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Retail Giant May Provide Spark In Erwin's Economy

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ERWIN, N.C. — Erwin was the so-called "Denim Capital of the World" until 800 textile jobs were driven out of town. However, the town may soon get some help in the form of a retail giant.

George Joseph Jr. has a view of an empty mill from his department store. He said he is taking a financial hit as a store owner and a personal blow as mayor.

"The only thing we want is our pride back. We want our jobs back. That's all we want," he said.

"We're no different than any other small town that has lost a major industry," interim town manager Bob Nicholl said.

Officials said Erwin will have to re-invent itself and it will soon get some help. Lowe's is opening a new store and adding 130 employees by the end of the year.

"I think that certainly is a step in the right direction," said Mike Walden, an economist at North Carolina State University.

Walden said small towns like Erwin will struggle more than the big cities to rebound from a declining economy, but he said having a retail business move in is the way to fight back.

"Often times, retail employment will generate enough strength and other businesses will come in," he said.

Lowe's is taking applications until the end of the week. Town officials do not believe the textile industry will be back, but Joseph said there may be potential buyers who can use the old textile facilities for something else.