It's about 4 years ago Sam and Dave first tried making a go of turning the Mr. Shoe space into a performance room a la the current BCHQ. That lasted long enough for me to get this shot of Dom Casual on a late September evening in 2004, but not much longer than that.
Since then, there was the Anchor of Hope project in 2005, and not much else done with those buildings.
Aren't these exactly the kind of storefronts that you want filled with ethnic eateries, small galleries, or boutiques, to make a lively and walkable community? What are we going to get in their stead? And how long are we going to wait for it?
I went into town last night to see some friends perform at the CCB Plaza, but the show was inexplicably canceled. I guess the rain earlier in the day was enough to scare Parks & Rec off the site, but there wasn't a single notice anywhere in the plaza about what was going on. So Mrs. D and i met for dinner at Toast which was, as usual, lovely. I think we knew someone at almost every table. During one conversation with a friend of a friend, i was asked, "Don't you love living in Durham?" That's usually a no-brainer. Of course i do. But i found myself inhaling deeply and thinking before answering. "Well, yes, but . . ."
Two nights ago i was in Raleigh, in the Glenwood South district, and there's a lot there to like. There's some new construction going on, but most of it seemed to be well scaled. There are street level businesses and, as i mentioned, a coffee shop operating out of an old bungalow. Everything was walkable. And there were people around. Lots of people.
Sitting in front of Toast last night, i could see the row of empty storefronts across 5 Points where Safari and Peacefire used to be. It's been a year since the city finished up its streetscape project, and Safari is still empty. How could that be? Walking back to my car along Chapel Hill St., at 6:45 pm, we were the only ones on the street. There's hundred yard long stretches of empty brick walls, roll up garage doors, and veneer surrounding the ground floor of a parking deck. And a linotype machine marking the spot where a thriving local newspaper once operated. Four years ago, it seemed as though street-level (in every sense of the word) entrepreneurs were giving downtown Durham a go, and the future was bright. Have they all been sucked up into the Greenfire maw? Is American Tobacco, with it's inward facing courtyard and mediocre restaurants, really the best we can do with our downtown?
"Don't you love living in Durham?"
"Well, yes, but . . ."
The bloom, shall we say, is off the rose. This town could be great, can be great. I'm no longer certain, though, that it will be great.