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"Bad Luck Lopez" -- and Durham's rep -- gets a bad break

15-501, get ready to get your chain restaurants on

The N&O's announced that the Patterson Place shopping center is getting itself some new tenants, courtesy of its latest expansion.

And if you're a fan of Moe's, Five Guys, or Applebee's, and you happen to live off Mount Moriah Road? Well, hey, it's your lucky day. All three are coming to the South Durham center, along with a Duke Medicine clinic -- where presumably you can get your heart checked out after gorging on Five Guys burgers and Applebee's, well, whatever they put in that stuff.

It's no surprise that such retailers would pony up cash to be part of the So-Dur retail "node" at that intersection. And more confirmation of the grim secret of national-scale retail, something Barry Ragin and I talk about when he grouses about why no one will lease-up the old Kmart and movie theater on Avondale Drive, and why instead mega-franchises like these seem to sidle up next to each other like old pals.

We've talked here before about the South Durham National Retail Distortion Field, that demographic asterisk amidst Durham's funky self that magically persuades national retailers, "Hey, it's safe to open your business here!"

That clarion call sounds remarkably like the advice sometimes seen on Internet message boards like City-Data, and roundly chortled-about by downtowners and North Durhamites, that southwest Durham -- which, mind you, is a perfectly nice place with great neighborhoods -- is somehow the "only" place in the Bull City where one should live, thanks to its new homes, new schools, new roads, and of course, new mall and shopping.

Of course, Durham, even its southwestern frontier, doesn't get all the credit for our new retail overlords. There's I-40 playing a big part of that. So too does the presence of Chapel Hill, which in the cross-tabs of retail plays sits at the curious intersection of a community with a lot of money and a very small appetite for development and retail.

Hey, Chapel-Hillians, come on over the border! Bring your gold cards, please. You don't have nearly enough working class housing (almost-April Fool's Day headline here: "Chapel Hill Rejects Three Sites, Votes to Ship Low-Income Housing to Durham") so at least give us your sales tax revenue so we can house the folks who work at your hospital and university? 'Kay, thanks!

As we've kvetched about here before several times, of course, the new wave of new along 15-501 has displaced the old wave of new, the 1970s wündermall that was South Square, and which with an expanded Northgate helped to kill off Durham's preceding new wave of retail, the neighborhood strips like Forest Hills and Lakewood and Wellons Village that -- wait for it -- killed off downtown retail.

Heck, if you dig in to those yellowing 1850s maps that my friend Gary likes to parade on Endangered Durham, I'm sure somewhere you'll find signs that Durham's birth killed off a trading post in Gorman or Hillsborough or something like that.

Anyway, the modern wave of Durham retail displacement has seen the rise of New Hope Commons, then Patterson Place, then Indigo Corners.

And it's a perfect intersection to go to if you're looking for a Lonestar Red Robin Carrabba's Panera Jason's Deli Barnes & Noble Best Buy Party City Kohl's Home Depot Verizon Starbucks Walmart OfficeMax Dick's-perience.

Not, mind you, that there's anything wrong with that.

The notion that somehow us downtowners sit around eating pâté and caviar while sipping Chardonnay at James Beard-nominated restaurants whilst we thumb our collective noses at 15-501's retail mall-sprawl is a bit ridiculous.

Hell, I've never had pâté or caviar, and have no idea if either would go well with Chardonnay.

The BCRs aren't adverse at all to a little national retail. We've long liked Panera as a place to go to check email in the mornings over a bagel and coffee. We love downtown restaurants like Tosca and Piazza Italia, but there's times we're in the area and stop at Carrabba's. 

And so forth.

No, as much as Durham's a town where local is celebrated -- and rightfully so -- there's always going to be different tastes for different folks. Or different nights of the week. 

My concern has long been more about the wisdom of throwing so much chock-a-block in one little corner of town.

Of course, the public sector and neighborhoods don't have that much of a say over where these businesses end up.

There's plenty who'd love to have seen more restricted development at the 15-501/Mount Moriah corner. It's not a pedestrian-friendly area; it's barely a car-friendly area.

On the other hand, if Patterson Place didn't disgorge a plate of trees for its second phase, it's not as though Moe's and Five Guys would be opening up shop at North Pointe or Northgate instead. They simply wouldn't come to town.

And Applebee's used to be in town. Northward, up on 15-501, by South Square Mall.

You know, the one we displaced.



"There's plenty who'd love to have seen more restricted development at the 15-501/Mount Moriah corner. It's not a pedestrian-friendly area; it's barely a car-friendly area."

Truer words have never been spoken. I actually like to shop at some of the stores at that intersection, but trying to get in and out of the shopping centers discourages me from going most of the time. In fact, I never go to New Hope Commons if I can help it.


"Not pedestrian friendly" is putting it very lightly. Remember that a Barnes and Noble employee was hit by a car and killed while trying to cross 15-501 on foot a few months ago.

I, too, try to never go over to New Hope Commons. If I really have to go, I try to go in the late evenings on weekdays when traffic is at a minimum. That whole area is already a complete traffic cluster and is bound to get worse.

Steve Graff

Yep, Patterson Place is a cluster-frack of poor street design. They really NEED a second entrance into that shopping center over by Best Buy/Walmart. As it is now, I'll go there on occasion, but avoid it like the plague evenings and weekends.

I keep on hearing great things about Five Guys. Looks like I'll get a chance to try it soon.


There's a five guys burger at SouthPoint.

I wonder if the WalMart at New Hope Commons ever thinks about building a shiney new WalMart at Patterson Place.

Can you imagine how cool it would be if one of the developers who is eyeing south Durham put a mix use, high density new development in at the old Kmart. I85 access, neighborhoods that would love to see it redeveloped, and transit friendly to start with.

Jeremy T

As you hint at, the issue is having this stuff so densely packed into such a key area.

If downtown is going to be a success, people need to be able to get there. From Raleigh, Cary, and parts east, that's easy enough (thanks to the Durham Freeway). It's a different story with Chapel Hill, which is closer and filled with rich people who can't easily get here due to traffic.

I swear to god, if they don't rip out the current 15-501 and put in a controlled access highway through this retail hell, we're going to end up with a wall of traffic between the towns. Chapel Hill has money and they like to spend it, but if Chapel Hillians are mired in a moat of chain retail and stoplights for 20 minutes on 15-501, they're just going to give up before they get to Durham's crunchy center.

That's the thing I really worry about; normally I don't care about this sort of retail sprawl screwing up traffic in surrounding areas, because it's localized. But unlike the South Point area, this section of 15-501 is a lifeline for downtown Durham. You want to build mega-retail, that's fine, but you need to find a way for people to get *around* it.


"The notion that somehow us downtowners sit around eating pâté and caviar while sipping Chardonnay at James Beard-nominated restaurants whilst we thumb our collective noses at 15-501's retail mall-sprawl is a bit ridiculous."....another good one, Kevin!

I'm disappointed that you've discovered our neighbors to the southwest aren't spending enough of their elitist dollars along our retail hub, but I also wonder why many of the casual restaurants next to South Square, like Joe's Crab Shack and so forth, failed to stay open when so close to the relatively wealthy hoods up University Drive. Although Nana's seems to be running along very well serving up the pedestrians that walk in from all over Durham...

The 15-501 retail/gastronomic hub seems to be doing better because it's designed for cars. The people that use cars to go everywhere (the vast majority) seem to like this, the area gives them what they want, and despite long lines in traffic they don't seem to be staying away enough for the stores at New Hope Commons to leave. Having said that, I avoid NHC because it's not even designed for cars. All those landscaped islands in the parking lot that attempt to control cars and access, just make the situation worse. You really have to be aggressive and pull out whenever you can, or you'll get stuck there for half an hour.

All I see along 15-501 is an improving economy, providing much-needed jobs to those who can't afford to eat at Nana's. The last thing we need to do is to become more like Chapel Hill by restricting the free flow of capitalism, denying the lower incomes their fair share of prosperity, or the all-you-can-eat buffet.


I kind of agree with Jeremy T. 15-501 traffic is getting quite awful mostly around the Garret intersection.

I kind of welcome this new development around Patterson Square the only thing that worries me is the fact that the South Square area is becoming more and more abandoned.

For example the ATT store at South Square just relocated to Patterson.

There is that big chunck of land next to Sam's club to be developped and now that the GM and Saturn dealerships have been abandoned there is a lot of available space.

So my take is that before we allow too much development downthere, we should make sure that South Square does not become a no mans' land.

Steve Nicewarner

The chain stores end up in SW Durham because that is where the newer mall [and mall-like] location are being built. That's the formula for most chains. I'm sure this article would have a completely different tone if Briar Creek was built about five miles farther west.

Still, this touches on a point that I would like to see explored further. I have long held that there are two Durhams -- the traditional Durham and South Durham and that the city government has done realtively little to integrate South Durham into the rest of the city. For example, how often does a Parkwood resident go downtown for *anything*? He goes to work in RTP, shops at Southpoint and only goes north of I-40 if he wants to catch a Bulls game. His cultural identity is much more closely tied to RTP than it is to Durham. Solve that issue and a lot of good things follow.

Doug Roach

South Square might be better suited as the new high school than as retail.
As for Hope Commons/Patterson... the secret if one simply MUST go is to arrive there without once touching 15/501. Using Erwin to Mt Moriah from Durham west or from Chapel Hill and using Old Chapel Hill Road to SW Durham for those coming from points south is the way to go.
Remember though... it's a secret. Tell no one.


I can testify as we used to live in SW Durham ourselves and can tell you, most of our friends of SW Durham stay in that area and only frequent those areas, including 15/501. Even outsiders though like the ones from Cary/Apex/Raleigh...When they come to Durham, they come to Southpoint or they suggest an eatery in that area...never do they mention meeting at DT. The only time they came or come to downtown establishments is when we made the choice of where to go...Even to this day, if they were to go outside of the SW Durham area to eat, they're more likely to go to Chapel Hill to eat at one of their local restaurants, and hardly come to downtown to eat at the many lovely options...I wonder what CAN be done to encourage more of that crowd to come eat/socialize/wine in DT???

Rob Gillespie

The plans I saw for SouthSquare actually looked quite nice.

The only problem is that financing seems to have stalled the project indefinitely. But, at least the SouthSquare plan has mixed uses, and is only 3 miles from Duke Med Ctr and 3 miles from downtown. Now if only that development would have a direct circulator route connecting it to those two destinations, then it would be perfect.

Like most commenters, I'm afraid of New Hope Commons. Especialy in December. I do everything I can to avoid the traffic the engulfs the area.


I think both have their place in Durham. Downtown / bright-leaf square is a wonderful place to get some good food, bars, and local produce at the farmers market. It is very walking friendly, and the growth of downtown has been wonderful to see.

However on the flip side as a life long resident right off of 15-501 / garret road intersection, I have seen south square leave, New hope commons being built, Patterson place, and all the density being built on the 15-501 corridor. I truly enjoy the ability the access to 3 grocery stores, Home Depot, walmart, Barnes and noble, Sam's, some decent chain restaurants, all within a 5 min drive. If I want to go to chapel hill or Downtown it is just a 15 minute drive. Yes it is a drive but at a city the size of Durham, you need to drive. I am a big fan of public transportation, but I need much more than Durham's urban core.

NHC is truthfully the worst built super strip mall area, but I have never had any problems navigating the traffic there. Once 15-501 between NHC and Garret road finished construction and that road becomes a 6 lane road, your commute time between Chapel hill and Durham will be drastically cut down. I remember 5 years ago I could drive to Franklin street just as fast as I could go downtown Durham. Once the construction gets completed I have some faith that the signal and light department can do a good job on controlling traffic flow between the two cities.


The abandoned car dealerships at South Square would be a great place to put a new High School. Within distance of comprising "West Durham" with areas downtown that have lower income demographics to help balance out the socioeconomic factors without creating an exclusive attendance zone. Drive and bus routes would be minimized to make a compact district and the area can handle the traffic given that there are a lot of businesses leaving the area for SW Durham.


Ugh. Foodwise, it just kills me to see South Durham turned into North Raleigh.


I actually dont have a problem with places like "No Hope Commons" clogging up the way into Durham's "crunchy Center." the truth is, people who want the level of commerce and eateries found around the NHC and Southpoint area, will simply be happy with that and hang around there. the people that want something different, independent, smaller scale...well, they'll be doing their research and finding their way to central durham. they'll also find their way there via DBAP and DPAC, and go from there.

like another commenter said, and i've said myself in the past..it may not be my bag, but everything has its place, it takes all kinds of people to make a city, and i'm the last person who wants anyone excluded from the mix.


A new high school. We would have to see. I am currently zoned for Jordan and I would not want to loose this.


I evade 15-501 as much as possible. I rather go to MLK or South square area because of traffic and ugliness. The food in the Down Town area is better. Hell in the in town part of 15-501 to University, or one block from it, you have Nanas, Twisted Noodles, Saladelia,Q Shaq, Foster's, Gugelhupf, La Vaquita, 4 Square...

Steve Graff

"No Hope Commons" - that's a good one! I feel pretty hopeless when I'm trying to get the hell out of that shopping center without getting run into.

Sabrina L.

I, too, have to sort of "gear up" in preparation for a trip down 15-501. I feel like my grandmother who had self-inflicted rules about where she would drive and where she wouldn't. 15-501 corridor is on my short list when I implement my own limitations someday. However, downtown Durham, while on the rise in so many ways doesn't have much to offer my family with three small children, when it turns out that I don't have anything planned for dinner. It's amazing and wonderful that anyone would be hard-pressed to get a reservation at one of the downtown restaurants on a DPAC night, and that the people who have season tickets next to ours (DPAC) drive from Raleigh, and seem to make a point to eat in downtown Durham before every performance! I'm thrilled about it!

But that is only for DPAC performance nights, not for our "everyday life" nights. Downtown Durham needs to offer us something to keep from driving to Moe's for their affordable, consistent burritos that seem to be made with fresh ingredients. Our days of wandering down Ninth Street as a couple, and ending up at the bar of Magnolia Grille for dinner are over (for now). Where can we stroll downtown and wander in for dinner with my three elementary school-aged kids??


Huhuh: "Dick's-perience."

Todd Patton

The widening of 15-501 to 6 lanes is supposed to be finished by about Labor Day. Now that it is on my daily commute, I sure am ready for them to be done.

Converting it to a freeway as far as I-40 is the only way to ultimately free up the route, but that project is far in the future - at least 15 years away. The TTA light rail project will also pass through this corridor - Patterson Place was even designed with the TTA route in mind. Light rail is ultimately the only way to see this area develop in something other than a car-centric manner.


I wish Durham would extract more money from all these developers in South Durham for road improvements. Getting on and off I-40 at 15-501 and at Southpoint is a nightmare. The city/state should have made developers set aside money and space for cloverleaf intersections or ramps leading right into the shopping centers.

Sharon H

No doubt there's a retail explosion in SW Durham. What needs to be done to shift some of those investment dollars to the I-85 corridor? There have been plans to renovate Loehman's plaza off Hillandale and beef-up the 9th St area in West Durham (while maintaining its character). We live in North Durham. Many households with disposable income would love to shop closer to home. My $ is just as likely to be spent in Brier Creek as it is off 15-501.

Erik Landfried

@Jeremy T:

I argue the point about limited access vs. local access every time there is a planning effort on a road like 15-501 (or NC-54 on the Durham/Chapel Hill line). Either make it limited access or make it a boulevard with local access and nice amenities (bike lanes, sidewalks, street trees, etc.). This in-between stuff just does not work.

I think 15-501 is beyond the point of making it a boulevard, so I agree that it should become a limited access road with a few exits and service roads to get folks to the shopping centers.

I also agree that 15-501 is becoming a barrier to folks who want to go between downtown Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro. I try to avoid that road as much as possible and I know I'm not alone.

Steve Nicewarner

I have been told in the past that Chapel Hill has historically opposed improvements to 15-501. Their overall philosophy has been "If we make it enough of a pain to drive in Chapel Hill, people will use mass-transit." What they forget, however, is that people still need cars to get to Chapel Hill from elsewhere. IMO, that is a big part of why Chapel Hill is dominated by University-related stores in a way Durham is not.


The kick in the head to all of this is that the Wal-Mart in New Hope Commons has a Chapel Hill address. Maybe Wally wanted the convenience w/o the higher taxes & the 'shame' of a Durham address.


hey, greenlantern (if that IS your real name!) - if you can catch me at cosmic eating my $3 burrito or at c+h's eating my $4 chicken pot pie, you're free to come kiss my elitist, high-brow food ass.

Andrew Edmonds

@ natalie: As Rob Gillespie states, the South Square plan (just a couple blocks from Kmart) includes the features you've mentioned. Kevin's blogged about it frequently.

@ Steve Nicewaremer and Freddie: a few years ago, N&O columnist Jim Wise coined a name for the area below I40: "Greater Southpoint". In the same article he references "Cary's 28 flavors of vanilla." The man is a Durham treasure.

@ Sabrina L.: How 'bout you continue wandering down 9th Street -- not as a couple, but as a family with kids? Pretty easy to do for dinner. You've got Cosmic Cantina, Chubby's, and International Delights (if your kids are even mildly adventurous), Cinelli's Pizza, Bali Hai (fun for everybody), ELMO'S (at which you're given a kid at the door if you forget your own) ... any of which can be topped off by a short stroll to Locopops for dessert. What kid would say no to that?!

@TBB: Contact the DCVB Image Watchers. They like to put the screws to companies and services that work out of Durham County and use postal names from other communities.

Steve Nicewarner

@ Andrew E. - That's certainly catchy [and I agree about Jim Wise], but the issues were going on long before Southpoint was built. The Parkwood annexation was right around 1990, and I was waiting for barricades and checkpoints along NC-54. those residents did not, and still do not, want to be part of Durham.

The Gourmez

What is the official borderline between South Durham and Durham proper? I wouldn't have thought that the 15-501 corridor was South Durham, so obviously, I've got some more learning to do after my few years here.

Rob Gillespie

@The Gourmez--
Well, there is no official line, but I would argue that anything South/West of 751 starts to become South Durham in the 15-501 area. It marks the transition between historic neighborhoods and subdivisions, for the most part.

But, that is just how I conceive it.

The Gourmez

Sounds like a pretty good conception. I tend to picture downtown as the center of four quadrants, so that area would be more west than south to me, but yeah, we probably all have our own conceptions of how things break down!

Kevin Davis

@Gourmez: Ive always loosely seen South Durham as running to the south side of Cornwallis or Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, loosely speaking.  I tend to think of North Durham as being demarcated by I-85 or possible Carver.  But those arent anyones official definitions, just my shorthand.

Andrew Edmonds

Looks like Torero's old 15-501 location (near Target) is soon to be replaced by the Blue Note Grill. Their FB page has a couple hundred fans, but I haven't seen Kevin mention it. Didn't want it to go unnoticed.


Pam SW

More money really needs to be spent around the I-85 corridor. Other than Northgate or Costco, there's not much going on. Avondale could use more business. It's like a no-man's land ever since the movie theatre and Kmart closed. SW Durham is getting enough attention. Why not expand it further NW Durham where it's needed more??

Jeff S

Where it's "needed"?

I didn't realize that chains and strip-centers were a necessity. I guess I'm just lucky I've survived this long.

If I think of the best meal, or best 20 meals I've eaten in my life, not a single one of them was in a chain restaurant.

Account Deleted

And...to keep the thread alive...some of the best and most affordable food is in that Avondale/Roxboro area (Los Comales, Mama Nori's, Red & White)...

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