BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 27, 2009
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 28, 2009

Peters Design Works seeks new home for second time in three years

Peters_design_works 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.


A. Librarian

Er, he bought a house *on* Cleveland-Holloway? Or *in* C-H, as in within the historic district?


By my count, Peters closing would leave exactly zero architectural salvage businesses in the great state of North Carolina. That would not be a good thing for us old house enthusiasts.

Bo H

Alex- "zero" is not exactly right: Tommy Lagarde and his wife do the same thing on the other side of Chapel Hill (out towards Saxapahaw), maybe others? But point taken...

David S

There was a second somewhat similar vendor next to him at Venable as I recall. Who was that and what happened to them?


The other gentleman was Don Olberg. He is still located beside Steve but mainly focuses on cabinet sales and clawfoot tub restoration.


Greensboro has an Architectural Salvage shop run by its Preservation Society. http://www.blandwood.org/archsalvage.html Two of the antiques shops in Greensboro, on S. Elm St., also have a focus on architectural items -- one with a wide selection of larger items, and the other with a wide selection of the smaller detail pieces.

There's also an almost-regular dealer at the State Fairgrounds Flea Market who sets up outside the main Flea Market buildings who has lots of old doorknobs and the like.

Personally, I find the current space so dusty, dimly lit, and leaky that it is hard to understand what he actually has. Furthermore, I've found the pricing high (50% off everything in the shop was probably the motivator for all the people Kevin saw on Friday, as it would actually represent a reasonable price for most of these items), and the staff helpfulness low; a deadly combination in retail. Plus there is no web presence of any kind, so unless you stumble on the place when it happens to be open, and realize that the generic sounding "Peters Design Works" actually is an architectural salvage shop, you would never know it existed. Plenty of older home renovation and restoration in other parts of the Triangle -- this kind of place could be a tremendous resource.

I really hate to say negative things about a unique local business, which has the potential to be a great resource for the community. Unforunately, I don't find the business to be living up to its potential, which is probably why he can't survive the 60% cost increase.

A general comment -- Durham will continue to face this kind of problem, a forcing out of low-income, high-cultural value operations as the city continues to rise. It is an inevitable fact of life called "gentrification". This is often seen as a dirty word -- undertaken properly, it is not. It means elevating the entire city, the artists and preservationists/renovators find the next corner of the city to work with, etc. Uplift is better than decline. Note that even at $4/sf, the property owner here is willing to make improvements to the structure -- continued reinvestment and renovation in the old light-industrial buildings of the Central Park district will inevitably require higher rents so that investors see a return on investment. Of course this drives higher property values and in turn higher tax revenue ... and further market-based desire for redevelopment of the urban core. This is a sign of positive things happening in downtown Durham.


chris, theoretically i can't disagree, but there's an unspoken assumption which you credit to market forces in not specifically identifying Peter's imposition of value in saving and marketing the past, craftsmanship, and aesthetics of Durham's history. when you say 'sign of positive things happening' i feel you should be specific, and grateful, and acknowledge the sacrifices/efforts some people make in order that landowner's can then extract. as you say, at $4/sf no improvements could be made, and then the demolition comes, and history disappears. i'm sure you know this, but saying 'gentrification...undertaken properly' seems to me to fail to account for reality.

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