General Store offers unique items, community feel for locals

Valerie Brooks spends a great deal of her time working at The General Store & Coffee of Bellemont, for which she put a great deal of labor into to get on its feet and open to the public back in December 2011. With a background as a barista, Valeria has a love for coffee shops and is extremely knowledgeable about brewing and the chemistry of coffee, according to her mother, Debbie Brooks.

It’s the kind of place that makes you feel at home, regardless of where your home may be.

The view down the dirt road, beyond which lies the Brooks' family home.

Driving down North Carolina Highway 49 headed south, winding far out into Alamance County lies Bellemont, a quaint little area of Burlington with an abundance of green pastures, farmland and charming southern feel. The drive there melts away stress as visions of lush green fields speckled with yellow buttercups pass by. With the windows down, the scent of freshly cut grass mixed with the sweet aroma of crisp, country air wafts about. A blanket of peacefulness and quiet simplicity envelops the land.

A small, appealing yet unassuming store appears at 3041 Bellemont Mount Hermon Road just off Highway 49. Surrounded by a small gravel parking lot, with neighboring rustic country homes and a church across the street, the blue wooden storefront with the red roof is a pleasantly welcome surprise.

The General Store and Coffee sits off of Bellemont Mount Hermon Road, tucked away in a rustic area surrounded by green pastures, offering something unique for the small community.

The General Store & Coffee of Bellemont, which opened on December 1, 2011, provides the community with a warm, welcoming atmosphere, local food products and consignment items from local artisans. Plus, there’s a full, gourmet coffee bar. There are tables and chairs, checkerboards and free Wi-Fi for the customers’ comfort and enjoyment.

The building occupies a space that originated as a general store in the 1940s, but evolved into a boat shop, a lawnmower shop and eventually a junkyard. The plot of land is interlaced with the history of the Brooks family that owns and operates the store today.

This eight-member family is headed by Tim Brooks, a daytime mail delivery man with electric blue eyes and a smooth, stable southern drawl, along with his wife Debbie Brooks, a kind, sweet-spoken mother of six with an affinity for raising golden retrievers. They have five daughters and one son, ranging from a 16-year-old high school student to a 34-year-old mother of three young, yellow-haired troublemakers.

The Brooks’ family history is deeply embedded where they work and reside. Their house, a charismatic residence on a vast plot of land with chicken coops and roaming cows, sits at the end of the dirt road adjacent to The General Store. Robert L. Brooks Lane is family property, named for Tim’s father. Their house and the dirt road have strong sentimental ties to Tim, more so than the others.

The Brooks' home has been in the family since the 1940s, when Tim Brooks' parents purchased the property to raise Tim and his eight other siblings.

“He’s lived in this house his whole life except three years. His roots are very deep,” Debbie said of her husband. “He is very local. Very few people can say they’ve lived on the same dirt road their whole life, much less the same house.”

This deeply rooted connection and long-standing history led the family to purchase the old lawnmower shop when it went up for sale, to turn it into something for the whole family.

“My husband’s family, which has nine siblings who all live around here on (either side of) this dirt road, wanted someone in the family to purchase the building because they own all the property from the store back down this way,” Debbie said. “We ended up buying it so it would stay in the family.”

Two of the older Brooks daughters, Valerie and Kim, had the idea to start a coffee shop, but Tim also wanted there to be a little store, kind of like there was when he was growing up. The three of them singlehandedly cleaned out the old place and did all the planning. Over a year, they transformed it from a junky lawnmower shop to what it is today.

The building had most recently been a junky lawnmower shop before the Brooks family transformed it into store it is today. Photo courtesy of The General Store & Coffee.

“We did everything, all the cleanup ourselves,” said Valerie Brooks, the second-eldest Brooks daughter. “All the painting, and the finishing of the floor. We brought in (Roger Moore) for the internal repairs, and some local people helped paint the roof red.”

Their uncle, who lives next to the property, hand made the wooden, white-painted red-lettered sign out front that welcomes customers to the store, listing select items inside, many of which are locally obtained.

Tim and Debbie spend a lot of their time researching how and where to get as many local products as they can, but it isn’t always easy or affordable—at least so far.

Valerie Brooks said her uncle, who lives right next to the store, hand painted the wooden sign out front of the store.

“We can’t say everything is local,” Tim said. “I try as much as I can, but we sometimes have a hard time finding everything at a decent price.”

The ice cream, which comes from the Homeland Creamery in Julian, NC is one of their most local products, and by far the most popular. The eggs come from their own personal chicken coop, and some other products, such as the meats, wines, loose candies, salsas and the coffee beans they brew in-store, are brought in from various individual vendors and distributors throughout the state—some as close as Burlington, others up to a few hours away. The rest of the products come from various distributors in other states, such as the jams and jellies from the Amish in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a lot of work and takes several hours to do the research,” Tim said. Debbie spends a lot of time searching for local products online, but she has found that customers are can be helpful as well.

The dairy items, such as the milk, cheese and ice cream, are all from very local farms and distributors. The Homeland Creamery provides the most popular item in the store, the ice cream.

“Customers have come in and said ‘you should call this person, they sell xyz,’” Debbie said. “I have found that people are very interested in buying local (products). But (those products) are more difficult to find and can be more expensive. You wonder if people will purchase them, so you just have to be committed.”

Debbie has also noticed that people who never thought before about buying local until they saw the variety of local products in The General Store. She enjoys providing these customers with the opportunity to make that choice.

The shop has been bringing in new customers every day while continuing to build its resume of committed regulars.

Retta (Deane) Bingham, a Burlington local, has been going to The General Store frequently since she first discovered it one month ago.

“Friends told me they had seen the sign driving by, and another friend came in and highly recommended it,” Bingham said. “She loved the coffee and the friendliness of the baristas and all the local things. She’s especially fond of the ice cream – she had just sung its praises.”

As a Starbucks barista inside the Burlington Target, Bingham’s work life can get pretty hectic and noisy. She goes to The General Store for the atmosphere, and funnily enough, for their piping hot coffee.

Retta (Dean) Bingham, a local Starbuck's barista, frequently visits The General Store & Coffee to order the tallest cup of their flavored, piping hot brew.

“I always do a flavored coffee, just their brewed hazelnut or something because I enjoy a bold or a medium,” she said, “but it’s nice to get an actual coffee shop brewed flavor without having to add syrup.”

Bingham said she is additionally committed to the store to support the Brooks family. She sees how hard they work and admires their passion and the family atmosphere that it creates. She tries to bring other friends with her to add to the customer pool, but often times Bingham just comes in alone to read or write letters in a peaceful environment.

“I like what they’re doing and I just want to see them succeed,” she said.

The Brooks have received a lot of positive feedback—a good amount from those who have expressed how the store has added something special to the small community.

“Everyone actually really likes our store because it’s a lot different from anything else in the area,” said Emily Brooks, the second youngest daughter. “It’s also nice to have a coffee shop here so you don’t have to go into town to get a cup of coffee.”

But it isn’t always easy.

“I’ve got all this other stuff to do,” Tim said. “I run a mail route, take care of cows and chickens, and then there’s the store. But it’s fun…as long as it pays off in the long run.”

Debbie has found that people truly care about her family’s well-being.

“We’ve made some new friends—people I had never met before that live right here in our community, and now they’re regulars,” she said. “They’ll come in and ask how we’re doing. ‘We don’t want you closing,’ they’ll say. Sometimes I try to cut them a deal, but they insist on paying full price. They want us to make it, and that has been encouraging.”

Kim Brooks prepares coffee on a busy Saturday afternoon at the store. Kim has another job that keeps her very busy, not allowing her to spend as much time in the store as she would like.

Each member of the family pitches in. They all spend time working behind the counter, and everyone is expected to do their part.

“We have to get up earlier in the mornings and we’re pretty tired at night,” Debbie said. The store is open twelve hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, and ten hours on Saturdays. They are only closed on Sundays.

“We’ve had people wanting to know if we’ll ever be open on Sundays…but we just have to recognize that we need to have a day where we get a break,” Debbie said.

The family enjoys working together to maintain a place where there is a sense of community value. They provide something more personal for both those who come in regularly and for first-timers.

“You can’t always make money that way,” Debbie said, “but it’s nice to work together as a family. It’s got its advantages and disadvantages, and we don’t always agree on everything, but at the end of the day it’s worth it.”

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Local author breeds success out of setbacks

She was an infant with no father. A talented student with no money for college. A newlywed with an unexpected baby.

Local author Jennifer Busfield signs books at Local Yogurt April 10. The book signing was planned by the Elon Microfinance Initiative, which works to support local and international business owners.

Writing may come easily to local author Jennifer Busfield, but not much else in her life has.  Described as “refreshing” by her friends and family, Busfield, with her inviting smile and bold presence, is someone people want to be around. But it was her difficult upbringing and dedication to success that gave Busfield this enthusiasm for life.

Busfield is the author of “Love Letters, Volume 1, Moving On: Growing Up,” and “Love Letters, Volume 2: Being Adult.” Both books are compilations of love letters, with Volume 2 being a longer, more serious collection. To correspond with the books, Busfield founded, a website that encourages users to submit their own love letters.

The books and the website send the same message — “I love you” isn’t said enough. Whether it’s to a boyfriend or a best friend, love needs to constantly be expressed. Expressed, perhaps, through love letters.

Growing Up

Busfield was born February 11, 1981 in Jackson Heights, New York to young immigrant parents. Her Columbian mother, Margarita Krassa, married her father shortly after he emigrated from the Dominican Republic. But her father abandoned the relationship, and Busfield, an only child, was raised by Krassa.

In the summer of 1988, Busfield and Krassa moved to Burlington, North Carolina after Krassa’s attempt at a second marriage failed. But Krassa was not financially stable and was forced to work long hours.

“She lived with friends for a while, she did part time jobs, she was very driven, but because of her lack of education, she was always working,” Busfield said. “I was alone a lot. A latchkey kid. I had to get myself home by riding my bike in the dark.”

In 1991, Krassa married Andreas, a German immigrant. Although Busfield was happy for her mother, living with Andreas often proved difficult, she said. Cultural issues were immediately present, and personality clashes became apparent over time.

“I was never something he wanted, but he took on the responsibility because he loved my mom,” she said. “He didn’t really invest in me as he should have, and I, being a little girl wanting to have that daddy figure, I tried a lot. And then somewhere along the way I stopped trying, and we just kind of coexisted within the household.”

Busfield signs copies of her Love Letters books at Local Yogurt April 10.

Despite the frustration and constant disagreements, Busfield considers Andreas the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. Busfield didn’t meet her biological father until she was 28 years old, because although she was interested in communicating with him, her mother and Andreas firmly believed she should have no contact with him.

“As a middle school and high school student, even though (my mom) had already remarried, it was important to me to connect with blood family,” Busfield said. “My stepfather was not keen on the idea, for (my mother’s) sake, but also I guess for mine.”

In addition to deciding Busfield would not see her father, Krassa and Andreas also took a stance on where Busfield should attend college. They gave her three options: work and go to community college, work and save tuition money for a four-year school or go to Bible college. Busfield, who had already submitted applications to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, was not content with the options presented to her.

“I went into my room and sulked for a week,” she said. “But I was very independent and very strong willed, and I was trying to figure out okay, at what point do I do what my parents say, or grow up and do what I want to do.”

Krassa was keen on Busfield attending Bible school because of the evangelical Christian neighborhood the family had moved into when they moved to North Carolina. Busfield attended Sunday School, participated in youth groups and mission trips and attended a local Christian school before transferring to public school her sophomore year of high school. Although the Christian school was academically solid, Busfield said she was frustrated by the lack of recognition of non-Christian higher-education opportunities.

“They just assumed you would go to one of the Christian schools or universities, so they had Christian universities come in and talk about what they do and what they offer,” she said. “Transferring to the public school and being identified quickly as a high grade student, (the college search) turned into an academic pursuit.”

Determined to be academically challenged, Busfield decided she would pay her way through college at UNC Chapel Hill. Her parents purchased the sheets for her dorm bed, but that was the extent of their help. To pay her tuition bills, Busfield worked as a parking attendant, and when she couldn’t pick up enough hours, she took a job at Starbucks. Busfield graduated with a BA in English in August 2003 after taking summer sessions to complete her credit hours.  Although she didn’t have a typical college experience, she has never regretted her decision.

“I’m sure that going to Bible school would have been just fine; it wouldn’t have been as hard,” she said. “But what I’m most proud of is that I evaluated my options, I chose what I wanted, and I made it happen.”

Krassa said Busfield’s determination is one of her most estimable characteristics.

“She is tenacious when she wants something and works hard to achieve it,” Krassa said. “(I admire) her intelligence with just the right amount of humility mixed in.”


In October 2003, Busfield married Kevin Busfield, who she began dating fall semester of her sophomore year at UNC. When Busfield announced her marriage, Krassa pulled out her own wedding album to show to the new couple. This gesture was emotional for Busfield, who had only ever seen her father in the two pictures her grandmother had given her in high school. But Busfield no longer felt an urgent need to speak with her father, she said.

“It was really important, and then I got married, and it wasn’t important anymore,” she said of her longing for a reunion with her father. “It was one of those like, ‘okay, one day.’ Because I have my own family and I need to invest in that.”

Busfield and Kevin decided to wait five years before having a child, and Busfield began working as an 8th grade language arts teacher in the Alamance Burlington School System. She said this was a particularly fun job because she enjoyed interacting with the kids and sprucing up the syllabus.

Busfield speaks about her upcoming projects with senior Kelly Cavanaugh, president of the Elon Microfinance Initiative, at her book signing April 10.

“I followed the curriculum in that we covered the objectives, but that language arts book was so boring,” Busfield said. “I totally loved rocking their worlds with Edgar Allen Poe and “The Lottery,” and I read some O.Henry with them. The classroom was always a blast.”

But before the year was over, Busfield unexpectedly became pregnant and was forced to quit the job. The pregnancy also meant giving up her dream of receiving her Master’s in Education. Busfield took a job at Citi Financial Group and later at LabCorp to support her husband and young son, Rand.

In the spring of 2008, shortly before Rand’s third birthday, Busfield found out Rand was living with high-functioning autism. She began researching early intervention strategies and individualized education plans. She joined online networks for moms with autistic children.

The same year, Busfield received more unexpected news. Her father’s girlfriend had found Kevin’s name associated with Busfield and reached out to Kevin after finding his contact information online. Busfield and her father began emailing back and forth, and later in the year she decided to go to New York to see him.

“They say blood is strong, and I think it’s true,” Busfield said. “You can try and cut family out, but there’s no denying it.”

Upon meeting him, Busfield said it wasn’t so much hard feelings that were present, but more an unavoidable awkwardness.

“Fathers and daughters are supposed to have this great bond and all these sweet moments, and we’ve never had any of that,” she said. “But really, whatever happened between him and my mom was him and my mom.”

Busfield, who was going through her own marriage struggles, said meeting her father as a married woman was helpful in allowing her to understand the complexities of her parents’ relationship. Through connecting with her father, Busfield also found out she had a half-sister, Katherine. Upon meeting her, Busfield saw the same charisma and passion she sees in herself.

But as one relationship began, another was disintegrating. After struggling to make things work with Kevin, Busfield left with Rand for Oklahoma in 2009 to clear her head. She stayed with her friend Shelby, whose husband was away serving in the Air Force.

“It was a highly emotional time, but it was really nice to be in a new space,” Busfield said. “I kind of wish everybody could have their own Oklahoma experience.”

In Oklahoma, Busfield began the Love Letters blog, where she posted love letters written for significant people in her life. From that point on, she became serious about expanding her online presence.

The Elon Microfinance Initiative created a poster for Busfield to help her promote her books at the book signing April 10.

After 11 weeks away, Busfield returned to North Carolina in May 2009 to give her marriage a final chance. After much negotiation and discussion, Busfield left Kevin for good in October. The divorce was final in January 2011.

“I didn’t see what I needed to see from the other side,” she said. “I didn’t feel like it was wanted, because to me, if you want something, you have actions to prove it, not just words.”

In addition to counseling, Busfield was able to move on from the divorce through the love and support from her friends.

“We were close before, but during that point of her separation, because I’ve been through the same thing, we really started seeing each other and talking to each other more,” said Calvetta Watlington, a friend from high school.

Finding success

After returning to North Carolina, Busfield continued to blog and explore social media. She took a job as an administrative assistant at WebSpark, a web development company, and her role soon grew to operations manager. She recruited her friend Joe Wilson to the company, and their relationship began to grow stronger as they spent more time together and helped each other expand their portfolios.

“We dated for several months, but we’re just really good friends now,” Wilson said. “The thing I really like about her is she’s so interested in everything about life, and where her friends are going. It makes me think more about those things through trying to answer her questions.”

In summer 2011, she began researching what it would take to self-publish her work.

“Part of my platform is that love letters aren’t just ‘oh, I love you’ to a partner or to a husband or to a boyfriend,” she said. “It’s moments of love and appreciation and value for somebody who has made a really positive impact in my life.”

When Busfield’s first book was published in November 2011, she embarked on what would become an inspired journey to accomplish her long-term ambitions. Her pen name — which she shortened from Jenny to J.A. — became a popular Google search. Readers gravitated towards her online platforms to learn more about her published works. She began assisting other newcomers in setting up a digital presence and portfolio.

Busfield’s first book is 92 pages and short, sweet and to the point, she said.

Although all of the 50 letters published in Volume 1 were written for specific people in Busfield’s life, she chose not to include their names in the book.

“Each letter I could talk about who it is in reference to,” she said. “I leave that out in the books because I want people to be able to insert one of their own experiences.”

Watlington said she appreciates that readers are able to relate to the love letters.

“In the letters, even though when you read them it’s knowing she’s experienced these things, they aren’t so specific as to where you can’t think of a situation you’ve been in where you’ve felt that same way,” she said.

This aspect of the book stems from Busfield’s willingness to print details of her personal life. Without this vulnerability, the purpose of the books wouldn’t be served in their full potential.

“She gets very raw with her emotions with these letters,” said Jennifer Bringle, who interviewed Busfield about her recent success for an article in the Greensboro News & Record. “It was really refreshing to talk to someone so open with their emotions and willing to share that with the world.”

Despite Busfield’s professional success, loose ends from her relationship with Kevin persisted. In order to ensure their old house in Mebane was fixed up, Busfield moved back in with Kevin after the divorce. Busfield said she has learned to make it work in order to keep Rand within his school system and allow him to stay close to his dad.

Busfield’s second book is a little longer and more personal, she said.

“It’s the overall best option with the consequences I can live with,” Busfield said.

Busfield is constantly brainstorming new projects and is in the process of writing a third book. In order to spread the word about her upcoming ventures and continue to promote her published books, Busfield began working with the Elon Microfinance Initiative, a student group on Elon University’s campus that works as a liaison for small businesses.

“I think she knew that if we work together, it would increase her publicity and it would essentially help both of us,” said Elon junior Erin McGuiggan, a member of the initiative.

The initiative recently hosted a book signing at Local Yogurt for Busfield, where she was popular among Elon students.

“We had people write love letters which she then posted on her website,” said Elon junior Alexis Deprey, vice president of operations for the initiative. “She was an inspiration for a lot of aspiring authors.”

But it’s more than just authors who see Busfield as an inspiration. Krassa says she is constantly impressed by her daughter’s success and is incredibly proud of her.

“She knows how to grasp and dispense truth without apology in a way that leaves you feeling like you have been enriched by her presence, like you learned something new about your life that you can use with others, like you have grown a little yourself,” Krassa said.

Religion Factors in to Vote on North Carolina’s Amendment One

For many people, their religious faith defines who they are. They base what they do in their lives off of what they learn from their religious practices. On May 8, registered voters in North Carolina will be voting on Amendment One – a controversial amendment that has both passionate supporters and detractors. Proponents of both sides have cited religious arguments for their position.

Section one of the amendment reads as follows: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

“By definition, marriage is between a male and a female,” Father Gerry Waterman said. Waterman is the Elon University Catholic Campus Minister and a strong supporter of the amendment.

Waterman said that the Catholic community believes that heterosexual marriages are not just Christian, God, or faith-based but they are mainly natural law. There are two things that Waterman says are the goal of marriage: the furthering of life and the coming together as one. He believes sexual intercourse is the symbol of that oneness and that unity, and that Catholics believe that only a man and a woman are able to partake in something that sacred.

“I have no problem with people who are homosexual coming together and forming some type of union. I have no offense to that, but I do have an offense when they want to call it marriage because of what the word means to us,” Waterman said.

Waterman explains that in scripture, Jesus refers to a man and a woman as a reflection of God’s love for his bride, the church. This means that God loves the church so much that His love is reflected through marriage.

“[Marriage] is not just a word, it is also one of our sacraments,” Waterman said. This is where conflicting arguments arise.

“This particular amendment isn’t about marriage,” Phil Hardy, pastor at Life’s Journey United Church of Christ in Burlington, N.C., said.

While in college, Hardy began to wrestle with the idea of becoming a pastor. He enjoyed public speaking and when something needed to be proclaimed, he wanted to be the one who proclaimed it.

Hardy is against the amendment because he said that he comes from a camp that believes we, as humans, are born with our sexual inclinations. He figures that if enough people are born as lesbians, gays or bisexuals, we are going to have to start accepting them.

“God’s all grown up and doesn’t need to be defended, but people do,” said Hardy.

He believes that the LGBTQ community is the group of people that need to be protected.

“Our oppression on this group of people is a black eye on the church,” Hardy said.

The church, Hardy believes, has managed to create a negative reputation for itself. He feels that people should be able to feel safe in a religious community.

“Religious intolerance won’t be tolerated in the life of our church,” Hardy said about his congregation. “There can be safe religious communities.”

Ian O’Keefe, the Deputy Director of Campus Outreach with the Coalition to Protect North Carolina families, believes that Amendment One is horrible legislation.

“Religion is one of the reasons I claim to be against Amendment One,” O’Keefe, who is Presbyterian, said.

O’Keefe recognizes that religion factors in to why people support the amendment but he says that the Coalition has hundreds and hundreds of ministers and people of faith who have signed on to their campaign to vote against it.

“[They] have claimed that this amendment does not harm their faith, it does not harm their relationships and it is not justified by their religion,” O’Keefe said.

Because of his passion for the fight against Amendment One, O’Keefe, a freshman at Appalachian State University, took his spring semester off to be able to focus solely on the campaign.

“I think is it putting discrimination into the constitution of the state,” Ellie Ketcham, co-founder of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Alamance, said.

Ketcham, an 83-year-old fighter against the amendment from Elon, N.C., has a son, Clifton, who came out to her as gay in 1989. She found out about a chapter of PFLAG in Winston-Salem and went there for monthly meetings until one started up in Greensboro. That was still too far for Ketcham to travel so she decided, with the help of her husband and another couple, to started a chapter here in Alamance County.

It is important to Ketcham, who proudly displays a Vote Against sign on her lawn, that the word gets out to North Carolina citizens about what the amendment truly means. She participates in phone banks run by members of the Elon Community Church, which she belongs to.

On Tuesday, April 3, the church had a phone bank and Emmett Floyd was among those who dialed up households asking if people knew about the amendment and what it means.

Emmett Floyd, a retired Navy admiral, helps out at the phone bank run by members of the Elon Community Church, Tuesday April 3, 2012.

Floyd, a retired navy admiral, was just concerned about the issue and wanted to help spread the word.

“I am aware of the way that many gay people are treated,” Floyd said. “I saw it in the service and in too many other places.”

Waterman said that his thoughts on the amendment are not discriminatory at all.

“We believe in loving every human being whether their orientation is heterosexual or homosexual; there’s no distinction when it comes to loving those people and respecting them,” Waterman said.

Like Waterman, the group behind Vote for Marriage NC is supportive of the amendment and they see a threat that would be imposed on the state if the amendment wasn’t passed.

No one from the group would comment on the issue but according to their website, they believe, “marriage is a special relationship reserved exclusively for heterosexual unions, because only the intimate relationship between men and women has the ability to produce children as a result of that sexual union.”

This worries Vote for Marriage NC because they think that, “While many people would like to believe that proposals to allow same-sex marriage are simply about allowing a different form of marriage to coexist alongside traditional man/woman marriage, they are wrong. The impact that same-sex marriage will have on society is much deeper and far-reaching then a modest change in the word’s definition.”

Members of Vote for Marriage NC include people from the Christian Action League, NC Values Coalition, African American Pastors, NC Baptists, and the National Organization for Marriage.

The members of Vote for Marriage NC believe that voting for the amendment will do two things: protect the definition of marriage in North Carolina and strengthen democracy by allowing people to vote for the protection of marriage.

Ketcham believes that some of the things that Vote for Marriage NC says are untrue.

“I think they’re trying to scare people,” Ketcham said.

Ellie Ketcham is strongly against Amendment One, not only because it affects her gay son but also because of the harmful affects if has on the entire population.

On the website for Vote for Marriage NC, they talk about how it’s a possibility that children will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults – either heterosexual or homosexual – and the group thinks that this can be very detrimental to the children of North Carolina.

Ketcham believes that this is one of the scariest statements that this group could make. She says that teachers will never be authorized to teach something like that in the classroom.

“If you’ve been taught in your church that homosexuality is a sin, you don’t want your children to be taught something different in school, I totally understand that, but that is not going to happen,” Kethcam said.

Ketcham believes that whether this amendment is passed or not, gay marriage is still going to be illegal.

“Some people have the feeling that if this amendment is defeated, (homosexual) marriage will then become legal in North Carolina and that, of course, is not true,” Ketcham said.

O’Keefe believes that this amendment is going to hurt all kinds of people.

“It hurts pretty much everybody I come into contact with on a daily basis,” O’Keefe said.

He hopes that people understand the amendment before they go to the ballot box on May 8 with a skewed perception of it.

“I don’t want people I know to be harmed by this and I can only imagine that anybody else who understands the outcome of this legislation would feel the same way and would want to tell their friends, would want to tell their family, to get active against this,” O’Keefe said.

Contradicting this statement, Waterman believes, “every Catholic in their right mind is for the amendment.”

All O’Keefe asks is that “people should do their research before they get to the ballot box that day and they should understand what the true implications of the amendment should be.”

Medical waste in North Carolina, part two

Health care facilities often spend too much treating medical waste that isn’t regulated, which ultimately increases the cost of health care and wastes resources, according to Bill Patrakis, an environmental biologist at the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“Incineration is a pretty expensive way to get rid of something when there are less expensive options,” Patrakis said.

Patrakis is called upon often by hospitals and health care facilities that are looking for ways to cut expenditures on medical waste. Patrakis suggests monitoring what waste is being sent to incinerators and paying careful attention to the law, which says that only one type of non-hazardous medical waste, pathological waste, must be incinerated.

A flow chart of medical waste from the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“If I was as an environmental manager at a hospital and I wanted to save money,” Patrakis said, “I would be very interested in knowing what it is that I have to send to the incinerators and what I don’t have to.”

According to Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital, it’s important to set up “a system of adequate separation in the waste stream.”

“If you can get people to segregate the garbage appropriately — and that’s not just preaching to people,” he said, “it’s setting up a system — you save millions of dollars.”

A look at the Salisbury Veterans Administration Medical Center

The W.G. (Bill) Heffner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, N.C. drastically cut expenditures on medical waste by looking at what the facility was actually putting in the waste stream.

“Most of it wasn’t medical waste,” said Victor Cocco, Green Environmental Management Systems Coordinator at the Salisbury VA Medical Center. “We went back to state regulations and basically said, ‘well, this is what has to be in medical waste and right now we’re allowing some other things to go in there.’”

By cutting back on the amount of waste sent for incineration, the hospital cut costs dramatically, Cocco said. For instance, they stopped sending sharps for incineration, because according to the law they may be properly disposed of in a landfill.

Other than incinerating pharmaceuticals, the only type of waste the Salisbury VA Medical Center incinerates is hazardous waste, which includes pathological waste. Regular medical waste is sent to an autoclave, where it is steamed for sterilization and then sent to a landfill.

The Salisbury VA Medical Center holds about seven different contracts for medical waste disposal. Some hospitals, however, only use one contract.

“At some hospitals they come and pick everything up and everything goes to an incinerator,” Cocco said. “It’s very, very cost ineffective. I think that’s probably the worst way to handle it.”

Carole Troxler, a Professor Emeritus of History at Elon University and a member of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), agrees.

“If you’re negotiating a contract about what to take from your company it’s easy to let them just take all of it and then say you’re done with it,” she said, “but if you want to be responsible you need to figure out how to separate out what needs to be burned and what doesn’t.”

Recycling alternatives

Because the Salisbury VA Medical Center is under the federal government, it is regulated by federal mandates that don’t affect state owned facilities. For instance, the facility follows presidential orders to minimize unregulated medical waste with a recycling program.

One item particular Patrakis notes that does not need to be incinerated is “boxes and boxes of hospital records that they want destroyed for one reason or another,” he said.

One effect of burning chlorine-bleached paper products is the creation of dioxins, a highly toxic chemical. According to a BREDL report, Stericycle regularly burns paper and medical documents, which also serve as a source of fuel to keep the incinerator running.

Some health care facilities insist on burning medical documents to protect patient information. Health care facilities that choose this method tend to do so because the total destruction of waste offered by incineration is comforting, according to Haley Campbell, environmental health and safety technician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, a private hospital run by Wake Forest University.

“The easiest way to track it and make sure no one gets a hold of it that’s not supposed to is to send it off to get burned,” Campbell said. “You know that once it’s there, it’s burned, it’s gone.”

The Salisbury VA Medical Center, however, recycles paperwork and medical documents with a shredder, which they contract through a local agency that hires disabled people.

“They come with a truck and shred everything on-site,” Cocco said. “It leaves the site shredded and we get credit for the paper. On top of it, not only do we get paid for it, but the handicap people who handle the process get paid for it, so it gives jobs for the handicap people in town.”

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center also keeps their patient information secure by disposing of medical documents through shredding, according to James Brunner, an industrial hygienist at Wake Forest Baptist Health. In addition, patient information is blacked out on pharmaceutical bottles so that they can be recycled rather than incinerated.

Who is in charge of medical waste?

Cocco notes the importance of health care facilities designating specific jobs in environmental and waste management positions, he says, that are sometimes forgotten by public facilities.

“Overall, most public hospitals are in trouble,” Cocco said. “They do a great job at industrial hygiene, but when it comes to environmental it kind of gets slid off to maybe the head of engineering who might not have the training or the time to focus on it.”

Alamance Regional Medical Center was called for contact on more than eight occasions. When asked to speak with someone knowledgeable of medical waste disposal at the facility, the same two source names were offered by various telephone operators at the hospital: Bill Payne, director of facility engineering and safety, and Don Scott, director of plant operations. Scott was available briefly by phone once. Succeeding attempts to contact either Scott or Payne were not successful.

As the GEMS Coordinator at the Salisbury VA Medical Center, Cocco helps make environmentally conscious choices that save the facility more than twice Cocco’s salary, he said. However, before the GEMS Coordinator position, no one was reviewing the facility’s contract for medical waste disposal.

The hospital originally held its contract with Stericycle, but when Cocco began reviewing it he noticed a dramatic increase in what Stericycle charged the hospital from year to year.

“The company is allowed to have a cost of living raise,” Cocco said. “but when I came in and reviewed it, it wasn’t a normal cost of living increase like 3 to 7 percent — they were putting a hundred percent cost of living on it and maxing it without justification because we didn’t have anyone reviewing the contract.”

Cocoo also discovered surcharges of $450 that were unknowingly being placed on certain waste containers.

“They were getting away with it until I caught them,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I kicked them out of the contract.”

Cocco soon redid the contract with a minority company, who hired Stericycle as a subcontractor, putting Stericycle on closer watch and under stricter rules. The Salisbury VA Medical Center went from being charged $1.50 per pound of medical waste, to 0.37 cents per pound.

According to Cocoo, providing specific hospital jobs for environmental management not only saves money, but keeps waste that has harmful effects on the environment from being sent to the incinerator.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center also strives to cut costs by monitoring what is sent for incineration, according to Brunner.

“We have millions and millions of pounds of waste every year,” he said. “We have to find ways to curtail costs and one of the ways is that you don’t incinerate everything because it’s very expensive.”

Alternatives to incineration

There are alternative methods for treating and disposing of medical waste. With the exception of pathological waste, other types of non-hazardous medical waste can be treated by at an autoclave, which uses steaming as a sterilization process, compacts the waste and then disposes of it in a landfill. Stericycle owns and operates an autoclave facility in Concord, N.C., but according to a report by BREDL the autoclave facility operates under capacity.

Stericycle’s website indicates, “regular medical could be treated in an autoclave, but generators who prefer treatment by incineration send the waste to the Haw River facility.”

Alamance Regional Medical Center is one of the generators who prefers treatment by incineration. Their sole contract for disposal of non-hazardous medical waste is with Stericycle, according to Don Scott, director of operations at Alamance Regional Medical Center.

“We think incineration is the best method,” Scott said. “It’s an approved method and there’s nothing wrong with doing it. It’s better than throwing it in a trashcan. You can’t do that.”

Why some health care facilities continue to choose incineration for waste that has viable disposal alternatives is hard to say.

“For medical people, it’s very satisfying to burn something that may be infectious,” Orris said. “All of a sudden it doesn’t look infectious at all, it looks gray. Nothing survived the heat and it’s very comforting for them to look at, but as we learn more about it, we see it’s really not a good idea.”

Scott said that the hospital has considered alternatives to incineration, but right now it continues to incinerate.

“We think incineration is a better method,” Scott said. “If you just look at it, you’re better off to burn it. You still have a lot of material left when you microwave waste, and when you’re dealing with medical waste, the cheapest way isn’t always the best way.”

No matter what method hospitals and health care facilities choose for disposing of their waste, it’s important to consider the role community members can play in the process.

“No one is speaking up for the environment in the halls of the legislature and businesses,” Troxler warned. “Is it the patients who go to the doctors who need to ask the hard questions?: ‘Excuse me nurse, what happens with your red bag waste? Excuse me doctor, do you separate your plastics or incinerate them?’ That may be the only way for change to happen.”

Catholics, Contraception and Contradictions

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the “Humanae Vitae” reaffirming the Catholic Church’s stance on artificial contraception,

“Excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

In other words, Catholicism teaches that sexuality is for the sole purpose of creating life. The use of contraceptives, both hormonal (i.e. pill) or barrier (i.e. condom), are not allowed because they prohibit the natural law of procreation. One form of birth control that is encouraged and supported by Catholic Church officials is Natural Family Planning. This refers to fertility awareness, and is based on the fact that a woman is most fertile around the time of ovulation. Through determining her ovulation period, a woman understands what days she needs to abstain from sexual intercourse. Natural Family Planning does not interfere with the biological process of conception; therefore, it is accepted in the Catholic faith.

A recent study done by the Guttmacher institute produced results contradictory to fundamental Catholic beliefs. It reported that 98 percent of American Catholic women admit to having used contraception. Though the Vatican openly professes its view on contraception, Catholic parishioners seem to follow a different set of rules.


In January 2012, the Obama administration issued a mandatethat would require Catholic institutions to provide free contraceptive services to their employees. The U.S. Bishops Committee immediately responded in defense of their beliefs, saying that the proposal violates freedom of religion.

The ongoing debate sparked media interest in Catholicism. Several reporters, including Keith Soko of, recalled a similar argument from the 1960’s, which involved Catholic Church officials disagreeing with the pope on his issuing of the “Humanae Vitae”. “The pope formed a committee to evaluate the stand against contraceptives. The result: 75 out of 90 on the committee recommended that the church allow for contraceptives. Even so, Pope Paul VI issued the letter,” Soko said.

U.S. Bishops Committee

Because the Catholic ruling on contraception was unfairly reinstated in the “Humanae Vitae”, several parishioners have disregarded its legitimacy. Supporters of Obama’s proposal also claim that the U.S. Bishops Committee has no right to judge public policy pertaining to birth control, because it is comprised of all male.

Questions pertaining to Catholic doctrine were raised again when research surfaced proving that Catholic officials have little consideration for their parishioners. A poll done by The Public Religion Research Institute, found that 58 percent of Catholics agree with Obama’s proposal (Figure 1).

Figure 1

In today’s world, there is an obvious disconnect between Catholic officials and Catholic parishioners in terms of contraception. Despite criticism, the Vatican continues to follow tradition. The Vatican trusts that consistency has led to their success and they don’t intend on making any changes.

The idea that parishioners are rejecting certain aspects of their Catholic faith comes as no surprise to Catholic Officials. Father Paul Gabriel of Blessed Sacrament Church in Burlington recognizes that some laws are just never accepted. “Contraception is one where people say I know what the church teaches and I know what will work for my family,” said Gabriel.

Father Gerry Waterman of Elon University Catholic Campus ministry agrees with Gabriel. “People have to form their own conscience,” said Waterman.  He explained this concept by using an anecdote.

“Sometimes when people see a yellow light, they choose to speed up, even though they no the law states to slow down.” For Waterman, the same concept applies to Catholic parishioners’ decision to use contraception in that they know contraception is wrong, but choose to use it anyway.

Currently, Catholicism is world renown for its strict ideals, but in the past it was not the only religion to ban the use of contraceptives. According to Jennifer Sokol of the Catholic News Agency, the founders of various Protestant Churches also disapproved of contraception. “John Calvin once called it  ‘a monstrous thing’ and Martin Luther described it as ‘a sin greater than adultery or incest,’” Sokol said.

Sokol discussed the point of dissension in which people began ignoring the idea of no contraception. “For centuries the vast majority of Catholics lived according to church teaching,” said Sokol. ”But the sexual revolution, fear of over-population and economic collapse, and especially the availability of the newly introduced birth control pill in the 1960s changed everything.”

At this point, many Catholic parishioners began to deconstruct their religion and choose which aspects of Catholic theology were important to them personally. A New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein describes the division that formed within the Catholic Church. “On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society,” Goodstein said.

Catholic officials encourage tradition; however, they also recognize the value in change. Waterman refers to himself as “progressive.” He insists that change is good if the motivation is God, not popular demand. “The Holy Spirit inspires us to continue to go forward in the church,” said Waterman.

Natural Family Planning chart

One example of the Catholic Church making advancements while also fulfilling God’s will is Natural Family Planning. It became an accepted form of birth control after the Vatican realized it didn’t inhibit procreation.

Sis Steffen coordinates the Respect Life Committee for Blessed Sacrament. She sponsors pro-life events throughout Alamance County. “Natural Family Planning was discovered in the 70’s,” said Steffen. “It is 99% effective and works with God in his natural way.”

Aside from religious reasons, some couples choose to practice Natural Family Planning because it requires both the man and the woman to take responsibility in preventing pregnancy.

Pope John Paul II was an advocate for Natural Family Planning. In a 1984 address to two international congresses he said, “The use of natural methods gives a couple an openness to life, which is truly a splendid gift of God’s goodness. It also helps them deepen their conjugal communication and draw closer to one another.”

Catholic officials know that Natural Family Planning requires attentiveness and that artificial contraception would be easier, but they maintain that sometimes sacrifices have to be made to respect religious doctrine. “We have to take serious our role as Catholic Christians in a world where society says its ‘have it your way’ all the time,” said Waterman

In the midst of societal pressure, the Catholic Church continues to flourish. The National Council of Churches published the 2011 yearbook that ranked Catholicism as the largest religion in the United States. It also reported that Catholicism was one of the few churches whose membership increased, growing .57 percent.

Waterman thinks that tradition has been the source of their prosperity. “Catholicism offers structure and people want to hold on to something meaningful,” said Waterman.

Gabriel believes tradition is the foundation for all religions, not just Catholicism. “It’s what defines us,” said Gabriel. “If nobody knows what we stand for, than we don’t stand for anything.”

Medical waste in North Carolina, part 1

As long as we have hospitals, medical waste will be unavoidable; the question is, what do we do with it? 

Imagine 27 million pounds of medical waste: blood stained bandages, syringes, IV bags from chemotherapy, human tissue, organs and limbs. Now picture it being incinerated by the largest medical waste treatment company in the United States less than 15 miles down the road from Elon University.

Turns out, you don’t have to imagine it.

There are 57 medical waste incinerators still in operation in the United States. 14 of them are commercially owned and the medical waste treatment company Stericycle operates eight of them, one of which is located in Haw River, just east of Burlington. Since Stericycle took over the facility in 1999, this is the site where many producers of medical waste in North Carolina, and 26 other states from Vermont to Wisconsin, send their medical waste to be burned.

What exactly is medical waste? This chart breaks the waste stream up into its different categories. Graphic by Katy Steele.

The environmental impact of incineration

According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, medical waste incinerators are the leading producer of dioxins, a highly toxic chemical that’s formed when organic substances are burned in the presence of chlorine. Dioxins are known carcinogens and the main substance in the chemical warfare gas, Agent Orange. They are one of many air pollutants emitted from Stericycle’s smokestacks that environmental advocates consider a public health concern.

Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ), the department in charge of issuing the air quality permit to the Stericycle facility at Haw River, said that the DAQ pays very close attention to emission from the facility.

“It has an up-to-date permit,” he said, “and we’ve made changes to the permit and feel like we are addressing the concerns.”

Incineration still creates air pollutants, however, according to David Mickey, former Zero Waste Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL).

Smoke stacks at Stericycle's facility in Haw River.

“Incineration involves risks for public health regardless of how well the facility is run, or how well the state might monitor their permit,” he said. “They’re still going to have emissions — it’s part of the system.”

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and chlorine-bleached paper are non-regulated medical waste products that often end up incinerated, yet it is known that they produce dioxins when burned.

“If you incinerate a lot of the plastics and industrial chemicals we use today you get dioxins,” said Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital. “Every bit of dioxin that is added to the environment is not a good idea.”

Other emissions coming out of Stericycle’s smokestacks include: lead, a heavy metal that can damage the brain; particulate matter linked to lung cancer, also known as soot and dust; arsenic; and mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can hinder brain development.

Since 2000, Stericycle has received 11 permit violations from the DAQ, more than half of them for violating pollution and emission standards set by the EPA. Violations issued in both 2002 and 2004 were for exceeding the allowable level of mercury emissions. Data released by the DAQ ranking the top 60 mercury emitters in the state from 2007-2010 ranks the Stericycle facility in Haw River at number 21.

Medical waste incineration and local government          

According to, Carole Troxler, a member of BREDL and professor emeritus at Elon University, it’s up to local government to protect their citizens and the environment.

“Local government used to think that the buck stopped in Washington and that all they had to do was comply with rules from the EPA and Congress,” Troxler said. “But the buck starts in Washington and heads in this direction — it comes right back to our local government and they don’t exactly have a track record for caring much about protecting our environment.”

In Nov. 2010, the state Environmental Management Commission adopted rules making stricter emissions guidelines imposed by the EPA enforceable on July 1, 2013 instead of Oct. 6, 2014. Before this however, Alamance County Commissioners voted not to pass a resolution that would have forced Stericycle to meet the stricter guidelines even earlier — by 2012 instead of 2014.

Linda Massey, an Alamance County commissioner voted against the resolution and reiterated that she doesn’t believe pollution from the Stericycle facility is an issue.

“I know people who have worked [at Stericycle] for 14 or 15 years and they don’t even wear a mask in there,” Massey said. “If the people who work there aren’t afraid of what they’re doing, I think that’s a good sign there’s no contamination coming out that affects them.”

Air pollutants from the smokestacks can accumulate in the air and travel through wind currents. The elderly, pregnant women and young children, people with asthma and those within five miles of the incinerator are at the greatest risk for being aversely affected by the emissions.

“I wouldn’t live there,” said Therese Vick, community organizer at BREDL. “I wouldn’t want my children to live close to it either.”

At least 13 schools and 23 daycares are located five miles or less down the road from the incinerator. Alamance Community College, which also houses a childcare facility, is 0.7 miles away.

Massey noted that she depends on the EPA to monitor if Stericycle is meeting the set guidelines.

“You’ve got to get rid of all that waste somehow,” she said, “and if Stericycle can do it and still be in compliance with the EPA, then I don’t have a problem with it.”

According to Troxler, however, it’s the city commissioners’ responsibility to protect the environment and their local citizens, yet they often get so caught up in only meeting state regulations that they don’t see the bigger picture.

“They’re still in the mindset that all we have to do is satisfy the state regulations and we’re home free,” Troxler said. “Well, they may be meeting state regulations, but they’re exposing citizens to harm.”

Medical waste incineration and North Carolina state law

According to North Carolina state law, the only type of medical waste required to be incinerated is pathological waste, meaning human tissue, organs, body parts and carcasses of infected animals.

Of the 27 million pounds of waste burned at Stericycle in the 2009-2010 year, only a portion of it was actually pathological waste, according to Bill Patrakis, an environmental biologist at the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“All this other stuff they are incinerating, as far as we’re concerned, does not need to be incinerated,” he said, “but they choose to incinerate it anyway.”

According to Stericycle, 40 percent of the waste they handle is pathological, 40 percent is regular medical waste, 15 to 20 percent is chemotherapy medical waste and 1 to 2 percent is pharmaceutical waste.

For non-pathological waste there are alternative treatment and disposal methods, such as autoclaving. Stericycle runs an autoclave facility in Concord, N.C., which uses steaming as a sterilization process, compacts the waste and then disposes of it in a landfill.

Currently, no state law exists mandating that hospitals and waste generators use incineration alternatives for waste that doesn’t fall within the pathological category— instead, it’s up to the waste generator to decide where their waste goes.

“I’m just guessing if hospitals understood the law, they could probably save themselves thousands of dollars,” Patrakis said.

According to a report by the EPA, 2 to 3 percent of hospital waste has no treatment alternative to incineration, but this does not mean only 2 to 3 percent of total hospital waste is incinerated.

“Often, inadequate waste segregation due to poor waste management techniques and lack of staff training will result in more waste sent to incinerators than necessary,” the EPA report said.

Patrakis noted that Stericycle might not necessarily know exactly what is going into the incinerator.

“What goes to Stericycle for incineration is whatever the hospitals send them,” he said, “and Stericycle isn’t obliged to check every box that comes to their incinerator and say, ‘This can be incinerated and this can’t.’”

Patrakis said this responsibility rests on Stericycle’s clients — those actually generating the medical waste.

“Stericycle is just hired to do a job,” he said. “It’s really the health care centers that need to do a better job determining what needs incinerated and what doesn’t.”

According to Patrakis, there are no state laws through the N.C. Division of Waste Management mandating waste generators make environmentally conscious choices by segregating their medical waste.

“The Division of Waste Managment doesn’t get involved in waste segregation, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Up until the waste leaves the hospital or facility, it’s their responsibility. Once it gets to the treatment plant, at that point, it becomes the waste hauler’s problem. Its’ up to the hospital administration to tell their staff, ‘This is how we want you to segregate it.’”

Across the board, the segregation, treatment and disposal of medical waste is handled differently at federal, private and public health care facilities.




Is Local Industry History?

By Don Granese

Alamance County has long been an area where industry not only succeeded, it thrived. Burlington in particular was a main hub of the American textile industry for the greater part of the 20th century. But Alamance County and the United States in a larger sense have changed. No longer are we a society driven by manual labor and the exportation of goods. We have become a nation of consumers, and in this we may have possibly killed the ‘made in America’ concept.

According to Jim Barbour, the chair of the Economics Department at Elon University, we are a nation that has changed for the best, or at least we’ve changed for what best suits us today. Manual labor jobs like working in mills or on farms have become a thing of the past for most American families. Agriculture, much like mill and factory work, is an industry that drove our economy for a long period of time.

“We went from the 19th to the 20th century. Roughly 60 percent of the population was engaged in agriculture,”Barbour said “It is less than 3 percent now. Do we really want 60 percent of the population engaged in agriculture right now?”

Working in agriculture may have been an average American job in the past, but now those jobs have moved overseas. According to the United States Department of Agriculture the amount of processed grain that we import from other nations has nearly doubled from 2002 to 2007.

In the specific example of the textile industry in Burlington, Barbour believes that it’s not the fault of the ‘fat cat’ business owners that manufacturing jobs have moved to other countries, but that the blame can easily be traced back to us, the American consumers.

“You and I wear inexpensive shirts at the cost of people who’ve been laid off in this area and we owe them,” he explained. “But the way to repay them is not to preserve the expensive shirt.”

A considerable push in America is to buy “local”. At first it seemed like a trend. Buying local was something that the young and hip were doing. But economically, buying local is more than a trend; it’s a tactic and a form of survival. This is where local business can get creative in their advertising.

Worker at the Se7en plant owned by Burlington Technologies

Companies like Glencoe Mills in Burlington, NC that expanded too quickly in the 20th century weren’t able to find their footing and they collapsed in the early 1950’s. But some survived. In Burlington the textile industry had almost completely dried up, but some companies like Glenn Raven Mills, Holt Hosiery and Burlington Industries have found a way to continue manufacturing their goods.

Burlington Technologies is not too big of a company, but they are making headlines with their recent expansions. In the current economic state of our country not many companies are growing, but with the help of a large grant of about $120,000 Burlington Technologies will more than double its workforce of textile manufacturers. Currently they employ about 90 workers, but the grant will help them take on about 110 more. “It’s really just an opportunity to save some jobs,” explained Marvin Gaines, the co-owner of the company. His business has made it through tough economic times because they are able to adapt with changing industry trends. He believes they have a few tricks up their sleeves.

“We feel like we have a business model that the Chinese do not want. and that is making…if you want 30 yards, we’ll make you 30 yards of a custom color, custom pattern” said Marvin “That’s not something the Chinese or Asian or South American (markets) wants to mess with because you have to ship it overseas.”

The weaving machines at the Se7en plant

Barbour thinks that companies like Burlington Technologies can hang on through tough times because they can find their strengths in creativity. “There are smaller organizations that have done well by specializing in some little niche market,” he explains “and they’ve managed to do quite well at these things.”

Gaines explained that his company’s greatest strength has been their ability to design and then create interesting patterns for fabrics that people will find new and on the cutting edge of style. But he feels as though the style choices aren’t necessarily their own decisions. They’re forced to go with the trending fashion flow. They’ve started having to make custom orders for individual buyers just to keep profit margins going up. “That is a niche that has kind of been imposed on us but it’s something we’ve embraced that keeps us around for the future,” Gaines said.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a severe decline in job opportunities for Americans trained to work in textiles. In the 1990’s textiles was the largest manufacturing employer in the U.S. economy, providing jobs for nearly 1.4 million workers up until even 1999. This included employment in textile production, wool growing, cotton growers, apparels, and man-made fibers. According to the NCTO (National Council of Textile Organizations) as of June 2010 only 412,000 Americans are currently employed in textiles.

Bo Chrisco, Burlington Technologies

Bo Chrisco, who works for Marvin Gaines at Burlington Technologies, is one of those Americans. “We’ve taken a 20 percent cut in pay, lost a lot of benefits,” Chrisco said. “You know at one time I had as many as four weeks of vacation time and now it’s nothing…no vacation time.”

Chrisco is well aware that his industry is shrinking. When he started working at the Se7en plant in Guilford County the building was packed from wall to wall with machines that weave the yarn into fabric. Today half of the working floor that he is stationed on is completely empty.

Despite the visible cutbacks, Chrisco is determined to hold this job. “I’ve had a job offer here or there talking to people and I made the decision to stay,” Chrisco said. “I’m hopeful that it will pick up because this is where most of my experience in life has been… in textiles.”

According to Jim Barbour there is a chance for the industry to pick up. It’s not a new business model, but it’s just simple creativity. Barbour explains that if business owners like Marvin Gaines keep up with today’s fashion trends that customers will keep buying from American textile producers. “Textiles as previously practiced in Alamance county are destined to fail. Textiles practiced in new ways may succeed.”