Impacts of rural population loss

EDGECOME COUNTY, NC – Populations in North Carolina’s small towns are declining as more people flock to our state’s big cities.

What do you want to know

  • Populations in rural North Carolina are declining
  • Edgecombe County’s population has dropped more than 13% in the past decade
  • Small towns remain attractive for individuals and businesses

Yalem Kiros, the owner of NABS Cafe and Deli, moved from Raleigh to Rocky Mount in 2013 when there was not a single cafe in its downtown area. After running a restaurant in Raleigh with her husband for years, she was ready for the change of pace and found she loved getting to know her customers and their stories.

Yalem Kiros and her husband, Ed Wiley, together run the NABS Deli and Coffee Shop. (Photo: Rachel Boyd)

“The good thing about it is that everyone knows you and you know everyone,” Kiros said. “I love being here and serving, greeting and doing for my customers. It’s like serving the people in your home.

She knows downtown business still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, but she’s not one to give up on a dream easily and her hope is to see Rocky Mount revitalized to its former days of glory when tobacco and cotton were kings in the region. .

“When you start something somewhere, you don’t want to leave it, you want to see it grow. I want the downtown to be really promising,” Kiros said. “We’ve been here nine or ten years now at Rocky Mount, and I see the potential. It’s such a beautiful city.

She grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, with a population of over 4 million – by comparison, all of Wake County is just over 1 million. This experience made her wonder why anyone wants to live near big cities.

“It’s good to leave your house, but when you come back you’ll appreciate it,” Kiros said. “It’s nice to be in a small town. I see people who haven’t left for generations and I look at myself – I’ve been away from home since I was 4, 5 and been from place to place.

Kiros is about to serve a cup of tea to a customer. (Photo: Rachel Boyd)

The only problem she has consistently seen over the past 10 years of living in a rural area is the lack of youth retention. She said cities have an appeal for young people, but in a few years they’ll want the quiet streets of towns like Rocky Mount, which are close enough for a weekend getaway but don’t have the traffic and clutter. of a booming city. .

“Last time I checked, I think there are more old people than young people, and of course I think that’s a reflection of the whole planet right now,” Kiros said. “All the kids growing up here want to be close to big cities. I always tell them, I say, ‘You don’t know what you have here.’

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