Downtown Laurel is the ever-beating heart of our city. The soul of a generation of dreamers. A hope for future generations of good ole, small town folk. It’s a beacon of light for other small towns that want to be reborn and revitalized. It’s home.
Since the beginning of Home Town, Laurel has seen an enormous influx of traffic. People from all over the world are enamored with the small town charm seen in short, beautiful segments on the show and through the genuine and kind demeanor of Ben and Erin. Behind the cameras, behind the beautiful home transformations, and fancy panoramic videos of the crowded streets of Laurel is a woman— who has stood on those same streets ten years before, completely alone.
Meet Judi Holifield. The unsung hero of a decade’s worth of growth and revitalization in Downtown Laurel. Since 2011, she has served as the Laurel Main Street Director and been a vital part in what you see and experience today.
When she was hired to be the Laurel Main Street Director, things were different.
“We had 34 empty buildings when I took this job. It’s so funny to think about now, but I would sit in this office and literally take a nap because there was nothing to do and ask myself, “What do you think you are doing, Judi?”
But with a team of like-minded people, something happened. People began to buy in to the idea that their hometown could be what they had dreamed of. This place could actually be somewhere you always wanted to live.
“I always say you’ve got to do something people can see. You’ve got to change the perception of your streets, your sidewalks, and your downtown.”
And that’s exactly what Judi and many others have set out to do.
“Our first visual project we completed was the large hanging murals of Laurel’s finest musicians and artists. We wanted a way to cover 12 of Laurel’s ugliest building in downtown until they found an owner. Since then, there is only one mural left on Front Street. They’ve all been filled.”
They continued progress by painting all the planters and planting trees. Her hope is to always focus on her first love in every aspect of the downtown area— the arts.
“We loved seeing the mural on the library appear that Erin designed. We improved the war memorial and painted it. I think the library was one of our biggest 'hoorahs'. No one knew where the library was, so we had to make it visible and accessible.”
With each year, things continued to improve. New families, new artists and dreamers would take up residence within the community and would come to Laurel Main Street with a far-fetched idea. But nothing is too far-fetched or too wild to believe in for Judi.
“It’s all about casting a vision and not letting money stop you. Sit down with your inner core people, come up with a vision of what you want, and do it. We’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Although Laurel’s growth and revitalization is a miracle in itself, Judi believes the secret to maintaining this steady growth is sustainability.
“We’re focusing on spreading SHOP LOCAL. It keeps us alive. There are still people in Laurel who don’t have any clue about Downtown Laurel and we’ve got to change that. It’s great to have people here from Canada, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, but more than ever, we need to see some Jones County tags, too. We’ve got to support our neighbors.”
The vision for Laurel is still growing and there is still so far to go. As of right now there are still vacant buildings in Downtown Laurel and an open invitation to ideas.
“I think that Laurel still has so far to bloom. It’s just going to bloom in different ways that we don’t know yet. People that have chosen to stay and what they’re going to bring to the table. I think we’re going to see more of that.”
We believe that, too. Thank you for all that you do and the way you have made our town blossom more than we could have imagine, Judi.
If you’re interested to learn more about Laurel Main Street, visit http://laurelmainstreet.com.