Downtown Durham and the wisdom of the crowds: When does more become too much?
King's Sandwich Shop featured in nice ABC 11 vignette

Saturday's time to get down on one knee and "Marry Durham"

Marrydurham There's no other town in the Triangle that would, could, should ever try to do a quirky, crazy event like tomorrow's "Marry Durham" fête, scheduled for 4pm tomorrow near the corner of Rigsbee and Geer downtown.

But then, isn't that why so many of us who live here love it so much?

From the town (and some of the same people) that brought you the Beaver Queen Pageant, this weekend's the time for the Bull City's first-ever mun-uptuals (municipal nuptuals, natch).

Look, for all of Durham's once-and-sometimes-still urban underdog reputation, our fair city's come a long way in recent years. I've only been here since around 2005, and the difference is still impressive to me. And when I talk to those who've been around since the 1990s, 1980s or earlier, I get an even stronger reaction.

In that vein, tomorrow's little wedding celebration might seem to be just a celebration of the fact that the Bull City's still, well, rising.

But it seems to me to be more than that, too. It's about more than a simple affinity for one's community of choice; it's about, fittingly, the passion and committment that Durhamites seem to feel for their home.

One of the things that's so different about living in Durham versus other places I've been, as I've said here over and over, is the depth of personal engagement that Durhamites have with their city.

I was struck upon moving here how involved so many Durhamites I met were with their city. From voluntary neighborhood associations that draw crowds and bucks, to the ability of grassroots organizations to turn out on City Hall when needed to make their voices heard (and to win, more often than not), to the tremendous number of volunteer organizations and groups making a difference in town.

There's a fork in the road when people move to the Triangle. Plenty of people have enough going on in their work life, home life, families and whatnot that they're more interested in a "bedroom community" where they don't have to worry about the neighbors and have their Target and Starbucks nearby.

Those folks don't tend to move to Durham, especially not central Durham. Our Bull City may be too gritty, too much work; you frequently hear frets that such relos don't know where to live because one street is all nice and purty, while the next one over looks "rough."

Many Durhamites I know settled here because they looked at the exact same thing, and saw instead diversity, community, opportunity, and -- most of all -- a place that's defined by the people who make it up, not the dreams of a developer putting an all-in-one subdivision and clubhouse on the map.

Downtown had a Starbucks, a few years back, down in American Tobacco. It closed. But that wasn't a sign that retail couldn't do well downtown, even though at the time, the Starbucks was one of the only places for food and drink in the core.

Blue Coffee had been here; it's still here. Beyu's here and does great. And the Saladelia that replaced it does gangbuster business all morning and through the workday.

Saladelia's a local company, got its start down on University Drive. And I can't tell you how excited the Durhamites I talked with were when they heard that that local business was coming downtown.

I've seen similar passion when it comes to public affairs. John Schelp and his co-conspirators love to say that on the billboard fight, the industry brought big lobbying bucks to the table, while the neighborhood groups opposing digital signs brought ten bucks worth of flashing sunglasses.

Oh, and a relentless citizen brigade of op-eds, public meeting attendance, and scrutiny.

In most places, the lobbying dollars win. Whatever you think of billboards, you have to admit that in Durham, the big bucks often don't carry the day, especially when met with citizen opposition.

If you don't believe me, ask Mayor Thomas Stith what I'm talking about. 

By far my favorite recent example of what makes Durham just a little bit different, though, is Fullsteam Brewery.

When you walk into Fullsteam, you realize quickly what an unorthodox idea it is.

In the back, there's the brew tanks, but Sean Wilson and his team spent way more on a way bigger space, much of which is not obviously commercial -- though it serves to build attendance, loyalty and regular customers.

Besides the funky steampunk decorations, there's a wide-open space with picnic tables where everyone from seniors to college students to families with small kids seem to hang out after work on Fridays. Plenty of beer, but pinball and ping pong tables, too, and a stage for the occasional free concert.

Buy a beer? Great. Want to hang out with friends? No one's checking to see if you're buying anything. Though, of course, you probably will once you're there.

And when you enter the bar area itself, you see the Wall of Awesome, Wilson's way of paying for the whole thing. Who needs VC or angel investors when you've got Durhamites and others willing to put up a little bit of cash to help see a great idea come to fruition. Their reward? Their name on the wall of a for-profit establishment.

Albeit a for-profit establishment that's managed to make itself into a funny little community center, all the while selling beer seemingly faster than it can be made. (We're still waiting to hear expansion plans from Mr. Wilson.)

Those kind of ideas won't fly in a suburban strip mall. Or in plenty of other cities, either.

But what do these things all have in common? The volunteerism, new businesses, civic activism?

They all happen in such a special way in Durham because people find they just fall in love with our crazy little community. And many of them don't just want to be observers of what's happening.

They want to be at the table, helping to make it happen.

Our Caryite and Chapel Hillian friends may think it's a little weird that so many of us are coming together tomorrow to take our vows and pledge to love our Bull City forever, and to support its local businesses, keep its streets and environment clean and the like.

Is it a little weird?

Only if you don't love Durham.

If you did, you'd get it.

Hope to see y'all downtown tomorrow.

The ceremony will be held in the parking lot of Motorco Music Hall at Rigsbee and Geer; gates open 3pm, with the "wedding" at 4pm; Frank Stasio of WUNC and NPR will introduce the event with Carl Kenney providing the I-do's. It'll be followed by a parade, then music and entertainment at Motorco, Fullsteam, Steel Blue and Lloyd's Lounge.

Food trucks will abound; so too will t-shirts, merchandise -- and, importantly, a chance to help five charities: the Eno River Association, Genesis Home, the Latino Community Development Center, The Scrap Exchange and Walltown Children's Theatre.

Find out more at the Marry Durham website.


Sean Sondej (DirtyDurham)

I completely agree, Kevin. As Durham has changed over time it becomes more important for us as a community to come together and remember all of the things that make the city what it is today. Its grittiness, creativity, and general civic pride are essential to balancing "progress" and also to keeping it a great place to live.

Events like Marry Durham are not only fitting for our culture, but they help to promote pride. And I'm all for that.

I'll see you there.

Doug Roach

I am SO SORRY to be committed to another event tomorrow evening which will keep me from this most marvelous event.
Y'all have a real hoot of a time there!

Subcomandante Marcos

Gentrifiers! Every last one of you!

Erik Landfried

Why can't I shake the feeling that this might be Durham's "jumping the shark" moment?

Steve Graff

Nah, the Marry Durham thing is goofy, weird and funny, but certainly not jumping the shark. Unlike Happy Days, before Fonzi jumped over the shark on water ski's, Durham is actually experienced increased interest.

Erik Landfried

Agreed that Durham is not going to suffer a decline in interest because of it and I don't mean to blow this out of proportion by any means - but I know I'm not alone in this sentiment. I was thinking more along the lines of this definition from the world's authoritative voice on the matter (Wikipedia):

"The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television – indicating the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery – in a moment characterized by absurdity."

Beyond relevance and recovery is too strong, but the rest of that quote feels about right.

I hope the event raises lots of money for the selected organizations and that those who attend have a great time - just feels a little forced and unnecessarily self-referential, that's all.

Che Kilombo

A waste of time, you middle-class, neoliberal capitalists. Holding this so-called ceremony in our neighborhood is a slap in the face of those working hard to make and re-make their lives on their own terms, rather than appealing to an outside force for concessions to better their lives. You should be spending your energies self-organizing communities with the collective and democratic capacity to determine their own future and connect with others. It is clear that this act contributes to the process of marginalization centers around gentrification, in which our communities are deemed “dead” and in need of “revitalization.” Pointing this out places a lot of us in uncomfortable positions—certainly large real estate speculators who consciously live off of this process, but also many people who do not consciously mean others any harm. It is not easy to hear this; it is easier to ignore or lash out at us or others who have pointed this out and to continue playing the role of sleeping beauty, than to live up to the responsibility we all have of creating viable communities along with all of our neighbors.

Come marry our cause!

As our mentor, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, has said: “We declare that we will make a collective network of all our particular struggles and resistences, and intercontinental network of resistance against neoliberalism, and intercontinental network for humanity. This intercontinental network of resistance will strive to find itself in other resistances around the world….This intercontinental network of resistance is not an organizing structure: it has no central head or decision-maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist.”

Joshua Allen

It is probably illegal to for a human to marry a city, and if not, then the constitutional amendment proposed by the Republicans in the NC legislature will make it illegal if it passes. For those of you who can marry your city, please consider those of us not able to marry at all, and contact your state representative...


Here are my top reasons not to marry Durham:

-She'll constantly look out the window at the county jail while on your honeymoon.

-Many of her "parking ambassadors" chain smoke.

-She has a lot of unsightly potholes and is really deep into municipal bond-age.

-She keeps nagging you to Find Your Cool.

-She is unfaithful: she was recently spotted spending the night at the DPAC with a visitor from Cary.

-How can you marry a city so self-centered as to have a t-shirt that says, "Durham love yourself"?

-The fact is, no matter how hard she tries to clean up, she's still gritty.

Liberated Gardener

Watched the sun come up over the Casablanca skyline this morning from the roof of my hotel and lamented that I couldn't also be at the wedding....sigh. Oh well, I'm sure it will be fun---congrats and thanks to the organizers.

(As for all the folks who'd like to mitigate any negative effects of gentrification, you need to invite Durham Community Land Trust into your neighborhood. They have been the main reason that Burch Ave. Neighborhood has been able to maintain it's mixed income/race character. Don't have to wait for the revolution.)

So jump the broom! (not the shark!)

Pastor Terry Shuff

2Peter 2:6 He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;

Jude 1:7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Steve Graff

Ok, this comment thread has officially jumped the shark.

Matt Dudek

This comment thread is why I love Durham.

So many different opinions from wildly different perspectives, and no one takes the bait on troll-ish comments. I think posting with real names, in a small city, helps that.


Well, I for one think it's wonderful that all of Durham's 30- and 40-something aging hipster failed-musicians-turned-foodies finally have a chance to commit to something without actually ever having to follow through! I hope they start wearing weddings bands as a sign of their status. If Catholic nuns can do it, then by god - the men of Durham can too.

Eric W

For those who weren't there, yes, it was a quintessential Durham event. Drag queens and politicians, moms and dads with their kids in strollers, a freestyle marching band in interpretive wedding dress...oh yes, and great beer from Fullsteam and food from our ecosystem of trucks. Most importantly, lots of good vibes and togetherness with people who call Durham their partner in life.

John Davis

Who would have guessed drag queens would have been there along with kids in strollers. This type of mixture shows a complete lack of values. Responsible parents would have left and went home.

Kevin Davis

@John: Never been to the Beaver Queen Pageant, eh?  (Or -- if you are insistent this is some new cultural failing -- its drag-queen predecessor in the 40s?)

I was one of the 1,700 or so folks turned out.  There were straight Durhamites, and gay Durhamites, and white and black Durhamites, and a bilingual ceremony to boot.  Bottom line: it was an event for Durhamites, in all our stripes and forms.  There was an activity center for kids over at Motorco, plus plenty of food trucks and lots of amusement to be had.

And it was nice to chat with Ellen Reckhow and folks like John Schelp and others. And to see Mayor Bell, having a grand time.  Heck, it was a wonderful cross-representation of what Durham is all about.

John, since we know you are not exactly a fan of downtown or downtown neighborhoods -- since I think your preference, we learned last weekend, would be to see the trees torn down and faster speed limits so you can get back home, wherever that is, faster -- let me ask a question:

If Marry Durham is the kind of event that turns out nearly 2,000 Durhamites, including the leadership of the city, and yet clearly does not reflect your values...

...why do you want to live here?


man, there's a bunch of haters here....

Sean Sondej (DirtyDurham)

It's fascinating that some people have the need to be negative simply because others are spreading positivity and pride.

What is so threatening about a group of people who are committing themselves to their community and espousing values of equality, sustainability, and concern for your neighbors (among many others).


I honestly can't tell who's being facetious and who is serious in this thread. Much like the events described herein. I love it!

John Davis

I live here because I was born here and this is my home. That more than most of of you can say. Guess what ... Responsible parents would not have went to the Beaver Queen Pagent either. All I can say is the devil is hard at work in Durham.


@John - what school did you go to?

Steve Townsend

@John- I think you are confusing the terms "responsible" and "close minded" again. I, for one, was sorry to be out of town this weekend. I had to miss this event as well as the APS of Durham's "Tails at Twilight" event. So much good going on here. Glad we've decided to make this city our new home.


Mr. John Davis,

I hope your love for Jesus doesn't confuse your righteousness.


Hey Bull City Rising,

Oh no, I'm late for my marriage to Durham. :) I live in Washington, DC but born and raised in Durham. Of course, I wasnt able to attend the ceremony but saw the pictures on the "Marry Durham" page and they were awesome.

Durham is what you make of it, its a great town. Of course, there's always those who love to point fingers, pass judgement, and make snarky remarks. Well, there's not much we can do about that, people will have their own opinions. But, we can be proud anyway that we march to a different drumbeat and we have some many things to be proud of. We don't have to re-invent to try to fit anyone's preference or definition of what makes a great city. You get what you get in Durham, and we love the "Bull City" for that. I still wear my Durham Bulls shirt and Jersey at Nationals Park and people know about Durham. Perhaps the Kevin Costner movie helped out. :)

Speaking of movies, what ever happen to "Main Street" I was looking forward to seeing that, anybody know what's the hold up? :)


@nick Here's a good summation.

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