APEX — Walk into DownTown Knits on North Salem Street on any day, and you’ll find a group of women sunk into the comfy sofa cushions near the back of the store. They’re probably chatting over knitting needles about designs, yarns and the gossip of the day.
It’s a small-town tradition some people might not expect in a growing town of about 40,000. But it’s the kind of charm that Apex – whose motto is “the peak of good living” – is known for.
Now the secret is out.
Apex ranked ninth on Money Magazine’s “best places to live” list, which was recently released. This year’s list features 50 towns across the country with populations of less than 50,000 people. Towns were selected based on the economy, schools, green space and more.
“It’s fantastic,” said DownTown Knits store owner Michele Riggs. “You really get that small-town feel, whether you live in the suburbs or the downtown.”
Apex’s historic downtown, festivals, 400 acres of parks, athletic amenities, affordable homes and continued growth helped cement its place on the list.
More than 20,000 people come downtown every year for the PeakFest arts and crafts fair. The Peak City Pig Fest barbecue competition draws about 15,000 people. The annual Christmas parade and jazz festival are also popular.
“All of that can be summed up with maintaining a good quality of life,” said Mayor Keith Weatherly. “I think as we’ve grown, we’ve tried to grow better, not just larger.”
Recently, the Town Council approved the Peak Plan 2030, a comprehensive plan that will guide future growth, along with parks and transportation projects.
In the coming years, Apex leaders hope to see more mixed-use development and regional employment centers.
One of the biggest projects on the horizon is Veridea, a 1,000-acre development that has been dubbed as the eco-friendly next generation of Research Triangle Park.
The development is expected to add 20,000 people to the town’s population in the next 15 to 20 years and to bring more homes, schools, retail stores and offices.
It took three years for the town to approve plans for Veridea – a sign, according to Weatherly, that Apex leaders want smart growth.
“We want to remain a family-oriented community,” he said. “I can’t imagine a better place to live in.”
A tool to lure new business
In fact, Weatherly said, he was surprised Apex didn’t take the top spot on the list.
That designation went to Sharon, Mass., which has a population of about 18,000. Apex was the largest town to make the top-10 list.
Western Wake County has fared well in previous “best places to live” lists from Money Magazine. Last year, Cary ranked 55th out of 100 small cities; in 2007, Holly Springs ranked 22nd out of 100 small towns.
Apex Chamber of Commerce President Graham Wilson said the recent ranking is a great marketing tool that could help the town recruit new businesses.
“One of the things employers pay attention to is not only is this a good place to locate their business, but is it a good place for their employees to live,” Wilson said. “It’s one more thing to put on our bragging-rights list.”
Wilson said the town’s success is tied to the community’s strong sense of identity.
“If you ask somebody where they are from, we identify ourselves as Apex, not as a suburb of Raleigh,” Wilson said.
The town has grown so much that residents don’t have to leave town to eat out at restaurants or go shopping.
“The neat thing about that is that you run into your neighbors,” Wilson said. “We’ve gone through growing pains like everyone else, but we’ve managed to hang on to this (small-town feel).”