This Is My Hometown
Leland native Joey Upchurch remembers the small town of his youth and reflects on it becoming a big city.
Joey Upchurch takes great pride in having grown up in Leland. It is evident in how he lives his life and manages his business and how he never once forgot where he came from.
When Upchurch reflects upon his youth, he can’t help mentioning the many names of family, friends, neighbors, teachers and community leaders who influenced him. As a child, he fully embraced the “small, tight-knit country town” where everyone knew each other and lent a hand to their neighbor. Leland’s positive values shaped who he is today and continues to fuel his ambition for future goals.
In the 1980s, Upchurch’s father, who is from Wrightsville Beach, met his mother after she relocated from Raleigh to Wilmington. The family moved to Leland after Upchurch was born in 1988. Upchurch and his three brothers grew up in Pickett Ridge on old Fayetteville Road and attended the schools in the area: Lincoln Primary (elementary), Leland Middle and North Brunswick High School.
“I started third grade the year Belville Elementary opened, and I remember we had a school-wide vote on what our mascot would be — the Patriots, Gators or Sharks,” Upchurch says. “Years later, I got a tattoo of a shark because I just happen to like sharks, and I realized it actually looks a lot like their mascot … Go Sharks!”
When not in school, Upchurch spent his time playing outside and hanging out with who he refers to as the Pickett Ridge Crew. “Back then, kids didn’t have cell phones or tablets, and the internet was dial up, so surfing the internet was a real drag,” he says. “My life pretty much revolved around riding bikes all day with neighborhood kids, exploring the woods (which are now known as Waterford and Magnolia Greens), playing soccer and going to the beach as much as possible.”
Those woods played a major role in his life. “The woods were the perfect escape for a couple of kids to get together and build forts and dirt jumps for our bikes, and just bond,” he says.
During the summer, the kids were usually outside playing from sunup to sundown. “We often got in big trouble if we weren’t home before the streetlights came on.”
Every year, Upchurch looked forward to the Leland Christmas Parade put on by the Unity Group of North Brunswick. An added bonus was seeing the smiling faces of many of the members of the Unity Group and other local citizens ride around in decorated golf carts.
“Things have changed quite a bit as far as the parade goes, but hopefully, one day I will be able to bring my children to the same small-town, simple parade I went to when I was a child.”
Another highlight for Upchurch was eating in a restaurant where locals would gather and everyone felt like family.
“Mr. Frosty’s was a staple, and Preacher Bob was always a joy to be around,” Upchurch says. “I can still smell that place and taste those pickles!”
After high school, Upchurch went to work at one of the first more upscale restaurants in the area called Eddie Romanelli’s. For a while, he decided he wanted to be a chef, “then I decided I wanted to be a real estate agent so I could be rich, then I wanted to be a cop, and I always wanted to be a pro wrestler … and the list goes on.”
The career path was a tricky one for Upchurch, but finding what suited him came to him by surprise.
“I got a construction job building piers … that I absolutely took for granted. I worked that job for about five years off and on,” he says, “looking to get a paycheck so I could go out and party with the boys all weekend. I was living at home, no kids and no real responsibilities. I wasted many years living that life.”
To this day, it baffles him as to why his boss had so much patience with him. He wished he had applied himself more, but he ended up gaining valuable skills that came in handy when his mindset began to drastically change.
“When I met Lindsey and started having kids and could see my future, I took a huge leap of faith, quit my job and started my own business.”
He opened Coastal Decks and Docks in 2019 and is going strong.
“I started out with literally a saw and a screw gun … that’s it! No money, no business plan, nothing but one deck job. Year one of my business, I pretty much took all of my money from working and put it back into the business: tools, trailers, advertisement, etc.,” he says. “Year two has been crazy! We have been blessed with so much work that we are booked out three to four months, and my phone rings non-stop.”
Upchurch’s main goal is to really establish his business in Leland and focus on serving the community he loves.
“I want to change the game completely,” he says.
He believes what sets Coastal Decks and Docks apart is the way that they are transparent and take extra time to form relationships with their customers.
“We aren’t out here taking shortcuts or using cheap materials to make the biggest profit we can,” he says. “We are serving our community, treating customers like family rather than just a paycheck, and we build a quality product every time. We do things the old way … the honest way.”
He especially loves working in areas like Waterford because of his history there. “That’s my old stomping ground. I literally grew up on that land and fished and swam in the lake. It becomes personal then.”
He also finds time to give back to the community by donating his time and talent to those in need. He is currently building a ramp and stairs for the nonprofit Paws Place Dog Rescue.
When Upchurch isn’t working, he is home spending time with Lindsey and their three children, Mason, 5, Hadli, 2, and newborn Blakely. Even though they now live just outside of Leland in Maco, they enjoy raising their children “the old school way,” he says. Reminiscent of Upchurch’s childhood, their children have plenty of room to play and are continuing the tradition of creating strong relationships with neighbors.
“We have an amazing neighbor, Papa Reggie, who has chickens and goats. So, we basically have our own small zoo, but without the work!” he says with a laugh.
When asked about what he feels is important to Leland’s future, Upchurch doesn’t hesitate. He would like to see community involvement, especially among the young. “We should all love our neighbors and especially love and help the sick, poor and children of this town,” he says.
While he believes that the future of Leland is looking bright, Upchurch would like things to slow down a bit so that the emphasis is on building the infrastructure needed to keep up with the growth, especially making clean water, road repairs, flooding issues, traffic concerns and trash and recycling facilities a priority.
He compares Leland to cultivating a garden.
“You have to prepare the soil, plant seeds and give it water … you have to take care of it, if you want it to grow.”