One Durham institution is musing over plans to get a little bigger. And in the process, one of Durham's best-known neighborhood-scale commercial districts could be getting a little smaller from a storefront perspective.
Of course, it's not exactly active storefront retail these days, with long-time tenants Altered Image Hair Designers having decamped for downtown a while back, and with the one-time home of what became The Green Room having largely been emptied of life for some years.
Last year Gary Kueber mused that the site was likely to dry up into more parking for the Clements Funeral Home just to its south, given that Clements owned the site:
[I]t's incredible how moribund these storefronts are compared to the vibrant uses across the street. I don't think I'm assuming too much to think that Clements is only into this for the land/potential parking - and isn't exactly motivated to invest money to improve the appearance of these storefronts or attract interesting tenants. I'm beginning to think that there is some rule in effect in Durham - no active storefront can exist directly across the street from another active storefront. Except at Main 'Street' at Southpoint, of course.
I mentioned the waste of surface parking endemic to funeral homes and churches yesterday, and how damaging this was to the urban environment. We generally struggle with our addiction to immediately available and proximate parking in the urban environment as it is, but these high volume, low-duration uses are particularly problematic.
The good news? The site isn't becoming parking.
The bad news? It ain't exactly breaking the "high volume, low-duration mold."
According to a May email from the Watts-Hillandale Neighborhood Association board to residents, the owners of Clements are proposing to demolish the gray shopping strip and to reuse its foundation and footprint to build a new structure containing offices and a "community room," presumably for visitations, services and the like.
It would mark a certain muting of the Broad Street retail corridor, which along with Ninth St., downtown, Rockwood (kinda) and, yes, Southpoint's outdoor center, is one of the few vibrant pedestrian-scale shopping areas in the Bull City.
(Of course, there are other such in-town centers or potential centers that aren't vibrant -- Fayetteville St., Angier/Driver, Old Five Points and the Chapel Hill St. corridor in SWCD all come to mind, and all are in need of revitalization and investment.)
Across Broad St., Watts Grocery, Broad St. Cafe and High Strung anchor one portion of a walkable district, with the Green Room, Joe Van Gogh's, a framery/art gallery, and The Palace just to the south, along with a florist.
And between W-H and Walltown, not to mention Science & Math next door, there's plenty of potential pedestrian retail traffic.
Of course, Broad Street is so -- ahem -- "broad" that it is difficult for pedestrians to cross mid-block easily, making the possibility of a real double-barreled retail corridor kind of unlikely, we suppose.
And it's not like Clements isn't itself a long-time fixture on the street, or that expansion isn't a given. Nice steady growth and dependable customer base those funeral homes have, something that strikes me more acutely as my mid-thirties near than it did a decade past.
Still, it's too bad to lose walkable retail storefronts in one of the only places where we are likely to actually need and use them.
Not that it's a foregone conclusion that Clements can use it (a variance will be required, support for which the W-H'ers are still contemplating), but it doesn't seem likely to lose, exactly.