By D. Lars Dolder, Chatham News + Record Staff

Pittsboro’s new Welcome Center is officially open to the public, and its representatives are eager to help newcomers and longtime residents alike find new and exciting things to do in Chatham County.

“We can’t wait to tell people about all the local restaurants, local shops and opportunities for recreation,” said Lesley Landis, one of many Chathamites who collaborated on the Welcome Center’s evolution from concept to completion.

“And we want to expand people’s impressions of all of Chatham, beyond even Pittsboro as the county seat. We’re here to talk about Siler City, and Moncure, and Gulf, and Goldston, and Bonlee and Bennett.”

Lesley Landis of Main Street Pittsboro and Welcome Center staffer Paul Sacca discuss the center’s operation. The newly-opened center has welcomed visitors from more than two dozen states.

Landis is a board member of Main Street Pittsboro — one of several non-profits under the N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s North Carolina Main Street program — which operates the Welcome Center. The 10-person team includes County Commissioner Mike Dasher, Pittsboro Commissioner Michael Fiocco and Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy, along with several local business owners such as Landis. The Main Street program is “to help historic downtowns rebound from the loss of businesses and capitalize on their unique assets to retain existing businesses and attract new ones,” according to the Main Street Pittsboro website.

“So to do that,” Landis said, “we agreed as a board that it was really important to have a physical presence and to capture the traffic, or attempt to capture the traffic that comes through here on a daily basis.”

The Welcome Center is located at 37 Hillsboro St., directly adjacent to the downtown traffic circle. Its building was constructed in 1930 and served as a filling station, an auto repair center, a diner and ice cream shop and finally a Capital Bank before sitting vacant for about a year until 2020.

“And so when this opportunity became available,” Landis said, “we agreed we had to jump on it.”

A year later, the building bears little resemblance to its former self. The interior features a modern rustic aesthetic with wood accents and contemporary furniture, most of which was locally made, Landis said. Outside, the building was stripped of its plank siding and mansard roof to expose the brick beneath, consistent with other downtown buildings.

“We’re really happy with the progress we’ve been able to make during this very trying time,” Fiocco told the News + Record, adding, “We continue to make improvements to the facility and are eager to see … the improvements it will bring to the adjoining properties.”

But improving downtown’s appearance was an ancillary goal for Main Street Pittsboro. The Welcome Center’s main purpose is to make the town and county more accessible to visitors, and to boost the local economy by promoting local businesses.

“What I hope we’re able to do is answer whatever brought people through that door, and direct people to whatever they’re looking for,” said Paul Sacca, the Welcome Center’s concierge, and Main Street Pittsboro’s only employee. “Surprisingly, a great deal of people are from out of state, and with everything opening up they’re either moving here, or they already moved here or are considering moving here, and so they come trying to find out more about the town.”

Since the Welcome Center opened last month on March 24, about 200 people have come, Sacca said. He shares with visitors a list of local restaurants and his recommendations, invites them to explore videos of Chatham on the center’s interactive smart TV and points them toward recreational opportunities according to their preferences. The variety of travelers surprised Sacca at first, he said, but it’s testament to Chatham County’s growing reputation.

“I mean, just briefly, I’ve seen people from Virginia, Washington state, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, California,” he said, “just all over the place.”

“Pittsboro is so ideally located,” Landis added, “it’s a wonder that it lasted this long without just huge amounts of growth. But people are realizing it now.”

Landis and the Main Street Pittsboro board are happy to welcome the transplants who bring with them an infusion of new money for the local economy. Businesses have struggled to survive the pandemic, Landis said, more than some would like to admit.

“We’ve had this conversation at the board level that most businesses don’t want to say, ‘Hey, help us, we’re on the verge of closing,’ because it looks weak,” she said. “But then when a business closes down … everybody is so shocked and sad, and had they known that (the business) was having trouble, they would have made an extra effort to support them. So there’s a messaging puzzle in there as to how you talk about it, and hopefully Main Street Pittsboro, and with our new building here, can fill in some of the gap.”

Information focusing on local activites and attractions are featured at the Welcome Center.

With the pandemic ongoing, though, it’s been a challenge for Main Street Pittsboro to promote its new building and expanded services. The Welcome Center is still in its “soft opening,” Landis said, but she and the board have not abandoned the idea of a belated “grand” opening.

“We don’t have a date for our grand opening, I don’t know when it will be able to happen,” she said, “But we’re really excited about it when it does happen and we want to invite all the businesses to be part of it.”

And she hopes Chatham businesses will collaborate with Main Street Pittsboro to keep reviving a local economy racked by the pandemic recession.

“Main Street Pittsboro, and I think Chatham County in general, thrives when people work together,” she said. “We have a tremendous resource in this building, and we want to share it — to do everything we can to promote the county, businesses, agencies, events, you name it.”

The Pittsboro Welcome Center is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. To learn more about Main Street Pittsboro, or to donate, visit has partnered with the Chatham News + Record in order to bring more Chatham-focused stories to our audience. 

The Chatham News + Record is Chatham County’s source for local news and journalism. The Chatham News, established in 1924, and the Chatham Record, founded in 1878, have come together to better serve the Chatham community as the Chatham News + Record. Covering news, business, sports and more, the News + Record is working to strengthen community ties through compelling coverage of life in Chatham County.