In one of the opening scenes of the dreadful, horrendous, abysmal, and also badly-acted film "Main Street" -- there's a reason, friends, you haven't seen this straight-to-DVD movie in theaters anywhere -- Amber Tamblyn's character drives her late-80s beater car up in front of the Bargain Furniture building downtown, checking her voicemail.
(If I were Tamblyn, I'd be waiting to hear a message from my agent, apologizing for booking me in a piece-of-crap film.)
The shuttered furniture store makes a perfect backdrop for Main Street's message of Southern discomfort, of old money gone broke and new money gone toxic; it's a symbol of desertion and loss and emptiness.
But no longer, it seems. There's activity downstairs and possibly up for the building, long controlled by Raleigh entrepreneur Greg Hatem and Durham architect and developer John Warasila.
In an ironic turnabout, the American Underground -- the incubator space that's nicely humanized a pit of a basement in the Strickland and Crowe buildings at Am'bacco -- may be expanding to the upper floors of 309 E. Chapel Hill St., while an a Durham location of the Raleigh barbecue restaurant called The Pit may be opening up on the ground floor.
BCR heard a couple of months back that Capitol Broadcasting's Michael Goodmon was looking for more room for the Underground, which has been a very popular addition to the American Tobacco Campus.
Even with the recent announcement that the LaunchBox Digital incubator's founders were moving in different directions (though one of the principals behind it may resuscitate his original Triangle-focused incubator idea there), the inexpensive workspaces with shared conference and kitchen facilities has proven much more popular than anyone guessed.
Out of room, Goodmon has reportedly been looking at other spaces around downtown to expand.
We at BCR had mused some weeks ago that the plans Capitol filed to build additional office space near the campus' East Deck and the DPAC could, given the narrow depth between existing structured parking and roads, be ideal for incubator space.
On the other hand, Bargain Furniture is already here and built in the ground, though it could use a little, er, freshening up, to say the least.
The Triangle Business Journal's Monica Chen this week singled out 309 E. Chapel Hill St. as a possible future home of American Underground expansion, though CBC isn't ready to make any statement on the matter.
But the building already seems ready at least for some first-floor upfit.
Hatem announced earlier this year -- amidst a split with food partner and 'cue-master Ed Mitchell -- that he was planning to open a second location of the popular downtown Raleigh barbecue business in the Bull City.
(BCR's heard rumors that Mitchell himself has been looking at Durham locations for a restaurant, but no idea if those reports are on target or wide of the mark. And worth noting that while many love The Pit, from great Yelp reviews to a certain amount of Food Network fame and attention, the business has its detractors too -- from the Yelper calling it the Starbucks of BBQ to Grady's chosen description, "an 8000-sq-ft overpriced faux-BBQ theme-park of a restaurant.")
Speculation at the time naturally focused on buildings that Hatem owned in partnership with Warasila.
The business partners, who acquired a number of properties along the Chapel Hill St. axis some years back, have been renovating several already.
The building at the corner of Chapel Hill St. and the Orange St. pedestrian mall, long abandoned, has become a showroom for a local office furniture store, though the showroom space is open by appointment only.
The building next to it has seen façade work and restoration, with a banner above noting the availability of three loft spaces on the structure's top floor.
And now comes Bargain Furniture, whose only recent signs of life had heretofore been the Georges Rousse art project at the beginning of downtown's mid-2000s renovation.
With The Pit destined for Bargain Furniture -- and with renovation of the structure necessary to make such a new use a reality -- it certainly would make sense to have the upper floors occupied by a strong tenant like Capitol.
And for anyone who thought the Underground concept could only expand beyond Capitol's O&O'ed borders when pigs flew... well, maybe there's something to that after all.