Common Market’s No. 1 lesson learned: A really long lease

When Common Market was unexpectedly kicked out of its popular South End location in fall 2015, owner Blake Barnes thought about leaving the neighborhood for good. “Honestly, my feelings were hurt,” he says. “While I don’t really blame [the owner] for selling the property, I just feel like an idiot for believing him that Common Market would always be taken care of as it had become the center point of that neighborhood. It just wasn’t part of the business plan at year eight to get the boot.”

Luckily for South End residents, Common Market will move to a new location at 235 West Tremont Ave., thanks to the outpouring of support from fans. As Barnes says: “I was pretty bent at South End and honestly had no desire to reopen a Common Market there. That was until I went to the closing party. Man, the outpouring of love for that store really touched me.”

235-w-tremont-common-market-header1100

A rendering of the new South End location at 235 W. Tremont Ave. The site of the old location is slated to become Dimensional Fund Advisors’ regional headquarters. Several small businesses, including Common Market, had to move when Cousins Properties bought land from three owners: the Ferguson family, Barwick & Associates and Gaines Brown.

The experience got Barnes thinking about finding an entirely new spot for the iconic and popular meeting spot that’s part bar, deli and grocery store. Barnes first noticed the Oakhurst community when driving his children to school in Charlotte from his home in Monroe. He decided to take another chance and lay down new roots. At 6,500 square feet, the Oakhurst store will be larger than Common Market’s 15-year-old Plaza Midwood store and the new South End location. It will have tons of parking (a first for a Common Market) and a larger kitchen allowing for quick meals that people can buy to take home. Barnes owns the Plaza Midwood store while Graham Worth is the principal owner of the South End and Oakhurst stores with Barnes and Chuck Barger as partners.

Oakwold construction

Construction has already begun on the Oakhurst location, dubbed Oakwold.

Barnes’ experience highlights a common dilemma in fast-growing neighborhoods and cities. People move into emerging areas and help turn it into a hotspot, only to be kicked out as newer, more valuable development moves in. The dilemma played out in recent opposing editorials in the The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte Agenda.

Observer: Could Charlotte have saved South End’s soul?
Agenda: Let’s stop blaming development for every small business closing in South End

Barnes himself moved his family out of Charlotte to be part of a growing community that wasn’t “so obsessed with tearing down its history.” Two weeks ago, he, Worth and Barger met with residents of Oakhurst and Cotswold to discuss the newest location.

They talked to DevelopCLT about Oakwold and lessons learned the hard way.

Blake Barnes

Graham Worth

Graham Worth

DevelopCLT: Tell us how you found the neighborhood and what you liked about it.
Blake Barnes: I drove down Monroe Road every day taking my kids to school. I remember driving through Oakhurst thinking, ‘This is a cool neighborhood.’ It ties into Cotswold, there’s not a lot going on retail-wise and restaurant-wise and all made sense. A Realtor was having a street party, and when I went to go pick the [donated] kegs up I got to see the color of the neighborhood. Two-thirds of the people had been customers of the Plaza Midwood store but had kids and had moved to Oakhurst and Cotswold because it was less expensive for housing.

You picked the name Oakwold for the store. Why?
BB: The original concept was Cotswold backs up to Oakhurst and the mindset was to bring the two neighborhoods together. A couple of people were upset at new name and wondered why not Oakhurst. But OW looks good on the logo. I thought that looks cool. We didn’t give it a lot of thought. We’re just opening up a store on that road and are going to have fun doing it.

What did you hear at the town hall-style meeting?
BB: It made me feel really good. What really hit me in the head is we started this thing 14 years ago just trying to survive. And before we even open [the third location], we had a room full of people waiting for it open. It made me feel good and warm that people seem to like what we do and how we are very, very community driven. I was surprised by how many people had a connection to the Plaza Midwood store that moved there. One guy said, ‘I met my wife at your store on the back patio and now we have two kids.’ That’s a beautiful thing right there.

What’s the Oakwold store going to look like?  How will it be different?
Graham Worth: We still don’t know what it will look like. Blake’s first store changed around 30 times. It evolves, you figure out where people want to sit based on where they come and hang out.

Chuck Barger

Chuck Barger

We’re popping out the windows to create a recessed storefront and open-air patio. We’ve worked with some local artists, and we are filling that space with old wrought iron doors that open up. They will be welded to each other and open up to create an open atmosphere. They’ll provide security, but also look funky and cool. No two that are the same. [Partner] Chuck [Barger] has a wagon wheel he found. He found an old drum set, [so] we’ll paint “Deli” on different drums and hang them from the ceiling.

We have a room full of objects that will continue to grow. Where they specifically go right now we don’t know. I think that’s some of the beauty of it, and the fun part of it. Blake has said 50% of stuff on the wall in Plaza Midwood is stuff people pulled from their garage and asked him to put up.

Let’s talk lessons learned and growth. You find a niche, help make it popular, then are kicked out as values rise. How does this affect your decision-making going forward?
BB: We got a really good long lease, and it costs a fortune to get us out. We also have first right of refusal. I should have known something was up [in South End] because the landlord made us go month to month for a year. That’s probably when we should have moved. It was rocking and rolling, and the guy said, ‘No, don’t worry.’ When a property owner tells me not to worry, that’s probably when I should start worrying. There are definitely lessons learned. Like having a real estate attorney, someone who deals with leases, look it over. Our new location is an old business park. The chances of that thing getting torn down and made into condos is pretty small. There is a little bit of rolling the dice.

About
National award-winning reporter and writer Kerry Singe has written about development for newspapers, magazines and websites since 2009. Kerry enjoys writing about the people in the industry and learning about the complexities that go into making a deal. Because she started covering development during the Great Recession, Kerry is especially having fun writing about projects that actually make it out of the ground.
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