From Waxhaw's Bike Depot, owner Alan "Teelo" Teeling regularly sees visitors pull out cameras and phones to capture pictures of trains moving against the backdrop of the town's historic district. "People just sit out there and take photographs," says Teeling, a native of Dublin, Ireland. "I've never been anywhere, except maybe San Francisco or Dublin, where so many photographers come out."
Trains have been rolling through Waxhaw for more than 125 years. Though locals may sigh about the traffic delays, they know locomotives still create excitement for visitors to the Union County town known for antiques and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. But trains aren't driving change the way they did when the town was incorporated in 1889. Waxhaw's population growth--more than 500% since 2000--is now tied to a different mode of transportation: cars driven by commuters. Mayor Steve Maher estimates more than 50% of Waxhaw's working residents cross the Union County line into Mecklenburg County every day, most headed for Ballantyne (12 miles away) or SouthPark (19) or downtown Charlotte (23). Some head south, crossing the state line two miles east to work in South Carolina.
"The jobs are in Charlotte right now, but residents are tolerant of commuting to Charlotte so they can have the lifestyle here," says Maher, an IBM retiree and independent consultant who moved to the town 10 years ago. "We've been rated the No. 1 best city for young families. We've been rated one of the safest communities in North Carolina three years running. People move here for the community, the schools, the events, the concerts in the summer, the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Fourth of July parade.... They want that for their family."
Jeni Bukolt moved to Waxhaw from Los Angeles after her husband took a job in Lancaster, S.C. "We settled in Waxhaw because of the quaint historic downtown and because of the quality of life," she says. "I want to raise my children here." Bukolt, a marketing consultant, is now helping the town modernize its brand.
Teeling says he envisioned downtown Waxhaw's potential 20 years ago, after he emigrated from Ireland and connected with other area bicyclists. "We would come in packs of riders, and it just always seemed intriguing," he says. "What would this town lead to? And here we are today. The train's still coming through, and tons of cyclists. Lots of new businesses coming here. Soon to be a YMCA, and maybe a movie...