Roanoke Beautification Foundation returns to brick fund-raiser after gap of many years

John Nelson, coordinator of the Roanoke Beautification Foundation’s brick drive, stands at the site of some bricks alongside Main Street in Roanoke. The RBF is currently selling bricks that can be personalized with text and placed in the sidewalk. A brick drive was held in Roanoke in the early 1990s and the RBF felt the time was right to bring it back.
John Nelson, coordinator of the Roanoke Beautification Foundation’s brick drive, stands at the site of some bricks alongside Main Street in Roanoke. The RBF is currently selling bricks that can be personalized with text and placed in the sidewalk. A brick drive was held in Roanoke in the early 1990s and the RBF felt the time was right to bring it back. Photo by Steve Clark.

John Nelson enjoys reading all the different text on the sidewalk bricks in downtown Roanoke.

Several bricks feature the names of businesses and churches. Others bear the names of families and graduating classes from Roanoke High School.

One brick even proclaims which beer Roanoke residents like best, to Nelson’s amusement.

“One is located just outside of the Village Inn and it says, ‘Roanoke Loves Miller Lite,’” states Nelson with a grin.

All these bricks have been downtown since the early 1990s. The majority of them are located in the Main Street sidewalks, between First and Second streets. A brick drive was held by the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, giving people the opportunity to purchase a brick and personalize a small part of downtown.

This year, people are going to get that opportunity again. The brick drive has been resurrected by the Roanoke Beautification Foundation (RBF), a nonprofit group that endeavors to maintain and enhance the town’s visual appeal. The group conducts fund-raisers, like the brick drive, to support those efforts.

Nelson is the RBF member who’s coordinating the drive. With over 20 years having passed since the original drive, he says he and his fellow RBF members felt the time was right to hold a second one, giving recent arrivals in Roanoke – and Huntington County – the chance to leave their thumbprint on the town.

“We have always looked at those bricks on Main Street as a real opportunity for newer members of the community to kind of get their names memorialized in those bricks,” says Nelson. “Because it’s fun to walk up and down the street and see those bricks and read about some of the names.”

Around 400 bricks were sold during the first drive. There are more than 1,000 bricks downtown that are not personalized and are available for purchase during this drive. While that may sound like a large number, Nelson expects it to steadily drop over the course of the year, especially following big events in town, when attendees learn about the drive.

“This is not an unlimited situation,” says Nelson of the bricks. “It will be first come, first served.

“And when they are all sold out, they will be sold out.”

The bricks are four inches by eight inches. They can accommodate three lines of text, with a maximum of 20 characters per line. Logos and images are not permitted.

In addition to bricks, pavers are available for purchase. Measuring eight inches by eight inches, pavers can accommodate five lines of text, with a maximum of 20 characters a line. Like the bricks, logos and images are not permitted.

A committee will review the proposed text for each brick before orders are finalized, says Nelson.

Purchasers will be able to dictate where they want their brick placed. The RBF’s website, www.RoanokeBeautification.org, features a map that depicts the location of every brick in town and notes which spaces are available and which are not. Purchasers may have their brick placed at any available location. The map will be updated on a weekly basis, says Nelson.

Bricks that were purchased during the first drive will be staying where they are, Nelson notes.

“Those bricks that are out there right now will remain in those spots,” he says. “We’ll have to take them physically out to set the other bricks in place, but they will go back in those locations.”

The brick drive will run through the end of the year – or until spaces sell out. Next year, bricks will start being installed. The installation process will take place in stages, says Nelson, to mitigate the amount of construction downtown. The placement of the final brick will be a cause for celebration, he says, with a party planned to coincide with that moment.

“Everyone who buys a brick will get a personal invitation to this celebration,” says Nelson.

The main way to purchase a brick is through the RBF’s website. However, people can also pick up a brick drive brochure, which are located around Roanoke, and fill out the accompanying registration form.

Something that sets this brick drive apart from the last one, says Nelson, is that the RBF is giving purchasers the opportunity to provide some background information on why they’re buying a brick and what the significance of the text on their brick is. Purchasers are not obligated to provide this information, says Nelson – but he hopes they do.

“We will document and archive the history behind that brick,” he says.

All proceeds from the brick drive will benefit the RBF. Nelson says he and his fellow RBF members have already begun discussing projects to put that money toward.

“We have, as a group, talked about extending lighting up Main Street,” he says. “We’ve talked about extending lighting sideways, down these side streets. We have talked about gateway signage.”

For more information about the brick drive, visit the RBF website or its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RoanokeBeautificationFoundation.