stretches only so far.
“It was tied to a purchase of three buildings, so luckily we found great partners in Eric Lindstrom and Chris Kuenzel in the same console,” she says. “And then Jan Johnson and Pat Wright for Moonlight Communications, who were willing to take on the larger projects.”
Johnson, co-owner of the award-winning video production business, recalls meeting with Arnold.
“In the late ’90s, we were looking for property downtown to use for our media production company, Moonlight Communications,” Johnson says. “We had been inspired by Eric Lindstrom, Chris and Nasim Kuenzel, and Greg King, among others. Even though downtown was practically a ghost town at that point, we knew we wanted to be there. After looking at several properties, we decided on the building at 221-223 Hay St. Molly met with us downtown in front of the Rude Awakening, Cameo and Rainbow Room buildings to make sure we really knew what we were getting into.”
Arnold saw something in the two businesswomen, who are skilled at video production.
“We must have exuded confidence, because she agreed to sell us the building,” Johnson says. “During that meeting, she did what Molly always does: Share her vision of what downtown could be and would eventually become.”
Johnson and Wright wanted to be a part of Arnold’s vision for downtown.
“Molly and Bruce were always leading from the front,” Johnson says. “She was among the first people to look at all these abandoned buildings and think they could really be something: a coffee shop, loft apartment, kitschy store, restaurant and more. From that little coffee house on Hay Street, she has helped inspire countless entrepreneurs to buy, renovate or start businesses downtown. Downtown is what it is in no small part due to the unflagging optimism and encouragement from Molly.”
Elaine Kelly owns Turner Lane, a gift shop since 2009 across from Rude Awakening. Kelly also applauds Arnold’s vision.
“Molly has been instrumental in the economic development of downtown Fayetteville,” Kelly says. “Not only did she choose to spend her time and resources to revitalize old downtown buildings and create thriving businesses, she also chose to spend her time and energy empowering entrepreneurs through her leadership and mentorship in her work with the Downtown Alliance, the Cool Spring Downtown District and myriad other downtown organizations or committees.
“Molly is passionate about making downtown a vibrant place to live, work and play. She is a strong advocate for policies that support the small business environment downtown.
“Her vision and leadership continue to create a lasting impact and inspire many others,” Kelly says. “But she always has time to sit down and talk to anyone who wants to know how to start a small business downtown.”
That ‘after’ place
Rude Awakening opened for business in 1999.
For Molly Arnold, the days would be long as she added a night job to her day job.
“We were open Monday through Saturday until midnight,” she says. “I wanted that ‘after’ place — after school, after dinner, after a movie, after the play. After anything when you weren’t quite ready to go home. I wanted it to be that place where you could sit and enjoy the people you were with, and that was sort of the model I pursued.”
The business has weathered 24 years of what Arnold describes as “ebbs and flows,” from a downtown trying to resurrect itself; the advent of paid parking that affected customer traffic; and the COVID-19 health pandemic. In those early years, there was the notion that downtown was not a safe place to be, particularly in late evening hours.
“There was some risk here in 1999,” Arnold says. “A lot of people felt like downtown was unsafe — because it could be eerily quiet with the exception of, you know, random people here and there. I never felt unsafe in that time period. I would leave Rude at 2 in the morning and walk to where my car was parked a couple blocks away without ever any cause or pause that it wasn’t safe. It was often pretty in that quietness. It’s a little hard to describe, but almost like you had it all to yourself. It was kind of this odd thing where you could enjoy it without company. So, it was almost like it all was yours to enjoy it.”
From espresso, a latte, breve, cappuccino, mocha or just that plain and familiar cup of coffee with a pastry, Rude Awakening is a special place for Molly Arnold and the baristas and other employees. You’ll find customers enjoying themselves out front at sidewalk tables and chairs on any given afternoon and evening.
Molly Arnold once gave thought to calling it a day.
“’We did what we set out to do, so it’s OK for us to go home,’” she recalls telling employees. “As a group, they did not want to, yet. And so, I’m here.”
Supporting others’ dreams
Not only will you find Arnold in business on Hay Street, but down the way on Franklin Street, where she renovated and opened Cursive in 2005. The business was formerly known as White Trash & Colorful Accessories.
“I had an acquaintance that worked for the downtown association at the time, and she was really good at what she did. And she said there’s this building on Franklin Street that the owners inherited, and they live in D.C. And they really would like to get rid of it,” she remembers. “She said, ‘I know that you have a strong feeling about a downtown. I really think you should look at this building on Franklin Street.’”
Arnold took a look.
“The roof had caved in,” she says. “I thought, ‘It can’t be too bad.’ I thought, ‘You’ve done a roof, and it looks interesting.’ So, I made an offer the same way I did with Rude. It was the second project I got involved in where the city thought a surface parking lot would be a better use for the space. My vision was a place for a person with a dream to have their own business” at less lease cost than on Hay Street.
Arnold says she leased the spaces to women with dreams of their own.
“I give them the real tough-love speech and tell them all the things not to do that I do, and then we sign one-year leases, which is not normal. And they’re renewable, and the people that have been with me 10 years have never had an increase,” Arnold says. “We’ve had people that lasted one year, but I’m real specific that you’re going to need to figure out how to make it at least that one year with the rent.
“Recently, we’ve changed the name to Cursive because social media just made it really difficult to have a store named White Trash. But it’s just the same store.
“It’s a lifestyle shop,” Arnold says. “It is a store that any woman in your life would love to have a gift from.”
Arnold reflects on her downtown vision and her downtown journey.
“I believe as strongly now as I did in the ’90s that Fayetteville is a great place and deserves a great downtown,” she says. “And I take my little piece and I do it to the best of my ability. I have found that a great way to get more done is to partner with other people and groups, so 20 some years ago the Downtown Alliance was formed. I’ve worked actively in that group, and more recently, the Cool Spring Downtown District.”
She describes Fayetteville as a combination of a small town and a big city.
“I found quickly that I liked the charm and politeness and friendliness of that, and that this was a home that I could embrace,” Arnold says. “Fayetteville is sort of that quintessential small town/big city and doesn’t really have many big-city amenities. But it has an international population that’s mixed with Southern charm that I found endearing.”
She accepts the Downtown Visionaries award with humility.
“It’s always lovely to have people think that what you have done matters. And working so hard on downtown all these years, I have this deep spot in my heart for the people who love downtown like I do. Greg Hathaway started Fourth Friday. He had an art studio downtown when people came downtown on Fourth Friday. He worked so many years working on a better downtown, and our paths were in tandem. I am forever grateful for Greg Hathaway.”
And she’s grateful for Deborah Mintz’s leadership of the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County; the late Sylvia Ray’s vision to bring the Center for Economic Empowerment & Development downtown; for Hank and Diane Parfitt, owners of City Center Gallery & Books; and for William and Helen Ward, who once owned Point News.
“So many people,” Arnold says, “that have worked tirelessly to make downtown a wonderful place.