Live snakes, lizards and frogs peer out of glass tanks as hungry customers chow down at Frankie & Louies, the latest addition to Harrisburg's culinary scene.
It's something new, said the bayou-themed restaurant's owner, Marc Lista, who describes the menu as "American with a Cajun twist."
The tables were filled at the restaurant as locals stopped in to check out the new restaurant, which opened last week. That's something Harrisburg officials and business owners are hoping to see more often as they work to promote local businesses and attract more to the area.
The town recently launched a "buy local" campaign to encourage people to patronize Harrisburg businesses. If those businesses succeed, other businesses will be drawn to the area, said Harrisburg town administrator Michele Reapsmith.
In February, the town sent a flier to water customers with a list of local businesses. Reapsmith said she thinks the endeavor was successful, noting a tanning salon owner said her phone didn't stop ringing after the flier went out. People just didn't know the business was there, Reapsmith said.
The town will host "A Taste of Harrisburg," on June 5 at the Town Center to allow local shops to set up booths to promote their business to locals.
Although the town is working to promote businesses across Harrisburg, officials are focusing on the Town Center, a mixed-use subdivision. It's the same goal of county and town planners as they work to develop a land-use plan for a 26.5-square-mile area in Harrisburg. Plans being considered would concentrate development around the Town Center, making it the symbolic center of the town.
From her office in Town Hall on Main Street in the Town Center, Reapsmith pointed to vacancies and undeveloped land where she'd like to see a sporting goods store or a discount retailer.
"The concept hasn't turned out as big as it was supposed to be," she said.
Reapsmith blamed the bad market for stagnation in commercial growth.
"When developers were active, there was obvious growth," Reapsmith said. "Now development has slowed and business traffic has slowed."
Expanding the Town Center would increase foot traffic by Empowered Personal Training Studio on Main Street and bring in more business, said owner Emily Knudson.
Knudson opened her business in Harrisburg in 2008 because she saw growth and potential in the area.
"It's got a great, small-town feel to it," she said. "That's why I want to keep doing business here and why I want people to keep taking advantage of businesses here."
Knudson's fitness studio has been successful, she said. But when she saw other stores close, including Town Center Hardware across the street, she decided to take action.
She organized the Harrisburg Business Advocacy Group last year to give local owners a forum to discuss issues facing their businesses, such as the town's restrictive sign policies, and bring them before the Harrisburg Town Council.
"We're just trying to help the communication flow between the town and the businesses," she said.
Lista, who has lived in Harrisburg for nearly six years, also owns SUPPER, a diner on N.C. 49 in Harrisburg that he opened in 2008.
Businesses have come and gone in the space on Main Street in the Town Center now occupied by Frankie and Louies. The space has been two different restaurants in the past year, one staying only a few months before closing its doors.
But Lista said he's not worried about his business because he thinks the previous restaurants simply weren't good fits for the town. He hopes that Frankie & Louies will be the spark that brings more businesses to the Town Center.
Local residents who went to community meetings about the land-use plan raised concerns about encouraging commercial development of the town at the expense of Harrisburg's small-town feel.
"We can maintain the small-town feel and still have stores to shop in," Reapsmith said.
Reapsmith said town ordinances, such as restrictions on retail stores' square footage, help control commercial development. But eventually, things will change, she said.
She pointed to communities such as Pineville and Matthews, small bedroom communities that have grown so that residents don't have to leave town to shop for the things they need.
"I think Harrisburg will be a junior Matthews some day," she said.