Give them the business

From the way businesses have sprung up downtown, you’d never know that we’ve been through four years of a down economy started by a financial meltdown and we’re teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of businesses that have opened downtown in the past year:

Sweet Frog Premium Frozen Yogurt opened in December of 2011, but not until after all the students left town for winter break, so we’ll count it as a 2012 business. Located at 105 E. Franklin St., it offers a dozen flavors of self-serve frozen yogurt and a rotating list of 50 toppings.

Ben & Jerry’s, at 102 W. Franklin St., added an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels component in January.

He’s Not Here, at 112½ W. Franklin St., found new buyers within a matter of days of putting itself up for sale last January. The Cave, at 452½ W. Franklin St., took longer to sell, but by fall, it too had new owners.

Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta, at 163 E. Franklin St., sold to Tomato Jake’s in March, but by year’s end was back in business, this time in Carrboro, under the name Carrboro Pizza Oven, in Carr Mill Mall.

Hot Dogs & Brews fired up its grill at 169 E. Franklin St. in July, doing a soft opening before students returned in August. Select from a variety of hot dogs (even vegetarian) smothered in any sort of topping you can think of.

Clothes Hound unleashed its inventory at a brick-and-mortar store at 145 E. Franklin St. Formerly an online-only vendor, the owner opened a store in Raleigh last year and ventured to Chapel Hill in August. It sells clothing and accessories that appeal to young women.

TRU Deli + Wine opened its no-cash, no-tips sandwich shop and bar at 114 Henderson St. in August. You pick the ingredients. Order your sandwich in person or by iPhone.

Mei Asian welcomed diners to its restaurant at 143 E. Franklin St. in September. The menu includes dishes from Canton, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

TOPO Distillery, in The Chapel Hill Booze Building at 505 W. Franklin St., sent its first batch of vodka to ABC stores in September, followed by Age-Your-Own-Whiskey kits in November. The nation’s first Green-Plus Certified distillery now is expanding its line to gin and sorghum rum. Call for a tour.

– Nancy Oates

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  1. DOM

     /  December 17, 2012

    Go Chapel Hill!!!

  2. Linda Convissor

     /  December 17, 2012

    It’s December 17, a full week before Christmas, and the students are gone. If you want to support downtown businesses, now is the time. All of our local businesses need our support but the downtown really needs you this week. I’ll put it a plug for the Ackland Museum Store, which has very creative gifts for every price range, and my favorite, an awesome jigsaw puzzle collection with choices suitable from toddler to aficionado. CHT is running its reduced schedule but parking will be free on Saturday.

  3. Steve Wells

     /  December 19, 2012

    I am glad businesses are opening up, but there is a part of the business puzzle missing in Chapel Hill: normal businesses. We are following a 1960s development model that hasn’t worked for 52 years and won’t. Of the businesses you mention the TOPO Distillery is closest to what has succeeded in bringing Durham back to life.

    Raleigh is undergoing a Downtown Renaissance largely built on the headquarters and large regional offices moving downtown. When I go to Raleigh on Tuesday Evening, whether it is Glenwood South or the Downtown area, I see people getting off work going to bars, coffee shops, restaurants and families going to restaurants like Mellow Mushroom, etc. These businesses actively court their local residents. A large part of Durham’s growth is fueled by businesses. Residential is still largely suburban, but the same pattern emerges. People working in an area spend money there.

    Chapel Hill doesn’t have this outside of the University. Instead we’ve built a Franklin Street that has two sections – University Students on the East and businesses for visiting Alumni on the West. We’ve built two condo buildings in Chapel Hill that were supposed to be where rich UNC Alums could retire, but the economy has made them difficult to sell and the lack of a walkable farmer’s market, grocery store or anything that would make it easy for an older person to get by without a car limits the appeal.

    I know Carrboro is getting into the mega-retail mix, but Chapel Hill and Carrboro are missing an opportunity. Instead of building a sprawling suburban dinosaur like Carolina North (note: RTP is trying to figure out how to add a residential component), we should consider converting that 140 West thing into Offices or building a Downtown Office park and helping tech companies come there. I remember when American Tobacco was nothing but an abandoned factory with a chain-link fence.

    We have a housing authority focusing on low-income housing. We should really be focusing on bringing in small computer, medical and other businesses that can benefit from the talent we have thanks to UNC and provide jobs Downtown. Then we can fill up the Condominiums at the other end of Franklin Street and ensure that these new businesses have a stable clientele and an economy that isn’t exclusively dependent on inflated housing valuations and high property taxes on the year round residents.

    I do encourage people to visit our local businesses year round, but with more restrictive parking than Raleigh and Durham, no business infrastructure, we give suburban residents very little reason to go downtown. I can park for free in Raleigh after 5 on all of the busy streets Downtown and free two hour parking is literally walking distance, but Chapel Hill holds out until 6 PM Monday – Saturday.

    Why should suburban residents go Downtown and risk a ticket or pay to park, when they can park at Southpoint or in Raleigh and Durham for free?

    So I wish the businesses well, but the Town Council could do more to make that happen by loosening up on Saturday parking year round and promoting non-university non-restaurant businesses to locate in the Downtown area. I know that doesn’t create the UNC Disney they want where students mix with “active seniors” smiling and wearing Carolina Blue, but it would create a real economy on Franklin Street. Otherwise, with every announcement will come a closure when the students leave in May.

  4. DOM

     /  December 19, 2012

    Steve –
    Point well taken. In order to truly increase our commercial tax base and take the heat of residential taxes we have to think new Urbanism instead of same old Small-townism. Increasing density and development diversity along our major corridors is the only real way to do that.

  5. Chris Jones

     /  December 19, 2012

    Steve –
    Proposed University Square re-development has massive amounts of Class A office space in it.
    There are several existing properties that could be re-purposed to unique and “cool” office locations, in the property owners could just be shown the way.
    One of downtown’s largest employers (and growing) is 3 Birds Marketing, which just relocated from the old Gotham night club on Rosemary St. to new offices in the TOPO Distillery building.
    The vacated Rosemary space is being upfit as we speak for the launch of a small business incubator.
    While I don’t have the time to go into details right now, I’d encourage an aspiring journalist to write the full incubator story: the collaborative effort of 2 property owners, a business, an NFP, an entrepreneur, a bank, the county, the town, and the university. All of the moving (yet interlocking) parts that made it work are a pretty fantastic example of people putting together and finding solutions to help achieve the goals you’ve wished for above.

  6. Linda Convissor

     /  December 19, 2012

    More about local business development efforts:

  7. Chris:

    You have hit on the other problem we have in Chapel Hill: We could land a Peace Summit and not a single media outlet in Raleigh would give it more than a passing mention. Raleigh gets a new replica acorn and it gets a 30 minute in-depth report.

  8. Tom Field

     /  December 21, 2012

    People that want to destroy the village to save it are always in it for the money (their own), and must be stopped. The answer for downtown is less chains and more local. How to do that? I have no idea!!

  9. Patrick M

     /  December 30, 2012

    “Why should suburban residents go Downtown and risk a ticket or pay to park, when they can park at Southpoint or in Raleigh and Durham for free?”

    If you know someone who lives in Chapel Hill that will actually drive 70+ miles to Raleigh roundtrip and dine at a restaurant that is their second choice– to avoid paying to park between 5 and 6 pm in downtown Chapel Hill, I’d say you’ve found the person we should spend the least amount of time trying to please with various downtown improvement strategies.