Old Cornelius becoming arts destination

CORNELIUS – History is repeating itself in downtown Cornelius. 

Brick Row was once known as the gathering place in Old Town Cornelius, and thanks to efforts of area arts organizations and the town, downtown is still that place.

Artists displaying their wares, food trucks and live music filled the parking lot at Oak Street Mill on April 11. Attendees of all ages spent time with friends and neighbors during the monthly Second Friday Art Crawl, hosted by Bella Love and the Cornelius Cultural Arts Group. Other events drawing people include weekly food trucks, open mic nights and the upcoming ‘Tawba Walk, among other initiatives.

“If I build something someone else wants, that makes me feel good,” said Mooresville artist David Byars, who builds birdhouses and has sold them at the ‘Tawba Walk and Second Friday events. “But I’m a people person. It doesn’t really matter if they buy anything. It brings everyone out and I love it.”

Bella Love, a movement to bring the community together through arts, has latched onto the area’s history while reinvigorating downtown. Last fall, organizers renamed their storefront, Brick Row, after a prominent part of town.

Brick Row was a line of businesses housed in brick buildings, located near the railroad tracks where Catawba Avenue and Main Street cross, down the street from where “Brick Row” stands now. It was home to shops, a café, pool hall, cleaners, insurance agent, a shoe repair shop, a dime store, the town’s first post office and two barbershops, including the original Pott’s Barbershop. The buildings went into disrepair and burned down in 1961.

Cornelius Commissioner Woody Washam remembers the activity surrounding original shops and is thrilled with its resurgence.

“They are definitely breathing new life into it,” he said.

Bella Love’s Jessica Boye said the former Brick Row’s reputation as the town’s common area was fitting for its mission.

“We can’t ignore history in our new arts movement.,” Bella Love Director Case Warnemunde said. “We have to be reflective of the past.”

The storefront offers a rotating art exhibit and serves as the hub for Bella Love.

“This section is overlooked,” Boye said of why they chose old Cornelius. “It’s a wonderful historic part of town with a lot to offer. We are trying to bring people.”

And they aren’t limited to Cornelius residents.

Had it not been for Second Friday, Salisbury artist Gail Allen said she wouldn’t necessarily have come. She enjoys the community gatherings.

Tondra Williams, of Concord, also wanted her work to be included.

“Art crawls get everyone to come out and bring children for a family-friendly, positive event,” she said. “You can get things here that people put in hard work and are creative. These are one-of-a-kind pieces.”

She added a person never knows what they are going to see.

April 11, attendees enjoyed the musical styling of Cornelius teen Nikki Fellows, ate cupcakes and barbecue and bought local art.

While her son, Patrick, wasn’t performing that night, Huntersville resident Paula Dukes said it’s one of the few places that allow youth bands to play.

“It’s family-friendly and everyone is very supportive and encouraging,” Dukes said. “It’s free, it’s safe and you get to see the arts and different things.”

Businesses also take part by staying open later to benefit from the increased traffic.

The town hopes to also help Bella Love’s mission of making Cornelius an arts destination.

“There are great things to come,” Washam said. “The town board and art center has great visions and dreams of where we are headed. It’s an exciting time for the Old Town.”