One of the benefits of downtown Durham's long slumbering has been the availability of large, inexpensive factories and warehouses for use by artists, creatives and other uses that wouldn't have taken flight in a more heavily-developed urban core.
The Independent Weekly looked at this with the Venable Building on Roxboro a few years back when the alt-weekly was moving into that downtown structure from Hillsborough Rd. -- itself a gentrifying tenancy, with the Indy moving into shiny renovated space even as it told the tale of the artists and businesses displaced by that very renovation.
One of those businesses was Peters Design Works, an eclectic home for just about anything you could ever want to fix up an historic home or building -- from clawfoot tubs to old wood doors to windows.
Caught up in the Venable renovations himself, Peters decamped to a Foster St. warehouse on the eastern side of the old Durham Athletic Park three years ago.
And now, Peters finds himself looking to move again, spurred this time by a rent increase that Peters says is more than he can pay for a fairly low-revenue operation.
Peters Design Works faces a late November deadline for closing down operations at the business' current home, and bringing its stay on Foster St. to an end.
On paper, the lease rate might not look like a gentrified figure; at $4 per square foot, the new ask from landlord Greenfire Development is still fairly inexpensive by regional standards. And Greenfire promises improvements to the structure, including repairs to the building's roof (which Peters says has long leaked) as part of the new lease terms the business owner showed BCR last week.
But Peters notes that it would represent a more than 60% increase in cost to him, for a business that the preservationist Peters says isn't enough of a cash generator to support.
"Walmart turns over the inventory in its store every five weeks. My store turns over its inventory every five years," Peters said wryly, surrounded at his desk by piles of one-off artifacts recovered from imperiled historic homes.
Not that Peters has lacked for customers. Shortly before 5pm on a Friday, the business was hopping with a half-dozen shoppers, asking for quotes for furniture and furnishing items here and there.
Ironically, Peters himself has profited in his own way from downtown Durham's renaissance. His home on Morris St., for instance, famously sold for a cool $1 million a year or so ago to Hank Scherich, as the Measurement Inc. owner completed his land assembly for the Morris Ridge problem just to the ballpark's south. (Peters still makes his home there, on a rolling short-term lease.)
In other ways, the renaissance has been costly -- something Peters found out as one of the many contractors left frustrated with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse. Peters was part of a team working to rehabilitate the windows in the Old Bull Building in American Tobacco's north phase, and as with many contractors, he found himself waiting for some time in line for payment from the stretched (and frequently foreclosure-challenged) urban developer on the project's residential phase.
Still, the departure of the Foster St. building doesn't mean the end for Peters Design Works.
Peters bought a house on Cleveland-Holloway recently and will consider it as a possible home for the business, even as he looks for affordable, accessible space elsewhere in the community.
Perhaps in East Durham, Peters says, maybe out by the Gilbert St. area where Wendy Clark's incubator has taken roost.
Because even as the rent meter runs up in yesterday's abandoned buildings, in Durham, an affordable home is not long from the finding.