The Love of Gadsden Makes Moore Thrive

Last Updated 1/29/2024in Gadsden, AL North, Interesting People, Community

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And, the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Steve Jobs. 

Sometimes it’s not about the work but where the work is accomplished. And, considering Kay Moore has spent her entire career in Downtown Gadsden, she truly does love where she works.

“I am born and raised Gadsden,” director of Downtown Gadsden Inc. said. “Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mom and sister and I shopping in downtown Gadsden. Back then we would line up at the drug store (where Jirah’s is now) and buy our school books.

Moore growing up in the 1960s, she saw the downtown as a vibrant business center.

“This is where everyone went. It was before the malls, before KMART, before Walmart. Everyone shopped downtown,” she said. “My grandmother was legally blind and lived with us. We would often ride the bus from our house to downtown, shop and walk all day and then ride the bus home. It really was the place to be.”

However, by the time she started what would be a 30 year career at Central Bank in 1973, times had changed. The mall had opened and people weren't downtown as much. In fact, the flight to new had taken  its toll and businesses closed and buildings sat vacant.

"It is weird that you can have great memories and then 10 years go by and it was gone,” Moore said.

It got so bad in downtown Gadsden that at one point in the late 80s to early 90s the occupancy rate for the area was down to 40 percent.

"I remember thinking back then that I didn't know if I would come to downtown if I did not work in downtown,” Moore said.

Things began looking up for the downtown area in the late 1990s when Downtown Gadsden Inc. began. The mayor and council at the time also saw the importance of reviving downtown, and through combined efforts the streetscape project was completed. The plans called for a major resurfacing project, wider sidewalks, old fashioned street lamps, benches and trees. It was supposed to last six months, but ended up taking two years to complete.

“Cathy Back, the DGI director at the time, had the hard job of getting through the streetscape project. They dug up the streets almost to the storefront and then re-surfaced... added bigger sidewalks and planted the trees,” Moore said. “That really was when people started coming back to downtown.

”Moore retired from banking in 2004 and after three years returned to her love...Downtown Gadsden... as the director of DGI.

The vision of DGI, according to its website, is to provide visitors, residents, and workers with a unique, engaging experience that blurs the lines between shopping, art, and entertainment.

“They hired me to work under the Main Street guidelines, but we were not considered a main street program at the time because you cannot belong to the national Main Street program without having a state level program."

At the time, Alabama did not have a state MainStreet program due to budget cuts back in 2003.

“The first thing I wanted when they hired me was a name tag,” Moore said. “I wanted people to know who I was and what I represented before I ever opened my mouth.”  The first day with name tag on, pen and note pad in hand, Moore went to work walking the streets of downtown Gadsden, visiting shop owners with two simple questions.

“What do you need? How can I help?” Moore asked. “I wanted them on my side from the beginning and asking them how I could help them was the best way to do it. We have all realized we get so much more accomplished by working together.”

“Kay is definitely the engine that drives the train for downtown Gadsden. She works tirelessly for the merchants and everyone involved in this community, ”Spencer Williams, DGI Board President, said.

Moore’s success as director of DGI is a direct reflection of her love for downtown Gadsden.

“Downtown is my passion. When I came to work for DGI we were about 60 percent occupied, I have worked hard for the area and will continue to do so, but I can’t take all the credit.

”Another spark that helped Downtown Gadsden burst into the vibrant downtown it is today, was “First Fridays” the monthly event that draws up to10,000 people to a six block area of downtown. 

“I can’t take credit for it at all,” she laughed. “It was the idea of Sylvia Smith, the original owner of The Stone Market.

In January 2006, Smith started First Friday’s as a winetasting event at her shop. By the time Moore started her work with DGI it had been happening for close to two years.

“Other businesses were taking notice of what was happening and wanted to be a part of it,” Moore said. “Terry Jennings, with Little Faces Doll Shop, knew people in car clubs so we went and started handing out fliers.”

In the 15+ years of First Fridays, the event has  grown to be a highlight of Downtown Gadsden.

“When you get 10,000 people in a six block area all at one time, people (and businesses) take notice of how cool your downtown is,” Moore said.

Her passion for downtown has kept her in the position well past retirement... This October she will celebrate 15 years as the DGI director and she is frequently asked when she will retire.

“I don’t think they want to get rid of me just yet, but I do get asked that a lot,” Moore said. “I enjoy what I do and I hope I am good at it.

“I will retire when I don’t enjoy it anymore or when I feel like I am not effective at my job...Or when people come to me and tell me I'm not doing a good job anymore. Until then, I will keep asking what my members need and how can I help!”
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