More than 90 years ago brothers Kelley and Reid Cofer opened a business in what was then considered the village of Tucker. Cofer Brothers Building Supply, the current version of that business—still run by the Cofer family—is one of many venerable businesses that sit alongside a growing assortment of newcomers in Tucker’s Main Street business district.
A revitalization effort that started more than 10 years ago is proving successful despite a nationwide dip in the economy. The first phase of a streetscape project that narrowed Main Street from four lanes to two and gave the street a fresh, updated, more attractive look was completed in fall of 2011.
“We had businesses coming here even while construction was going on. That’s a sure sign that people could see that we had something really good started,” said Honey Van der Kreke, an original member of the Main Street Tucker Alliance, the organization spearheading the effort.
Van der Kreke said reducing the number of lanes on Main Street has done the opposite of what one might first imagine. The area has become busier. “Before, people would just whiz through here. Now they slow down and have a chance to see what we have here.”
Businesses such as Matthews Cafeteria, a Tucker institution since the mid-1950s, and Carr’s Drug Store remain cherished landmarks in downtown Tucker, Van der Kreke said, as new businesses from retail shops to health clinics come to Main Street. Two new restaurants, including the first in downtown Tucker with a bar, have opened. Another, a Mexican restaurant, is scheduled to open in a few weeks.
“Although Tucker isn’t really a city—even though a lot of people mistakenly think that it is—it has very much the feel of a small town and people take the kind of pride in it that people take in their hometowns. Right along here in the Main Street area we have shops, a church, the high school and a soda shop where kids hang out after school—just what you’d expect to find in a small town,” said Van der Kreke, who grew up in Tucker.
“People who grow up here want to stay or to come back here. We want to make it the kind of place where they want to raise a family and spend their whole lives,” she said.
Although the revitalization effort, started in 2000, slowed with America’s economic woes, Van der Kreke said the economic slump was “a bump in the road,” but proved a plus in some ways. “Prices go down in a slow economy, so we were able to get more done with the money we had,” she said. “Also, the construction provided some jobs when people really needed them. Who knows where we’d be if we hadn’t decided to do this when we did.”
The money had come from government grants and from Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) money from the county. The county is allowed to use up to 20 percent of money collected through sales taxes for such improvements as sidewalks and roads. The rest must be applied to offset property taxes.
Tucker recently received another $1.6 million grant, but has not yet determined how it is to be spent. “Grants almost always have restrictions as to how they can be used,” explained attorney Charlton Allen, who works with the Main Street Alliance as it guides new developments. “We have to be sure we’re in compliance with those restrictions.”
The revitalization being done with grant money has inspired many existing businesses to remodel and become part of the new ambiance, Van der Kreke said. “The government can’t do all of it, nor should it,” she said. “We believe in a partnership between government and private business.”
Allen said that “the coolest part” of what’s being done in Tucker is that it comes from a group of local people who just got together and started talking about what they wanted to do with their community. “Every time we’ve held a meeting, people have turned out in large numbers. The smallest turnout we ever had was 103 people—and that was right before Christmas,” he recalled.
“We’ve created a template here,” he said. “This is a model for other communities that want to do something similar.”