Downtown Cary has a new president

akenney@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2013 

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    For more information on the Heart of Cary Association, go to

    The group’s next meeting is 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at 317 W. Chatham St.

— Lauren Schafer’s parents arrived in Cary when they were in their 30s, young children in tow as they settled into a house just outside downtown.

A generation later, Schafer and her husband repeated the cycle, moving their own kids into a rancher in the heart of a much-grown Cary.

Now 37, Schafer’s at the head of downtown Cary’s incoming class. In a ceremony this month, she became the youngest and the first female president of the Heart of Cary Association, a group founded by central Cary merchants long before the village was en vogue.

HOCA’s leadership “wanted to make sure it was not the traditional role that they had, of a white male always fulfilling the role of president downtown,” said Schafer, who describes herself as a stay-at-home mother of two.

The group’s choice of a younger leader may be a nod to the area’s changing demographics: Anecdotally, downtown residents and real-estate agents report renewed interest from 30-somethings like Schafer, who are buying and remodeling homes built from the 1950s to the ’70s.

“We’ve had some get-togethers recently to welcome some of the new people. They’re a lot of young families, and they love being able to walk to ... these traditional family-friendly things,” said Schafer, who in her new role will be an ambassador for downtown residents and businesses.

This is a familiar job for a former coordinator of sales and marketing at SAS Institute. And downtown itself looks much the same as it did during Schafer’s childhood trips to First United Methodist Church, which she has attended all her life.

In fact, Schafer has long found herself rooted to downtown. Even when she and her husband lived in western Cary, they found themselves shuttling to and from old Cary and all across town.

“We wanted a change of pace,” Schafer said. “We were both spending two to three hours a days shuffling back and forth in cars.”

So in 2010 they headed for downtown Cary, settling on a mid-century house a block off Academy Street.

Andrew Schafer co-founded a research firm with a downtown Cary office, and many of those hours in the car became blocks of walking.

‘Big shoes to fill’

As president of the Heart of Cary Association, Schafer replaced Terry “Doc” Thorne, a man several decades her senior who oversaw a major expansion of the downtown alliance’s rolls during his three-year term.

And Schafer is coming aboard just as a multimillion-dollar facelift of the area gets underway, including a new town-owned arts venue, a large park and development site and a major revision of Academy Street, the main drag.

“I’ve definitely got some big shoes to fill, but I’m very excited about all the new things that are coming to downtown, and that the town has planned for downtown,” Schafer said.

To make the most of the surge of interest, and to survive the inconveniences of construction, “we’ll make sure we keep it a community, and reach out to others to bring them downtown,” she said.

In the coming months, much of Schafer’s job will be distributing information. With the amount of government activity, and a hoped-for private boom behind it, downtown residents are constantly listening for the next construction project.

“Everybody likes to know what is coming and what the next steps are,” Schafer said. “They know they’re going to have to live with the construction phase. They can see the light, and that things are happening.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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