The co-owner of All Day Records in Carrboro misunderstood the intentions of a young woman passing out flyers to business owners along Main Street early last week and mistakenly reignited a social media furor over whether the town should centralize its homeless services downtown or place them somewhere else.
The record store's co-owner, Charlie Hearon, posted May 10 on Facebook that the woman had entered the store that day "asking if we would join with other businesses and donate some money to a plan to move the soup kitchen to a location out on Jones Ferry [Road] somewhere."
Hearon says he didn't catch her name or affiliation. "I said that we didn't support that," he tells the INDY. "She slinked away pretty quickly."
The Inter-Faith Council's plan to move its community kitchen from Chapel Hill to the space now occupied by the IFC's pantry in downtown Carrboro has been a contentious issue in Carrboro for several months. The pantry distributes roughly four thousand bags of groceries per year. A rebuilt three-story location at 110 West Main Street could serve an estimated 250 sit-down meals per day.
More than sixty business owners signed a petition last year, calling the plan to bring the community kitchen downtown "ill considered" and "grossly under-scrutinized by the IFC." On November 17, Rise Biscuits & Donuts co-owner Rick Robinson, flanked by Neal's Deli owner Matt Neal, presented that petition to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. It fretted about the presence of the "chronically homeless" and its potential to harm local businesses.
Both Robinson and Neal—as well as other petition signers—were excoriated in the comments on Hearon's Facebook thread, some of which called for boycotts of their businesses.
Yet none of those critics seemed to know that the petition was drafted and circulated months ago or that Neal expressed regret about signing it when he spoke at a Board of Alderman meeting in March. (At that meeting, the board approved a text amendment allowing the IFC to apply for conditional zoning that would allow it to add the kitchen to its pantry.)
What Hearon didn't notice before he discarded that flyer was one of the names at the top: Michael Reinke, executive director of the IFC. Reinke has been working with local resident Sherri Ontjes, retired founder of North Carolina Crafts Gallery, to find alternative spaces for the proposed Main Street facility. (Ontjes says the woman circulating the petition was her granddaughter.)
"The Board of Alderwomen and Aldermen asked us if we would take a look at other locations, and we said she would do that," Reinke explains. This request was made back in November, after business owners' concerns were aired. "And this is actually costing us money. It's costing us money to hire lawyers—and hire architects—for them to say, 'Would another site work?'"
Only one proposed alternative site is up for serious consideration: a 1.3-acre plot at 303 Jones Ferry Road, near the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. It's a one-minute drive or six-minute walk from 110 West Main. Reinke estimates that the scouting and assessment costs will exceed $20,000.
His first choice is to remain on Main Street, for one simple reason: "We own it."
Moving to Jones Ferry would mean that the IFC's neighbors would be residential, which could generate more controversy. The recent opening of IFC Community House—on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill—met with fierce resistance from neighbors. In addition, the Main Street location is served by several bus routes; the Jones Ferry one would require a longer walk to some of those buses, which could discourage some homeless people from visiting the kitchen.
"It's our hope to either make the decision by the end of May," says Reinke. "But we have to make it by the middle of June."
The decision is urgent, says Reinke, because Chapel Hill would like its building at 100 West Rosemary back. The town has been letting the IFC use it for twenty-eight years.
Correction: this story inaccurately reported that All Day Records co-owner Charlie Hearon received a flyer about moving the IFC’s soup kitchen out of downtown. He did not receive the flyer but was only made aware of its existence, he says. The woman who was circulating the flyers did not tell him that IFC director Michael Reinke was involved in the effort.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Out of Site"