The problem with downtown

I just drove through Eastgate, and and wow that place is really coming together. It looks quite nice and there are lots of appealing businesses there. However, almost none of them are locally owned. WomanCraft seems to be the only local business there now. I would so much prefer to spend my money at a business that supports the local economy and supports our downtown. I started to think about why our downtown is starting to struggle after so many years of vitality.

No, it's not the panhandlers, lack of parking, or drunk students. I think It's the landlords. Or at least some landlords, most notably Spencer Young who is actively driving tenants away from The Courtyard while piling on loans that he apparently can't pay, and Joe Riddle who is responsible for at least two empty store fronts and a vacant lot on Franklin Street. Riddle is a developer who lives in Fayetteville. He was arrested on felony drug charges in 2005, and he currently owns several properties in Northside and downtown Chapel Hill worth a total tax value of $1,795,460 (according to Orange County GIS).

What are the Town and the Downtown Partnership doing about these guys that are truly degrading our downtown community? I'm encouraged to see something finally happening at the former Wicked Burrito, but it took what - something like 8 years to deal with that eyesore? I think another 8 years of negligent downtown landlords may be more than downtown can stand while Eastgate and Southpoint rack up the retailers. I'm afaiad we are focusing too much on cosmetics and not the fundamental challenges of Chapel Hill's downtown.

Bonus links: While researching this post, I found some interesting commentary on this issue. First is a blog entry by my friend Bharat, who reflects on property rights and land-use issues. The second is a strange-looking website called CABLEinCH that consists of various screeds defending Spencer Young and attacking P.H. Craig (an ornery dude who owns part of the parking lot that Young doesn't want to pay for). Anyone know who's behind this?



It is the panhandlers.  It is the parking.  It is the landlords. 


Drunk students?  Eh.  They don't drink to excess in large numbers like they used to.  They're too busy with MySpace accounts these days.


The town can't do anything about the landlords.  The town can, however, do something about the panhandling and the parking.  The town government chooses to do nothing.  Downtown will continue to die as long as nothing changes.  Hence, the re-vitalization of Eastgate/Elliott Rd/University Mall.


Case in point: 

The panhandlers don't stop me from patronizing Franklin Street businesses. Parking is never an issue for me.

If you are not locally owned I wont give you a dime. This is true for 99.999% of the time.

[for me 'local' is North Carolina. The closer to home, the more I partronize it.]

I also know where all the secret parking spaces are.

And the panhandlers do not deter me.

But I  have no illusions that people following a person down the street yelling "Hey Hey You Lady I'm Talking To You" might intimidate and deter other people. And I'm not sure that's unreasonable. Especially if you're a woman out on the street walking back to her car or walking to your home if you didn't drive.

Foot patrols might be a deterrent to more aggressive and obnoxious behavior.

Thanks for your interest in downtown Chapel Hill.


As a quick aside re. Eastgate, I'd like to point out that there are a few more "local" businesses there then you are noting.  Off the top of my head, the Loop, TCBY, and Subway are all owned by local residents.  They generate local sales tax revenue, employ local residents, and pay local property tax.  Renovations are done with their locally earned dollars.  Yes, in the process, they also (in the case of TCBY and Subway) pay royalties to a national corporation.  But these franchises are every bit as "locally" owned as another one you could come across, just like McDonald's, McAlister's, Panera, Subway, and Quizno's are downtown.


So, let's talk downtown.  To be honest, I'm not sure where do start.  Maybe a comment about perceptions vs. reality.  Maybe there is a perception that downtown property owners are evil, ornery, money-grubbing, bad landlords.  When negative press or comments about Spencer Young or Joe Riddle are published, they certainly reinforce those perceptions.  Without a dissenting opinion, talking about the value that certain property owners do bring to downtown in the form of friendly lease terms with their incumbent businesses, willingness to reinvest in their building, and generating partnerships with the town and other property/business owners, the negative perceptions I mentioned can become the reality for the indivdual on the receiving end of that limited information.  That "reality", now based on incomplete or incorrect facts, now has to be changed.


I've expanded into my simpistic view of perception vs. reality because of the perception that I have generated from Ruby's opening post.  I apologize, but my perception is that this was a fishing expedition.  Parking, panhandling, drunk patrons, landlord issues . . . well, we've now successfully identifed the challenges of downtown Chapel Hill.  They alos happen to be the challenges of downtown Durham, dowtown Raleigh, downtown Charlotte, downtown Atlanta, downtown Richmond, downtown Nashville, downtown Madison, etc. etc. 


So, instead of drawing the Orange Politics community into a free-form discussion of all that is perceived to ail downtown Chapel Hill, why don't we instead focus on some of the incredible assets of downtown, and the support that the Downtown Partnership and the town to further those assets:

 A valet parking system supporting some of the West End's finest restaurants, including Bonne Soiree, 411 West, Elaine's, the Carolina Brewery, Mediterranean Deli, and Talulla's.

Support by downtown businesses of a street outreach program in Real Change for Spare Change that is actively providing assistance and programming for people in need.

Support in negotiations between interested parties in providing additional parking resources for employees of businesses at the Courtyard, thereby opening the limited parking there for patrons.

Free downtown parking on Sundays.

And, these assets are just programming.  It doesn't even begin to touch on some of the incredible retailers and restaurants people can find downtown if they will set aside their perceptions and search for the reality themselves:

Restaurants that feature and promote locally grown food, such as Lantern and Elaine's.

Locally designed women's fasion and gifts at the Laughing Turtle.

An incredible collection of watches at David Gerald Fine Timepieces.

The N&O's top restaurant in the Triangle in 2007 at Bonne Soiree.

Chapel Hill Comics, where they feature events such as workshops where children can create their own comic books.

LONG standing contributors to our economy, and to the fabric of our commmunity, at Carolina Coffee Shop, Ye Olde Waffle Shop, and Charles House's University Florist.

A beautiful gallery at Bill Hester's Fine Art at University Square.

A children's wonderland at Kidzu.

A Chapel Hill classic at Pepper's Pizza.

Two flagships of the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, at Spanky's and 411 West, who are actively engaged in numerous ventures to benefit our community.

A celebration of all that is good in Chapel Hill at the Chapel Hill Museum.

Fantastic pastries and gellatos at Sugarland.

A collection of eclectic retailers that you won't ever find at Southpoint, U-Mall, etc., in Hazmat, Internationalist Books, Toots and Magoos, Back Door CDs, Expressions, CD Alley, and the Bookshop.

"Fridays on the Front Porch" at Carolina Inn.

A great local music venue at Local 506.

And all of this is on the front step of the nation's first publicly chartered University, which also adds the Morehead Planetarium, Memorial Hall, and Ackland Art Museum to the downtown experience.


The reality of downtown Chapel Hill is that there are now, and, likely, always will be opportunities to bring additional value.   But a continual focus on "the problem with downtown" as opposed to a celebration of the myriad of great things only serves to discourage folks from even giving it a try.

I have been hanging out in downtown Chapel Hill since the 70's, and if you look around this site at all you'll see that I am constantly singing its praises, especially to detractors who find it compares poorly to local malls.

Other than the top floor of Top of The Hill, Joe Riddle's properties are a blight on our downtown, and Spencer Young is actively causing businesses to leave. If we overlook these problems we'll find ourselves with not much more than one-block student zone where our flourishing downtown used to be.

By the way, who are you, Chris? I don't think we've seen you here before. What's your connection to downtown?

I like U Mall. It has many locally owned stores that have been in business forever. It also has art galleries.

Unlike Eastgate, which kicked out a regionally legendary art gallery, Somerhill. This will have a trickle down effect on all Chapel Hill and Carrboro galleries as a place like Somerhill is an anchor store. Just like having a Nordstroms at a Mall. A well established anchor gallery brings art patrons to an area and then they go to the other galleries. Now they'll be going to Durham.

I also like Franklin Street.   



I agree with Ruby. The problem downtown in not panhanders or a "lack" of parking. (There is no parking shortage; there is an overabundance of cars. Valet parking is a bad idea because it encourages more automobile use.) The problem is the excessively high commercial rents. Their defenders say they are the market rates. Market, shmarket! The big lie of capitalism is that the market is always right. Sometimes it is right. Sometimes it is wrong. When the rents are too high for local businesses like Jack Sprat to make a go of it, the market is wrong. Jack Sprat is still there, but the owner is struggling. If only Raleigh would allow the Council to impose rent controls. -- James Coley 

****There is no parking shortage; there is an overabundance of cars. Valet parking is a bad idea because it encourages more automobile use.)****


Anybody who thinks that foot traffic is enough to support even a fraction of any retail business in this area is flat wrong. It is literally impossible to successfully run a bunsiness in this area without significant car traffic. Density is nowhere near close to what is needed for a business to be 100% foot traffic.


I dare anybody to name a single business that gets even 10% of its sales from foot traffic. I can't think of a single one.

This is an example of the Straw Person fallacy. I never said a business could be supported entirely by foot traffic. Of course automobile access is needed. The purpose of transportation reform as I advocate it is not to eliminate that but to improve the mode mix. Instead of 90-99% automobile use, we should have a mix of perhaps 40% cars, 30% transit, 20% biking and 10% walking. Valet parking is a bad idea because it encourages more automobile use, not because it is a kind of automobile access. But I am sure that many businesses downtown get at least 10% of their sales from foot traffic. Don't forget that students who live on campus walk to downtown Chapel Hill. 

Also saw the CHH's report on Sugarland vs. panhandler(s):

I was particularly struck by the comments below the piece online (including reference to OP). I, for one, would hope that Sugarland would NOT "move to Cary."

Coincidentally, a friend and I were enjoying gelato at Sugarland yesterday afternoon (Thursday). We were made quite uncomfortable by a man who came to our table and interrupted our conversation asking for money, because when we shook our heads and turned back to our discussion, he took a chair from the next table and moved it very close to ours and sat and stared at us. After several minutes of trying to ignore the situation, we got up to leave. He got up and left at that point. On our way out, we mentioned the incident to the woman behind the counter, who had not noticed the incident nor the man.

So I'm thinking, it's at least partly the panhandlers, although I can't say I'm 100% clear on how they should be "handled" (none actually have pans, that I can see).

But our conversation at the time happened to be about what was happening to downtown and whether landlords were "getting" their part in Franklin Street's struggles. It did seem to us that Chapel Hill's split-personality tendencies -- upscale/chic versus family/college/hometown -- are worsened by the ill-timed push toward the upscale end by landlords and developers.


Who is "rubyji?"
Ruby Sinreich


You want local businesses downtown but you just don't want these two people?  I guess it must be personal because it sure doesn't sound rational or consistent.

If a person is inside a privately owned business the staff can ask them to leave at any time simply for being rude to other patrons.

Which is a different issue than the streets which are publicly owned. 

Maybe Katrina should rent an apartment in Chapel Hill and run for the Town Council.

What's wrong with downtown? I miss the movie theatres. When I came to town in 1986, there were 10 screens downtown. High school students could take a bus downtown and have options of multiple films and there were family films as well as the flicks the Varsity shows.

Aside from that, I'm glad to see someone else sees the issue with trying to develop a thriving downtown with uncooperative landlords.

One summer after having a baby, I went downtown for the first time in awhile to buy mascara at Sephorra and Sephorra was gone.  And there were a few other empty storefronts. It was like a ghost town. I went in SchoolKids and said "What just happened?" and was told "The landlord raised the rent so high on Sephorra, that it was cheaper for them to move to Crabtree."  I know Sephorra wasn't locally owned, but it profitable, it created a lot of sales tax and now I have to mail order those products if I want them. 

A friend emailed me last month that she saw Three Cups written up in an airline magazine during a flight. And I had to say - Yeah, it's closed, because of landlord/tenant disputes.

I'm just hoping with the development of more storefronts in Carrboro, that some of the frustrated businesses will just move to this side of the railroad tracks.

It was suggested a few years ago that the town council could fine land owners for having buildings empty or otherwise unmaintained. As I understand it the landowners get a tax write-off if they're losing money on a property so there's no incentive  for them to compromise and work with a tenant. Why not create a disincentive that balances that benefit?


Since my wife and I moved here 5 years ago from Lawrence, Kansas (yes, we followed Roy), we've been saying the same thing about the empty storefronts and the loony landlords and I am happy to see you writing about this issue!  I do think that the right combination of larger brand name stores (locally owned or not) and local stores can do a lot to attract people to the downtown.  I think the wide gaps along Franklin Street is a major problem.  I will be interested to see how the 140 West Franklin development and the University Square changes (when/if they eventually come) change the feel and look of the Franklin Street--I think there is a great opportunity here if done thoughtfully!

I've never been bothered by panhandlers or drunk students on Franklin Street but I do think there is a perception of safety (or lack thereof) that needs to be addressed.  I wish the CHPD would spend more time walking the beat rather than riding in their cruisers.  I know there are some bike and foot patrols but whatever the allocation of the budget is for this sort of thing, it isn't enough.  

One more thing, what is the Elliott Road corridor doing right?  Phydeaux, 3 cups, Locopops, and Barbeque Joint are moving/opening there!   

To blame the landlords is missing the deeper issue. What is causing these disruptions, these symptoms, is capitalism. 

 The landlords, like the tenants, both need our compassion because they do not realize they are operating in a system that does not promote fellowship. It can promote fellowship, but it is very difficult.

 So instead of trying to figure out why the landlords are raising the rent so much, maybe we should look at the system that allows them to raise the rent.

Maybe we would also find out that those of us who enjoy good workmanship are in the minority. 


One more thing, what is the Elliott Road corridor doing right?  Phydeaux, 3 cups, Locopops, and Barbeque Joint are moving/opening there!  


For al of the bruhaha about how parking isn't an issue, Three cups specifically moved because of the lack of parking at the Courtyard.  So maybe parking is an issue, at least to the owners of 3 cups. 

Ruby is right on the mark.  Businesses that are created and owned locally are what gives a downtown its unique charm and character, and those are the precise qualities that downtown Chapel Hill is increasingly missing (largely because of outrageously high leases offered by landlords who don't give a hoot about the quality of life in Chapel Hill).  Compare downtown Asheville to downtown Chapel Hill for a case study.  But I really don't know how to turn things around.  I'd almost favor having the University buy out all the property on Franklin Street because I think they would be much better landlords than most of the current group.

Ken Jackson owner of Wentworth and Sloan, one of the oldest business on Franklin Street, just closed up the Franklin Street Store and is concentrating on his University Mall location.  Ken, who has been deeply involved in trying to keep Franklin Street viable finally decided that it no longer made business sense to keep that store open.

Given Ken's long standing and deep involvement in the community, it would be very interesting to hear what he has to say.

It would be great if some of these articles were actually quoted in the comments. I suppose I could go fill out all the registration at the Herald Sun, but not everyone who clicks on the link is going to do that.

Here are some of the key passages from Daniel Goldberg's article in the Herald: 

"[Ken Jackson] feels like University Mall now offers a sense of community that downtown has lacked in recent years. Jackson's customers tell him that the University Mall location is accessible, with parking just outside.

. . .

"It was quite an eye-opener for me to have to come up there at two or three in the morning to answer the burglar alarm," Jackson said. He said he saw a different crowd on the street at that hour than what he saw during the day and realized that some potential customers hearing reports of crime in downtown mistakenly think the same people will be present during the day.

But more than anything, Jackson said the market for retail operations like his downtown has gone away, replaced by a commercial area that is more fit for "fast food" and college memorabilia shops. And that's OK, he said.

If food and nightlife are the best uses for downtown at the moment, the town should take advantage of that demand and just make the place as safe as possible.

"The place will keep going, it will hold its own," Jackson said. Later, he added that "you can't beat the place up. It is what it is."

Overpriced commercial property downtown is an enormous problem.  There's a real shortage of commercial/retail space downtown, and for as long as I can remember, the only new construction has been high-end, luxury space that is far out of reach of most local businesses.  How can that possibly be sustainable?  I don't have too many data points, but I'm going to guess that the median rent on Franklin is more than $3000/month, with some big outliers on the E. Franklin block.  That's a huge barrier to entry for a local startup.

Chapel Hill is somewhat cursed by its geography, with downtown on top of a hill, squeezed between campus and residential neighborhoods.  Rosemary is a logical place for more commercial development, but there's practically nothing there but parking lots until you get to the Fuse/Nightlight block.

Also, there's something to be said for negligent landlords if it means they are willing to rent their property for, say, $1000/month or less.  Negligent landlords who hold their properties empty are jerks.


<i>I don't have too many data points, but I'm going to guess that the median rent on Franklin is more than $3000/month, with some big outliers on the E. Franklin block.  That's a huge barrier to entry for a local startup.</i><br><br>

I thought that this was funny when I read this.  $3000/month?  Maybe in 1908.  Today, it's closer to $10-$15K month.  If rent at those average places on Franklin St. (1000-2000 sq ft) was anywhere near $3000/month, there'd be a waiting list to get a spot. 

Maybe on the East Franklin block rent is $10-15K but on West Franklin it can be much less.  I think the Crunkleton (?) storefront rents for about $5K, for example.  There are some places that are much cheaper, but they are in buildings that have some serious structural problems and the owner has shown no interest in making any repairs without significantly raising the rent.

How can any business afford to pay $10-15K per month, locally owned or no?  That's insane.  If your margin is 10% you'd have to clear $5K every day just to pay rent.  That's a lot of tshirts, or beers or whatever.  Does anyone have any real numbers?


There's no way that any sane business owner would post any real numbers on some random blog.  But yes, that is reality, and that's why you rarely see many local businesses that survive more than a few years.  It's unbelievably difficult to just stay afloat in retail these days, especially when people aren't shopping locally any more.

One man with courage makes a majority.

- Andrew Jackson

One of the numbers cited at a Friends of Downtown meeting a couple of months ago was that on Franklin Street, the average rent was running around $25 a square foot.

I recently asked the Chamber of Commerce for some info on downtown's status. Their response - "In terms of vacancy rates, downtown (which is mostly retail) is around 9%, our office vacancy for the entire town was 6.24% in 3Q of 2007. By comparison, Durham's office vacancy was 15.02% at the same time."

They also estimated the downtown retail space to be around 1.5 to 2 million sq ft. Approved development in the center and around town will add 180,000 sqft and proposed projects will add another 440,000 sqft, all retail. Then there's 1.3 million sqft of office and 3.3 million residential, approved or proposed in downtown and around.

Seems like empty storefronts downtown would get worse with all that new space, but there will be more residents too. How would all this affect the monthly rent?

Oh, and Carrboro is next.  Rent is quickly skyrocketing in Carrboro, and there are not nearly enough people within walking distance to support a business with no parking.  Carrboro will be nothing but bars and gift shops inside of 3 years.

I disagree. First of all I don't see Fitch, Southern States, Harris Teeter or CVS moving, which was one of the big shifts on Franklin Street - no grocery or drug store. Weaver Street Market is unlikely to leave.

And Carrboro has a somewhat different make-up in terms of business. I don't think all the health care practitioners and architects that have been here for over a decade are going to pick up and move. Some of them own their buildings and I think are unlikely to go rent from someone else. 

But don't Fitch and Southern States own their own space?

Rents are high in that East Franklin block because it epitomizes Chapel Hill to most people.  Returning alumni, undergrads and their parents all flock there  for sentimental reasons. 

Berkeley moved his retail business from West Franklin to its location next to Whole Foods almost 10 years ago not because of high rent but because his customers complained chronically about parking near the store. 

It seems to me perfectly reasonable to ask who goes to Franklin Street and why? I tend to go (to West Franklin) to take vegetarian guest to Lime and Basil or to take my daughter to the Art Supply Store (or for pink hair product at Hazmat) and then we tend to hit CD Alley, Locopops, the Comic Store and Internationalist. Otherwise, the husband and I go for dates (dinner, clubs. movie). And we allgo to Syds on Rosemary.

I think Franklin Street serves students fairly well. There are cheap places to eat (I wish more were local), there are places to buy a dress for Friday night (vintage or Polo - take your pick), there are sweets and coffee and plenty of doo dads to buy for Christmas presents (I have fond memories of holiday shopping for my family on Franklin as a student.) 

And hair. A wide spectrum of people have their hair cut downtown (or at the Beehive in Carrboro.) Those places thrive regardless of parking or panhandling (Beehive also has no parking).  But that's one of those services that everyone uses.

It's not the place I think of when - Oh no, I need to have my pearls repaired - I'll take them with me when I go to the movie. So it makes a lot of sense to me that jewelry stores  might find other locations more suitable.   

I just wish the landlords would work with the businesses that can do well there  and make local businesses a priority.  


Rents are often  quoted in dollars per square foot per year, so you can calculate the monthly rent by multiplying the quoted rent by the square footage and divide by 12.       Many retail businesses may pay a additional percentage rent on sales above a certain dollar amount. (base plus %)  They  sometimes pay  additional charges for taxes, insurance, and maintenance (triple net lease)   and retail usually pays its own utilities and garbage collection.  (office leases differently and I don't know as much about that).  

The industry where I have some knowledge---the quick service restaurant variety---benchmarks rent to be at 7% or less of annual sales to be viable.  

 Why are rents what they are  in downtown?  The simple answer is supply/demand.  If you pull out the most notorious deviations from the norm in downtown, which are operating under other kinds of market models (corner of Franklin/Columbia, Wicked Burrito site)  the locations don't seem to stay vacant very long.  



What other market models do you mean - could you elaborate a bit/ is registered to  Spencer C. Young Investments, Inc.


One comment on "empty storefronts".    It is often the case that the landlords continue to collect rent via long term leases when national and regional firms like a bank or retailer like THE GAP pull out of a location.   Frankilin Steet has suffered in the transition of downtown over the years from a small village to a small city, as have other communities.   Retailers and other businesses have been searching for the right location.  Unfortunately many have failed to find that location on Franklin Street.  It would serve Chapel Hill/Carrboro leaders, both town and gown to work with landlords as much as possible to help find the right mix for our community

My comment about "a different business model" was a bit of a sarcastic  tongue in cheek about, in the first case,

1.  a building with a tenant that is paying rent but not operating the business (FUNB/Wachovia) which, on the balance sheet, IS a performing asset

2.  a company for which 1 non-performing real estate asset (the Wicked Burrito building) represents such a small blip on the corporate books that it is overlooked during a corporate shuffle.


Another armed robbery in downtown Chapel Hill (2 armed robberies in Chapel Hill Sunday)

certainly cannot help to bring more businesses or more people to the downtown area. The fact that this was in daylight hours and involved a sawed-off shotgun is even more discouraging. I think the idea of more foot patrols for the downtown area is becoming more and more attractive but we're still going to have to figure out a way to pay for them if we choose to go that route.

The U Mall roberry is rather disturbing as well.

Various things...

If there was just one thing the CH town gov't could focus on it should be downtown CH. 

 I wonder how storefronts can sit vacant for months and years on end because you'd think that even if someone wanted 8 K per year rent, they accept 7 K per year rent rather than leaving it vacant and getting 0 K per year rent.  But someone else mentioned that possibly they find that acceptable for tax break reasons.  I know little about those kinds of things but if someone is leaving CH storefronts vacant for their own personal tax break reasons then that should be remedied if possible immediately by whatever legal levers are available to the CH towm authorities.  And if possible it should be made impossible from happening again in the future.

 I also know little about zoning laws around here but perhaps that ultimately affects some things.  Here an example that may or may not be affected but I'm just using common sense type reasoning here so maybe there's some info I'm not aware off.

 There is a funeral home on W Franklin near the Columbia/Franklin intersection.  It it near HNH and the former gas station (currently under some sort of change).  Suppose your loved one died.  Would you want to go to Franklin St for the wake?  I wouldn't.  That land must be worth a fortune and if the people that owned it sold it they could probably get enough money to buy three funeral homes 5-10 miles out of town where there are more birds and trees and grass and a more funeral home kind of environment.  And yet that funeral home has been there for as long as I've lived here, which is nearly 20 years.  Can the people that own that place simply really prefer to be in that location?  Perhaps so, but it occurs to me that the price they could get for it might not be as high as a result of zoning.  Or maybe there's something else I'm missing.  But every time I walk past that place I think to myself "What in the hell is a funeral home doing here?"

 What UNC ends up doing with the University Square property is going to be mondo important in the long run. 

 Is a downtown without storefronts really a downtown?  Well maybe that is semantics, but imagine if all of downtown was like Panera and Jimmy Johns / Yeats / Etc.  Parking by a store and using it and then leaving is one thing, and parking somewhere and then walking up and down the street to various stores before you return to your car is another.  The latter seems more like downtown to me.

Although quirky businesses can be attractive, having too many quirky businesses and not enough mainstream businesses defeats the purpose.  In the end, you have to attract a large enough volume of people to support the business.

  Things like panhandlers and parking make a big difference.  Other than a tiny minority that enjoy engaging personally with the homeless, nobody likes walking down the street and having a scruffy looking person come up and ask them if they have any change.  And the farther you have to park from where you're going the more you have to walk and as a result the more people you encounter asking you for change.  I realize that homelessness is a problem in the grand scheme of things but that doesn't mean you're solving it by making people that want to visit downtown CH look at it.

 That's it for now, maybe I forgot something but I've gone on too long already.

You said: 
"But every time I walk past that place I think to myself 'What in the hell is a funeral home doing here?'"

 Walker's Funeral home already has three locations, in Hillsborough, Mebane as well as in Chapel Hill.

 I appreciate the funeral home and maybe it is part of the demise of the downtown. When you realize that death is always around the corner a double latte does not seem that important! :^) But seriously, a downtown is a place to see and get everything. For a downtown to be vibrant it need to be used by the local community. If you turned the old GAP into an food market I think your would see much more foot traffic. I have travelled extensively and in all the "vibrant" downtowns I have noticed some form of food market. There is no reason for me, a townie, to go into Chapel Hill. Except for the post office. Everybody is coming to Carrboro now. I have seen the change in the last two years.

Been away from the site a bit.  I was scrolling through a few recent pages and saw this.  I have to say while I like East Gates look, and especially like Evos, I'm disappointed that they kicked Sals out.  I went to their location off of MLK and they said they wanted to renew the lease but weren't allowed because they weren't hip/new enough.  I used to be able to walk Sals, I don't mind driving to the other one because its a restraunt I've enjoyed for years, but I'm sad to see they got kicked out.
Is there some way that the town could encourage/make it possible for empty storefronts to be made available to arts organizations or nonprofits on a temporary and affordable basis? I'm thinking of something like a Paper Hand production in the old Gap space, or temporary artist studio space or band practice space in a smaller storefront...

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