Published: Dec 08, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 08, 2012 05:45 PM
In 1991, the year I graduated from Durham High School, downtown Durham smelled like sweet tobacco. I went to classes with students whose parent and grandparents worked across the street at Liggett and Myers. Each worker received a carton of cigarettes in addition to their weekly pay.
As I make a reservation at the newest restaurant on Main Street I cant help but wax nostalgic about a time when there was no way possible to get a parking ticket downtown. No matter how long you sat in a One Hour parking space.
I ate lunch in a place that used to sell books and talked to my friend about the intersections between Old Durham and New Durham. We remembered when no one wanted to come downtown after 5 p.m. Partly because it was hard to navigate the clover leaf traffic flow and mostly because there wasnt anything to do.
Looking out the window we could see the cupcake bar we were going to head to next and the Spanish-style tapas bar we were going to hit up the next day. There are LOTS of things to do/eat now. I think people also feel like navigating the downtown streets at night is safe. Just the other day I sat rubbernecking in my car as a couple and their two children rode their bikes down Blackwell Street, past the DPAC, and onto The American Tobacco Trail at 8 oclock at night.
The intersections between Old Durham and New Durham are complicated. If you sit outside and drink a Mother Earth beer at Geer Street Garden you can almost see the elementary school that was in such a heated debate with local residents over the future of a public park. Should it get a Butterfly Nature Trail or continue to be a place where young people and adults play soccer? I wonder if the folks who live on West Trinity Street have a membership at the yoga studio or the Cross Fit gym one block over.
I fondly refer to Durham as an Urban Mayberry. If you want to get a business license you can go to City Hall, take the elevator down to Zoning/Planning and they literally walk you through every step of the process, connect you with small business resources, recommend ways to acquire capital, and then walk you upstairs to the next person you need to see. I struggle with the idea that we might lose that personal service as our city continues to grow and be prosperous.
What I know for sure about Durham is that the success or failure of your business is tied to who you know. New businesses will quickly close if they cant secure accounts with NCCU or Duke. I have seen catering companies and beauty salons prosper for 25 years without a marketing department. They thrive through word of mouth. This type of relationship- and trust-based economy is very much steeped in the traditions of Old Durham.
As a self-professed hard-core Duhamite what I hope for is a beautiful partnership between the communities that represent Old and New Durham. I hope that new arrivals will spend lots of time learning the rich history of Black Wall Street, Tobacco Row, and Historic Hayti. Old Durham folks should eat from the amazing food trucks while having a conversation with someone who chose to live here instead of Raleigh, Cary or Chapel Hill.
Lets mix it up. This weekend Im going see an art exhibit at the Nasher Museum and a photo exhibit at the Hayti Heritage Center. Then Im going to check out Saltbox Seafood Joint, a new takeout place west of downtown and find out what community dance classes theyre offering at the American Dance Festival Studio on Broad Street. I would love to hear what you are doing.
Kifu Faruq is an urban farmer, cookie baker, writer, scientist and teacher. Contact her at email@example.com