That’s the accusation that’s been floating around Charlotte for (what seems to me) the past eight months or so. And in that time span it seems like a fair assessment. For every new place to drink (Growlers, Sin City, Jack Beagles, Chop Shop) there has been one less place to shop or art (Lark & Key, Boulevard, now Green Rice—clothing boutique Vivian B was just robbed). NoDa needs, I have heard, daytime businesses to bring in a daytime crowd.
As a resident of this neighborhood (and, admittedly, former naysayer and current critic of the so-called “creative class”) I must agree. Because every empty storefront feels like a small loss. And every especially boisterous gallery crawl (and where are they crawling to, exactly?) followed by a morning of walking my dog around piles of broken glass on the sidewalk makes me feel old and cranky.
I, for my own selfish reasons, want more retail in walking distance. But I know that retail (or galleries) in and of themselves can’t survive here. It is not as simple as needing more stores and less bars.
Why is plaza midwood successful, or rather, why is the retail there surviving? I have a simple, inelegant theory: restaurants. And while NoDa has some great and popular places to eat (Cabo, Revolution, Crepe Cellar, Boudreauxs), they don’t rival the collective strength of Zada Janes, Dish, Soul, LuLus, and the Diamond. I know this is only my experience, but every single purchase I have ever made in a store on central ave has been made after eating at a Plaza Midwood restaurant. As someone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood, it’s highly unlikely that I will go eek out parking just to browse a run-of-the-mill antique store. But I will browse after housing some bunny rancheros and two bloody marys.
Also, there is the issue of, ahem, price. Charlotte Artist and funny person Nikki Mueller of Not Made in China has a button about NoDa that reads “NoDa: where musicians, artists, and other poor people live.” Truth. And Central Avenue, to continue the comparison, is filled with second hand stores. So it wouldn’t hurt if the retail that so many desperately hope to take over the neighborhood was of the affordable kind. And yes, I mean that to include art galleries.
It’s lazy to me when someone says that a gallery can’t survive here or artists can’t make it in this city because Charlottans aren’t interested in art. I’m interested in art and duly interested in art I have a chance of purchasing. But just because I can’t afford a $500 painting doesn’t mean there aren’t people in this city who can. They just don’t live here. The people who make the art live here. The people who can buy it live somewhere south of here and are eagerly awaiting whole foods and would LOVE some NoDa art, but why come? When Charlotte art/gallery events are marketed solely to all the other broke creatives who were already going to come and not buy anything anyway. But that is a whole ‘nother issue.
So I guess I would say that NoDa has too many bars, at least for the number of restaurants, stores, and galleries remaining. But it’s absolutely not okay to blame the small business owners who run the bars or the Charlottans who like to save their money for a few glasses of beer once a week instead of a mediocre oil-on-canvas. In other words, it’s time for retailers, proprietors, and “creatives” to stop blaming everyone else for the “bar problem”. Especially if they leave the neighborhood because it isn’t as arty as it used to be. While I will give the benefit of the doubt when considering that the recent exodus focused on the same strip in, essentially, the same building, and I will bite my tongue when there is the inevitable swearing that “business isn’t bad,” I won’t believe for a second that the problem is Jack Beagles or Growlers or any other place who comes, and invests, and brings customers with them. The streets are crowded on Friday, and I still can’t find parking close to my building on Saturday. We’re here waiting for a restaurateur or retailer or gallery owner or lover of “NoDa in the nineties” to stop bitching about the way things were and go ahead and take a chance on the neighborhood and, you know, take an actual damn chance instead of expecting NoDa to do all the work for you. Market, price for the area, stay open later than 6pm. Because loving something, among other things, means sticking it out and making it work.
In the mean time I will continue to fight for my parking spots, step around broken glass, and spend my money close to home – wherever I can.