North Carolina mayor finds hometown reminder in Tel Aviv

Canton, North Carolina, Mayor Zeb Smathers said he was reminded of home when he saw a milk carton in Tel Aviv with an Evergreen Packaging symbol.

Tel Aviv beach in the summer. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tel Aviv beach in the summer.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
BETHEL, North Carolina (TNS) — As a sign there is still a place for a blue collar mill town in the 21st Century, Canton, North Carolina Mayor Zeb Smathers talked about a piece of Papertown he found in Tel Aviv when he addressed the Bethel Rural Community Organization Tuesday.
During a recent trip to the Holy Land, Smathers said he was reminded of home when he saw a milk carton where everything was in Arabic — except the Evergreen Packaging symbol. The Canton paper mill is one of the world’s top manufacturers of the waxed board used in milk and juice cartons.
Smathers was the guest speaker at the bimonthly community organization meeting where he spoke about the “Canton Comeback.”
The Canton native talked about his grandfather’s store that once thrived in town, but fell victim to changing times in the 1990s.
“I saw my town change before my eyes,” Smathers said. “Canton could have gone the way of many small towns across the state that are no more.”
The town struggled, losing businesses and downtown foot traffic, and it was devoid of any evening activities.
“For years, people saw the can’t in Canton,” Smathers said.
But the negativity has slowly faded. The transformation came, he said, when the town embraced its identity, a proud, blue collar mill town that set out to become successful and prove everyone wrong.
“We started with a belief we would get there,” he said. “We had to be bold and laser-focused on recruiting business.”
Thanks to a vision supplied by the town leaders that provided economic incentives for businesses, revamped the town’s streetscape and spruced up the recreation areas, there are new businesses downtown that offer dining, entertainment, unique shopping experiences and more, he said.
“We have foot traffic in Canton and there’s a lot more to do,” he said. “Now we need to figure out how more kids who go through our great public schools can move back here to live.”
Now Canton is benefiting from the growth in Asheville, which is creating a red hot housing market. Smathers said a home in Canton is on the market for only 27 days, and noted the average age in the community is 37.
“We are changing,” he said, adding that the growth is hurting rental housing costs. “Houses that used to rent for $500 are now going for $1,000. That’s a lot of paycheck for blue collar jobs.”
During a question and answer session, Smathers was asked how Bethel could help Canton and vice versa.
He urged people to get involved in their community and work toward common goals.
“It will take good people getting involved, fighting for what we believe in and working across party lines to make a difference,” he said.
Following Smathers’ presentation, the community organization approved its 2019 budget and reviewed the many programs in place, including beautification, benevolence, education, the half-marathon race, the community food pantry, historic preservation and rural preservation.
The club is in the process of collecting the names of all the Bethel businesses to include on the organization’s website, and will reorder the popular “Sunburst and Other Logging Operations in the Bethel and Cold Mountain Region,” DVD that was released on Dec. 12 and was sold out by Christmas. It will be February before additional DVDs are available for sale.
The organization meets every other month at the Bethel community center. For more information about participating, email or visit
©2019 The Mountaineer (Waynesville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.