In the News: ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES 8/3/117
57 years ago, he started his job at Westgate Shopping Center. He’s still going strong.
(Editor’s Note: Eblen Charities has been reaching out to those in need in our community for more than 25 years. For the past five years we have been most fortunate to have had our Waddell Client Service Center at the Westgate Shopping Center. Since our arrival, we have met and forged a great number of friendships including Tony, Isa, and Alex Fraga and the gentleman who the following story is about. Paul is without a doubt the heart and soul of the historic Westgate Shopping Center and takes care of all of us who are fortunate enough to be there. This past Friday a reception was held at Westgate to honor Paul and County Commissioner Al Davis, a classmate of Paul’s was there to present him with an award an announcement that the Buncombe County Commissioners deemed September 1st as Paul Poore Day in Buncombe County. An honor well deserved.)
ASHEVILLE – He’s here. His voice is soft and he’s admittedly less mobile than he once was. But as has been the case for much of the past six decades, Paul Poore is reporting to work at Westgate Shopping Center.
They call him Westgate Paul. It’s the kind of nickname you get after 57 years on the job in a placehere you’ve become a living and breathing historical marker. He’s quietly become as much a part of it as it is a part of him.
“I’ve heard people say that because some people never knew my real name,” Poore said, standing outside the shopping center this week.
“They call me that or Paul Westgate.””Maybe it should be your middle name?” says Grant Fairchild, general manager of The Country Inns & Suites, the hotel on the property.
Poore, 74, is a maintenance worker and an on-site supervisor, the epitome of stability in a world of retail and development that usually are anything but stable. He’s watched stores come and go; he’s seen renovations, expansions, building condemnations and a retail landscape that shifts by the generation; and he’s had a front-row seat as a once desolate area of West Asheville exploded into a retail hotbed. But even as the names on the building might change, Poore’s mission remains the same — doing anything and everything he can to keep the ship running smoothly.
“For us, as a company, his involvement all these years in the shopping center is essential,” said Alex Fraga, vice president of Asheville-based FIRC Group Inc., which owns Westgate and a number of other local offices, retail and mixed-use properties.
“We want Paul forever, you know?” So what’s kept him around so long? He answers without missing a beat.
“I enjoy shopping center work,” he said. “It’s just the type of work I like.”
The Westgate Regional Shopping Center was the vision of its developer, George B. Coggins. He was said to have gotten the idea for it while idly gazing at a mountain in the mid-1950s before deciding to “move the mountain,” Citizen-Times archives show.
Coggins leased the land in 1951, at the time the site of an old rock quarry fronting on the French Broad River. Drawing inspiration from the Seven Corners Shopping Center in Washington, he wanted to build a spot for one-stop shopping.
In October 1956, an estimated 5,600 people were on hand as his 10-year-old daughter, Craig, cut the opening day ribbon. Westgate was constructed for $2 million, the equivalent of about $18 million in modern dollars. It began with 150,000 square feet of floor space, a 1,200-car parking lot and 22 stores, 12 of which opened immediately.
Others opened gradually over the next several weeks.
Some of the stores included Bon Marche, W. T. Grant Co. Junior Department Store, Diana Women’s Apparel Shop, Dixie Home Supermarket and a variety of others such as a barber shop, beauty salon, coffee shop, launderette and an optometrist.
It was open just a short while before Poore was hired in August 1960. He started the job out of Asheville’s Stephens-Lee High School, a now-defunct secondary school for black students, working four hours a day. Early on, he was the center’s de facto Swiss Army knife, policing the parking lot, sweeping the grounds and taking any other duty that came his way. Poore oversees many of these same duties today. “I know every water line, every sewer line, every telephone line, every electric panel,” he said. “I know 90 percent of what ties to what.”
Poore met his wife Patricia Lyles through high school and the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. She was a member of the church’s choir, and as Poore recalls, “a pleasant, people person.” They quickly built a life together, he at the shopping center and her as an administrative secretary in the Asheville City Schools district.
They have four children: Paul Jr., Tina, Duwana and Sheila. “She always tried to help me elevate myself to do better, to make more,” he said. “She wasn’t a pusher. Whatever I did, as long as I was happy, she wasn’t a pusher.
“Some people say, ‘How can you work on a job that long?’ Not her.”
Fifty-seven years is a long time. It’s an eternity in the world of retail. Westgate has cycled through tenants from restaurants to department stores to health clubs to computer centers to an enclosed mall with vendors sharing the same space. No original stores remain. It now has about 25 tenants on a little more than 26 acres – and only a single vacancy.
\Renovations have hit the shopping center several times throughout its history, with notable additions in the late 1970s and again in the 1990s. Part of the Westgate Shopping Plaza, as it came to be known, was condemned in 1988 after a city inspection revealed structural flaws. The same structure partially collapsed in 1976.
The most prominent recent addition came in 2016, Coggins sold the shopping center in 1988 to Tony Fraga’s FIRC Group. He died at age 92 in January of 2001. Citizen-Times columnist Bob Terrell argued in 1983 that Westgate “accidentally changed the face of Asheville,” shifting shopping away from downtown.
Much has changed for Poore as well. The years have slowed his body. He has a noticeable back-and-forth sway as he speaks, sparingly delivering words between lengthy pauses. Even as FIRC bought an on-site golf cart to help him patrol the center, he won’t use it, mostly because he likes to talk to people.
He lost Patricia two years ago at age 71. His daughter Tina said her death was particularly hard on him, but that he tried to “hold himself up for the family.” “They were definitely soulmates,” she said. “He was there for her and she was there for him, and he’s here for the family.”
He and Tina live together in Asheville. They like to go out to eat or hit the movie theater or take walks around the area. He used to ride his bicycle quite a bit, but it’s been a few years since he’s been able to do so.
At work, he’s still eager to make a difference. Fraga said he very much does.
“Paul is still on his feet,” Fraga said. “He’s doing great and he’s family to our company. There is no doubt. It’s so valuable having him around and knowing that it’s always taken care of.”
Fraga added that he wishes his company had 100,000 Pauls, or even just 10. But there is only one, the man strolling the corridor and known as Westgate Paul. And, for what it’s worth, it doesn’t appear he’s going anywhere anytime soon. “I have to go regardless of how much I can do and produce,” he said. “I’m not the type of person who’s going to lay around. Regardless of what I can do, I go