By Kelsey Kusterer
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Carrboro has grown significantly economically and culturally in recent decades, and Gary Phillips, a resident of Silk Hope, has been there to observe the town’s changes.
“I liked it from the beginning,” Phillips said about Carrboro.
Phillips is a broker and partner at Weaver Street Realty, located at 116 E. Main St., which he founded in Carrboro in 1982. He is known in the community for his diverse interests and involvement in town affairs, which include serving as a lay preacher, being a former Chatham County Commissioner and working as an auctioneer, among several other community roles he’s played.
Jay Parker, partner and broker-in-charge at Weaver Street Realty, became Phillips’ friend while Phillips was working as a bartender. After Phillips founded Weaver Street Realty, Parker started working with him at auctions.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of energy, and he’s developed a tremendous amount of disciplines,” Parker said.
Jackie Helvey, Phillips’ friend and CEO and owner of UniqueOrn Enterprises, located at 118 E. Main St. in Carrboro, met Phillips at an auction he was running.
“From the first time I met him nearly 30 years ago, his warm and welcoming ways made me know we would be friends for a long time to come,” Helvey said.
Phillips has been in Carrboro long enough to witness the development of downtown Carrboro into an entertainment and restaurant hot spot.
Carrboro now functions as what Phillips calls “a locus of the creative community, and of green building and of enterprising owner-owned businesses.”
Helvey saw a shift in Carrboro’s culture shortly after she moved there.
“When Mike Nelson got elected mayor, he started an arts committee for Carrboro, and we started the music festival, and that’s when everything really started changing,” Helvey said. “Carrboro changed from a mill town to an arts town.”
Carrboro has shifted toward a growth in businesses, but this growth has not deterred the town from focusing on environmentally conscious development.
“Orange County has always had a political momentum toward environmental development more so than some surrounding areas,” Parker said.
Much of Phillips’ work as a realtor has been focused on preserving the environment. Phillips refers to himself as an expert in “conservation easements,” which refers to tracks of property that are set aside and left undeveloped in order to protect the environment. (More information on conservation easements is available at The Nature Conservancy Web site.)
Phillips said he encourages developers to avoid clear cutting properties and to protect viable soils, botanical areas and fresh water resources by placing buffers on creeks, rivers and any significant water flows.
As a member of a mortgage studies board, Phillips has also watched the development of the housing economy crisis. He believes the crisis has been a long time coming, starting 25 to 35 years ago when the nation started going into debt because of what Phillips calls “this endless march toward growth.”
Despite the troubling national economic state, Phillips has faith in the local situation.
“I think our local economy is good and strong in the midst of all this, but even it’s being buffeted by the winds of everything that’s happened all across the country, said Phillips”
Phillips’ social involvement goes beyond an interest in environmental conservation; he is also very concerned about the debates regarding immigrant rights.
Parker said Phillips’ interest in immigration issues stems from his childhood in a poor mill town on the South Carolina-North Carolina border where Phillips observed his neighbors struggle to make ends meet.
Phillips estimates that he and around 400 others attended the Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting held on Feb. 9 that discussed the commissioners’ resolution to not support the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program. The ICE 287(g) program trains state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law by pursuing the arrest and detention of illegal immigrants.
This meeting marked a victory for many in support of immigration rights, but Phillips and his wife, Ilana Dubester, have seen heated arguments over immigration in the past.
“We’ve gone through a lot of different phases in Chatham County in regards to immigration,” said Dubester, former director of the Hispanic Liaison of Chatham County. “We’ve gone from absolute denial to anger to rejection to anti-immigrant legislation.”
Despite some intense debates over immigration, Phillips is hopeful Chatham County will sway in support of immigrant rights.
“To appear there and go to this meeting and see…31 or 32 [people] support this resolution…that’s a major change,” said Phillips.
To learn more about Gary Phillips and Weaver Street Realty, please visit: http://weaverstreetrealty.com/.