Uptown Greenville: A transformation story

Brandon Qualls in the kitchen at Ford + Shep in Uptown Greenville. (Robert Clark for the North State Journal)

GREENVILLE — Greenville has long been known for football stadiums, barbecue joints and hospitals. It’s downtown, however, had seen its better days.

Thanks to local supporters, downtown Greenville is now “Uptown Greenville”. With new developments such as upscale housing, restaurants, art galleries, theaters and a science museum, Greenville has a revitalized core for visitors to explore.

University Book Exchange (UBE) in Greenville, N.C. {Robert Clark for the North State Journal)

One of the first leaders behind the efforts to improve the downtown area was Don Edwards. A Greenville native and UNC graduate, Edwards has played a key role in Uptown Greenville’s rebirth. Edwards’s father founded the University Book Exchange (UBE) in 1968, catering to thousands of ECU students. Edwards came back from Chapel Hill in 1974 and started working with his father at the bookstore.

“With a talented group of people, we put our nose to the grindstone, worked long hours and did all of the things we needed to do to make this arguably the most successful private bookstore in the nation,” said Edwards who has been dreaming about redevelopment in Greenville for over 40 years.

“I was a parent of an age group swimmer which made me go visit other college towns, the best college towns, and Greenville just wasn’t one of them,” Edwards said.

Seeing how architecturally advanced and how popular these cities’ downtown areas were made Edwards want to make a change.

Edwards focused on more parking, adding attractions and making the streets of Greenville safer and more popular.

Jeff Glenn is another one of Uptown Greenville’s pioneers. In 1948, Glenn’s parents opened a flower shop beside her house in Greenville called, Jefferson’s. Since, Jefferson’s has changed locations four times and is now located in Uptown Greenville where it has turned into much more than a flower shop.

Jefferson’s in Greenville, N.C. {Robert Clark for the North State Journal)

“Every Thursday we have 40 to 50 people that come to the store for our wine tastings, which brings a lot of positive energy to the store,” Glenn said.

Glenn’s hard work and dedication to this store brings people in from around the state daily. What started as a simple family flower shop, has transformed into an upscale store that stocks fine wines and décor items in addition to flowers.

Glenn bought into the vision that Uptown Greenville would become much more than it once was. Although it was a risky move at the time, she had faith that change was on the way. “We think the best is yet to come, we’re already seeing some really great things. I think we’ve got a lot of incredible things in place but this area is only going to get better,” Glenn said.

Brandon Qualls, an ECU graduate, has always been interested in food and cooking. In May 2018, Qualls opened a restaurant called Ford + Shep in Uptown Greenville. The restaurant is named after his two children, Redford and Shephard.

“I’ve always loved Uptown and I always knew it had amazing potential and I wanted to be a part of that,” Qualls said. “I saw the start of growth this way so I took the opportunity and jumped on it.”

Qualls also opened Greenville’s first “hatchet house,” called “Stumpy’s.” Stumpy’s is located in Uptown Greenville and is an axe throwing franchise that started in New Jersey.

“It was another step because Greenville already has dining, we were lacking in entertainment so we thought it would be cool to bring that here and give another entertainment option to Dickinson Avenue and Uptown Greenville,” Qualls said.

Brandon Qualls (Right) in the kitchen at Ford + Shep in Uptown Greenville. (Robert Clark for the North State Journal)

This surging growth has brought not only new attractions to town, but also more people from around the nation to enjoy what Greenville has to offer.

“We now see a lot of people walking around, going out at night and back in the day that just wasn’t a possibility for most people,” Jeff Glenn said.

Edwards, Glenn and Qualls are betting on Greenville’s future growth. Uptown has provided Greenville with another asset to supplement the draw of East Carolina.