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A food 'Hood rises

Once home to desolate storefronts and a handful of struggling shops, the area that bridges the established Oakwood and Mordecai neighborhoods near downtown Raleigh transitioned during 2013 into the thriving business destination many always believed it would become.

It even attained its own destination name: North Person.

Several new businesses have opened in the low-key district in recent months, including a new Niall Hanley pub—The Station Bar, located in a former gas station on Person Street—in November. This week, assuming all permits are finalized, the long-awaited second location of Wine Authorities will open around the corner in the Person Street Plaza on East Franklin Street.

At least three additional openings are anticipated for early 2014, including the previously announced Person Street Neighborhood Bar at the plaza. John Holmes of Hobby Properties, which manages the plaza, confirms that a new restaurant will be announced in coming days.

The third new venture will be a "speakeasy cantina" set to debut in March on Person Street next to PieBird, which has enjoyed steady growth since it opened in 2011. The long-vacant location served as a pop-up ice cream shop for a few months during the summer.

"We had been looking at spaces in the neighborhood for a long time and we jumped when we learned this was available," says Lily Ballance, who will operate the as-yet-unnamed bar with her husband, David Ballance. The Ballances signed the lease three weeks ago.

The couple was formerly involved with Calavera Empanadas and Tequila on South Blount Street near City Market. Since the new site is not large enough for a kitchen, Ballance plans to collaborate with PieBird owner Sheila Duncan to provide empanadas and other nibbles.

"I grew up in Mexico City and want to try to re-create the feel of the great neighborhood bars there," says Ballance, who currently works at Five Star, an Asian restaurant in the warehouse district. North Person "is so cozy and great. The people are so friendly and supportive. There's a buzz starting and we really feel like it's the place to be."

A decade ago, before he settled on Durham for the first Wine Authorities store, Craig Heffley considered launching his business in the North Person area.

"I have a friend who lives in Oakwood, and I always through it would be a great place for a wine store," Heffley says. A year ago, when he was scouting locations for a second store, he drove by Person Street Plaza and saw a sign seeking tenants. "I stopped the car and called right away," he says. "We're thrilled that the emphasis is on small, independent operations that serve the community."

Niall Hanley agrees. "Our goal is to cater to the neighbors," says Hanley, who created a large patio at The Station with freestanding outdoor fireplaces to offer the neighborhood a communal living room. His chef, Scott Jankovictz, worked at the now-closed Market Restaurant. "I think you will see a scene being developed here that will be strongly controlled by the neighborhood, which is fine with us. That's what builds longevity."

At least one North Person start-up already has gained national attention. Slingshot Coffee, which sells hand-bottled, cold-brewed iced-coffee beverages, has gone from off-hours production in the former Market Restaurant location on Blount Street (now home to the very popular Stanbury restaurant) to its own space within Oak City Cycling on East Franklin. Its products have been singled out for praise by Southern Living and Imbibe magazines and included in upscale holiday gift guides promoted by Real Simple, Gear Patrol, Time Out New York and Provisions, the online retailer affiliated with Food52, a respected cooking resource.

After working around the clock for months, owner Jenny Bonchak finally gave notice at her day job last week.

"I'm still the only employee, although I do have some help with local deliveries and in-store tastings," says Bonchak. "I will be going full-time in January and I couldn't be more excited to take this next step." —Jill Warren Lucas

Studio and guitar shop, in one

In February, Brian Haran's commute will get considerably shorter.

At least five times each week for the last year, he's driven from Durham—where he and his wife, Renee, own a home—to the small Alamance County town of Graham. From a small storefront along the town's central roundabout, he's run both the guitar sales-and-repair shop Fret Sounds and a second side room venture, Pinebox Recording Studio. He's been in that location since 2009. But on Feb. 1, he'll reopen Fret Sounds on Durham's Main Street, in the recently revived building that housed the Durham Sun nearly a century ago.

Haran will shift the regular hours to a shortened afternoon schedule and by appointment only, a move that will make it easier for him to make records in a separate studio whose location he's still negotiating. In 2012, he produced new music by Nashville guitarist William Tyler, Durham songwriter Hiss Golden Messenger, folk heiress Alice Gerrard, Seattle multi-instrumentalist and Akron/Family instigator Miles Cooper Seaton and Greensboro garage rock gem Jonny Alright. It was a busy year, he notes, but he's hoping that output will only increase with his move toward the Triangle, especially given Durham's lack of stable studios relative to its number of bands. He's even hoping to develop a mobile recording approach, so that he can work with groups in whatever space they find most conducive to their own creativity.

click to enlarge Brian Haran of Fret Sounds in Graham works on a 1924 vintage Martin guitar. - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK
  • Photo by Justin Cook
  • Brian Haran of Fret Sounds in Graham works on a 1924 vintage Martin guitar.

"My favorite thing as a producer is a songwriter who has a pile of ideas but doesn't know what to do with them," says Haran. "I like to hear the ideas and build the record from what they want from it."

Haran, a veteran of area bands Filthybird and Ama Divers, is interested in integrating both the shop and the studio into the city itself. In advance of the big move, for instance, he'll host three consecutive two-hour guitar tech workshops at The Pinhook to teach people, in part, how to do his job themselves.

"So many people come to me and say, 'It just doesn't play good,'" he says. "I want to break that barrier down. It's really not that complicated." —Grayson Haver Currin

God rest ye Merry Gentrification

During the last decade, the cities, towns and communities of the Triangle have charted on more best-of lists than anyone aside from municipal officials up for re-election might care to collect: best place to work and best place to live, best place to be inventive and best place to be single, best place to hear music and, only last week, best place to own a home.

There is warranted concern, though, that these accolades help to shape a bubble that will one day burst. That is, when every downtown is full and every potentially cheap spot upgraded until the rent prohibits any risk, the superlative adjective that begins such lists might turn on itself.

These issues are already at our doorstep: In Durham, for instance, a promising new theater space just ran its last production in order to make way for a possible demolition crew. In Raleigh, some members of the residential haven Boylan Heights took their complaints that a community art gallery's regular, low-impact street closings were disrupting the neighborhood to the City Council and the daily newspaper. Chapel Hill's Franklin Street has survived the towering GreenBridge project, while Raleigh's Hillsborough Street will soon lose an institutional music venue, Sadlack's, to the construction of a big building associated with N.C. State for the second time in three years.

These concerns call upon questions of race, class, age and equality. They present differing visions for the future of the region and the meaning of home. And they are among the most pressing questions concerning the continued vitality and growth of the Triangle. In 2014, we'll explore this topic in depth, especially in the relationship between growth and the creativity communities that, at least in part, have helped to power it. —Grayson Haver Currin

  • Our writers survey the year's culture stories and how they'll matter in 2014.


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