Celebrating 20 Years!

20th Anniversary Special

Cary: Then & Now

In light of Cary Magazine’s 20th anniversary, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane with three prominent longtime citizens to see just how far we’ve come as a community. From long-forgotten tobacco barns to solar farms and electric fleet cars, a lot has changed over the years — but in the words of L.M. Montogomery, “Nothing is ever lost to us as long as we remember it.”

Harold Weinbrecht, Cary Mayor

How long have you lived and worked in Cary?

47 years! I lived in Cary from 1958 to 1969, moved back to the area in 1981, and in Cary from 1987 to present. Cary was so small when I was a child that you had to go to Raleigh to buy a pair of shoes! I remember when 7-Eleven decided to locate in Cary, and how that was a huge deal.

But even though Cary has grown to over 60 square miles and 185,000 people, it still has a small-town feel.

Harold Weinbrecht

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in Cary over the years?

The revitalization of downtown is one of the biggest changes. Twenty years ago, there were very few businesses locating here, and even though it was and is a very safe area, some were beginning to leave. Downtown was not a desirable place to live, and some houses were not being maintained. It had become a place you drove through, not to be. Now it is one of the premier places in the Triangle, with businesses and people wanting to locate there.

Our public parks and greenways have also seen drastic change. Cary now has more than 30 public parks and natural areas, and that number will continue to grow. Our greenway system is now more than 80 miles. If you add trails, that number is over 100 miles, which is farther than the drive from Cary to Winston-Salem. We also have seven special-use facilities, four sports venues, and nine staffed facilities that provide a variety of programs and services for all ages. In 2019 Cary was ranked as the #1 park system in the nation.

What are some common misconceptions about town growth?

There is a perception by some that Cary is growing rapidly because the change is occurring in one or two areas. But when it comes to an actual rate of population growth, data shows that Cary has been growing at a rate of 2.5 to 3% for the last 15 years, which has long been considered by Town Council as a healthy growth target. Many people are misinformed about the rate of growth, and are upset about the infrastructure challenges related to growth.

One common complaint is roads. Those complaints usually are about NCDOT-maintained state roads, which have much lower standards than Cary.

What was your favorite place to shop/eat years ago, and are these places still around?

When my girls were little, we used to go to the Cary Towne mall on Friday nights and eat at the food court. That was a family outing. That property was purchased by Epic Games, and they have removed those buildings.

What is the one business in Cary that you hope we never lose?

Ashworth’s Drugs. What an iconic building with an iconic owner!

What recent changes are you the most excited about?

The Downtown Cary Park spurred economic growth before it was finished and was one of the catalysts for downtown revitalization. It will be recognized as one of the best urban parks in the nation.

If you could bring back one thing from Cary’s past, what would it be?

The Kildaire Farms. I visited it in elementary school, and my childhood impression was that it was enormous. I still remember bits of it today. Needless to say, it had an impact on me.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am honored to have been re-elected for a fifth term as mayor. I am humbled by the citizens’ trust and belief in me as our community moves forward.

Sheila Ogle, Ogle Enterprises and Cary Innovation Center Member/Manager

How long have you lived in Cary?

We moved to Chatham Street in 1955, so 68 years — that’s a darn long time!

Sheila Ogle

As a Cary native, what do you love most about our town?

Although we have become a large town in growth, there’s still a hometown feel for those of us that have lived here for many years. I love that we don’t need to go to Raleigh to shop, go to the doctor, find great entertainment, or go to great restaurants anymore. We have it in our own backyard.

What were some of your favorite places in Cary “back in the day”?

Melba’s, Johnson’s Barbecue, and Suzanne’s Gift Shop, but they’re all gone now. There was actually nowhere else to shop! Melba’s was the place the ‘boys’ met for coffee in the morning and it’s where the contractors and workers ate for lunch. They also served dinner and had breakfast on Saturday morning.

What recent changes are you the most excited about?

The new vibrancy in downtown and the improvements on Academy Street.

What do you miss the most?

Cary Towne Center, but upgraded and modernized. Even though we have Fenton, it just doesn’t have the same feel as “our” mall and the ease of parking.

Who or what would you say is responsible for the town’s growth?

All of the national accolades we continue to receive, great health care and educational opportunities, lack of crime compared to other cities, and wonderful retirement opportunities for seniors.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I feel our town management and council are doing a great job in managing our growth. There will always be challenges as they manage traffic, infrastructure, crime, etc., especially as we move forward with the opening of the new park, new commercial buildings, and residential growth. There will be additional responsibilities for our police and firefighters, and we must be certain they are compensated appropriately and appreciated for their service. I truly love our Town of Cary and am proud to call it home.

Howard S. Johnson, President Emeritus Cary Chamber of Commerce

How long have you lived and worked in Cary?

37 years.

Howard Johnson

In your opinion, what have been some of the biggest changes in Cary over the years?

The ability to provide quality jobs and low unemployment. Government and business are now working together, and world-class companies have invested in our community!

Describe Cary when you first moved here!

When we moved here, the population was 30,000. It’s now approaching 180,000.

With growth, our community has expanded and enhanced its wonderful quality of life for its citizens.

Favorite places to shop, then and now?

Cary Towne Center — a million-square-foot facility offering retail at its best. Epic Games has since purchased the site, but now, Fenton is a great mixed-use area offering retail at its best! I also enjoy Ashworth Drugs, a landmark business in downtown Cary — never want to lose it. We enjoy Rey’s for fine dining.

What are some recent changes in Cary that you’re particularly excited about?

The development of Downtown Cary. The new park will have and has had a tremendous impact on the revitalization of the downtown area. It is now a place of gathering, offering mixed-use development in combination with a world-renowned city park. And we finally have a water feature in Cary!

Thoughts on town growth?

Cary’s business leadership working with the Town of Cary leadership has been a WIN-WIN for its growth. Communities need a vision and services to move forward. We have a great team in Cary that has provided what cities and businesses universally need. The town’s vision on infrastructure has been key.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Many thanks to the leadership and staff during my tenure as President of Cary Chamber of Commerce (36 years). One of my staff members for 17 years was Chuck Norman, who helped develop Cary Magazine. Congratulations to Cary Magazine on its 20th anniversary, and special thanks to Chuck!

Biggest Moments: The evolution of Cary Magazine

20 years is a long time, but in a good way — see if these tidbits tickle your remembrances of the past two decades, from the pages of Cary Magazine to the grand openings and local happenings that make life great in Western Wake!

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