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Apex, North Carolina’s Small Town Charm
by Dick Healy

There is a small placard on the wall of Anna’s Pizzeria in Apex, North Carolina that reads “I wasn’t born in the South, but I got here as fast as I could.”
Anna’s came to town in 2008 and quickly caught on with locals and tourists offering New York style pizza and other Italian dishes. According to its manager, Tom Mouser, the Apex location is the only one they operate, though they originally had three pizzerias in Long Island, all now closed. Jim Worsdale, Anna’s congenial full-time bartender, knows the steady customers by first name and their favorite beverage.

This charming southern antebellum town has, as of the 2010 census, 37,886 residents. The relaxed atmosphere and small town feel of Apex is drawing a whole new cadre of dwellers and visitors who apparently are seeking a different scene, away from the larger nearby city of Raleigh and elsewhere.

On any given day you’ll see mothers pushing baby carriages or walking their children along Apex’s N. Salem Street side walks. The town has a unique variety of shops and eateries. I observed dozens of tourist leisurely strolling by checking out storefront windows.
You don’t find big box stores in downtown Apex. What you find is smaller to medium size entrepreneur merchants catering to a clientele in search of items one only finds in select specialty shops.

Anne Acosta and her husband, Stuart, are prime examples of Apex’s enterprising shop owners. Proprietors of Tirzas Imports LLC at 112 N. Salem Street for the past two years, the Acostas came to North Carolina from Crystal City and San Antonio, Texas. Their shop features hard-to-find handmade items such as hand painted dresses, blown glass jewelry, Talavera pottery, and other unique items such as wooden purses featuring reproduction Frida Kahlo artwork.

When not helping Anne, Stuart runs a construction business specializing in concrete foundations. Acosta says that on Saturdays starting in May they will offer live music on Tirzas’ small stage. Patrons can also enjoy Tirzas’ wine bar while being entertained.
Apex offers a “Historical Walking Tour” that takes in over 35 sites. I found the current Chamber of Commerce office one of the most interesting in that it is located in the former redbrick railroad station. Another stop on the tour is the 20th Century L. R. Jackson Tobacco Warehouse that dates back to when Apex was a major tobacco center. Several shops now occupy the warehouse. Prior to the Civil War the railroad had plans in place to haul coal from Chatham County to Confederate troops along a route that would pass through Apex. The plan never happened because the railroad wasn’t finished until 1869 after hostilities had ended. Currently, Amtrak trains from New York City to Charlotte run through Apex four times each day, and at least four to five freight trains do likewise. A Chamber spokesperson said the Apex station ceased passenger service in the late 1960s. You can, however, arrive and depart Amtrak trains in nearby Cary, a few miles north and northeast of Apex. A ticket to Washington, DC can be purchased for as low as $52, with the trip taking about six-and-a-half hours. For $82 you can go from Cary to Florida, though the train ride takes 20-1/2 hours.

Many travelers drive through Apex on their way to Florida. Reason: Salem Street formerly was old US Highway 1 (opened in 1926) that stretched from Maine to Florida.

If you’re headed to North Carolina you might want to attend Apex’s annual “Peakfest” on May 5th where they close off Salem Street to cars and an estimated 25,000 people show up to participate in a variety of cultural activities and fun things to do.

Or be on hand for the Town’s yearly Fourth of July parade and celebration. One other tip: makes a visit to DJ’s Berry Patch and Produce – about a five minute drive from downtown Apex on Salem Church Road - where you’ll find the largest and tastiest strawberries in the area. The berries, which you can buy or pick your own, draw hundreds of kids and families during strawberry season (mid-April through late May). In the fall season, the Patch sells pumpkins and mums.

More by Dick Healy




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