To me, few things really capture the change that's underway downtown as well as this picture:
Just visible at the top: the shadow left behind by the old lettering for Peoples' Clothiers, a downtown retailer that had a rather eclectic mix of clothing, and which was one of a number of very small and local businesses along the Five Points strip, which has had some of the more active downtown retail in the district. I don't know why Peoples' Clothiers closed -- if it was a non-renewed lease, or the business not doing well, or a relocation.
Nonetheless, the site now is being renovated to make way for a new business -- Toast Paninoteca, described on its web site as an "authentic Italian sandwich shop" serving breakfast, lunch, and "late afternoon snacks." Toast will also feature North Carolina beers and wine by the glass and bottle. The web site anticipates being open 7am-7pm Mondays through Fridays, 11am until 7pm om Saturdays. (See their new web site for more details.)
It's great to see more dining options downtown, as well as new opportunities for small businesses to open up in downtown retail spaces. (Toast is actually funded by a business start-up loan from Self-Help, with City participation in same under the city's small business support programs voted on at last night's Council meeting.) At the same time, one of the challenges in downtown's redevelopment lies in ensuring that the change doesn't manage to crowd out entirely the Peoples' Clothiers of the world.
One of the positive trends in downtown redevelopment has been the availability of smaller-sized retail and storefront spaces (the renovation of 1000 W. Main comes to mind) and the opening of small businesses in non-traditional properties (305 South is a good example.) And for all that I have cast aspersions on Northgate's business model, they deserve credit for being open to leasing space to businesses that, like them, are locally owned examples of entrepreneurship.
Maintaining diversity in downtown's storefronts is going to be a more and more critical item as time goes on. If we can manage this, it will speak to the energy and spirit of a Durham that remembers that creating more opportunities for enterprise throughout the socioeconomic strata is a valuable thing in a world of strip-malls and REIT-owned shopping centers.