13Ice skating With a nod to local natives, I want to say I’m honored to call Fayetteville home. I visited a time or two while serving in the Army in the 1980s, but my wife and three children didn’t make the trip, and we didn’t start calling ourselves North Carolinians, until 1992. At the time, we were not completely thrilled with the city — which we thought was more like a town after some of the other stops on our journey — but we’d learned to be content and look for the best wherever we landed by that point, so we did. We looked for the best.

Navigation was difficult here in the ’90s. The town seemed more like a group of small subdivisions loosely connected by a few winding two-lane roads. In fact, that’s what it was.

Looking back, I guess I miss that a little bit. We’d say things like “going to town” because it felt like we were living somewhere near the edge, and the ride itself was part of the appeal of the area back then. We were usually headed somewhere near Cross Creek Mall, which was, at that time, the center of Fayetteville’s retail universe.

Anyone here before the turn of the century can easily recall memories of a sketchy downtown area. By the time we arrived to stay, even the dives that were popular enough to be off limits to neighboring Fort Bragg soldiers were beginning to close or move elsewhere, leaving little but dilapidation and decay in their wake.

That has all been improving steadily, more rapidly so in the last 10 years. We’ve come a long way since the controversial “Hurley Pots,” which appeared in downtown Fayetteville shortly before I did. We’ve watched as the old buildings became coffee shops and quaint restaurants. We’ve seen a wide range of small retail businesses open in or relocate to the area between Haymount Hill and the Cape Fear River.

It’s hard to remember the time before the 14-acre Festival Park was the hub of Fayetteville’s downtown entertainment scene, which is now home to festivals, concerts and celebrations of all kinds.

Why say something about this now? On a recent Sunday, my wife and I found ourselves drawn to the area around the Market House. We heard the laughter of children and saw smiles on faces of all ages. They had come downtown to spend a few minutes gliding across a synthetic ice skating rink. We visited a classic vinyl record shop, stopped in some quaint retail locations that represent dozens of local artisans and craftspeople and watched countless people take selfies and other well-framed shots along the brick-paved Hay Street. It felt good.

Fayetteville. We’re still trying. I say “we” because Fayetteville is now my home, too. I came here on orders and stayed here by choice. Get involved as we get better. In fact, the more we get involved, the better we all will become.

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