Over the tracks, the far reaches of downtown are fertile ground
for new beginnings and a day’s perfect ending
By Quinn Dalton • Photographs by Brandi Swarms
Sunrise on the South End district lights the sky over Bennett College and spreads gold across Martin Luther King Boulevard, Arlington Street and South Elm, lengthening down Lewis Street. It’s late summer, the air already warming, and these few blocks, home to some of the city’s most diverse and unique shops, restaurants, galleries, workplaces and homes, are coming alive in ways few here could have imagined possible only a handful of years ago.
On the corner of South Elm and Bain streets, an armload of freshly baked French bread arrives at Chez Genèse. Storefronts open up, and chalked or printed sandwich signs appear outside to promote the day’s offerings. Elsewhere, the experimental museum where nothing is for sale but anything is possible, will soon open its entire storefront, where board-seat swings hang from the ceiling and beckon kids of all ages. A couple blocks over, the line’s out the door at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, an anchor of Southside, just up the hill from South End.
South End? Southside?
Yes, there’s a difference, though they sit side by side. South End is Greensboro’s first and oldest downtown neighborhood, in recent years steadily renewed through the determined efforts of community organizers, developers, investors and entrepreneurs.
Bound to the west and north by the Southern Railway tracks as they curve toward the Depot, South End’s eastern border is Arlington Street. And the southern border of South End is pushing farther south all the time, past Gate City Boulevard and beyond.
Southside, right next door, is the new made to appear old — a visionary revitalization project funded by the City of Greensboro and born of extensive community involvement in the planning process. Bound on the north by Southern Railway tracks, on the west by Arlington Street, on the east by Bennett Street, and on the south by Gate City Boulevard, Southside occupies what has been traditionally known as Ol’ Asheboro, Arlington Park, the Asheboro Street neighborhood, and, most plainly, the South Greensboro neighborhood.
Taking cues from its older, funkier South End cousin, Southside’s mixed-use housing features retail or office space on the ground level and residential space above, as well as apartments, townhomes and single-family homes. There’s a mix of architectural influences from the urban south, including New Orleans–style, iron-laced balconies, Charleston-inspired two-level front porches, and historic ambience from warm-lit iron lampposts, smaller lots and sidewalks everywhere.
City funding also fueled renovations of historic homes that had previously suffered neglect. The resulting rebirth of Martin Luther King Boulevard now more properly honors its namesake. Formerly known as Asheboro Road, MLK Boulevard was mansion row in the late 1800s, with Queen Anne and Victorian confections rising to shelter the city’s professional elite — lawyers, bankers, etcetera — who could walk a pleasant few blocks to work in the growing number of tall buildings downtown. Several of these beauties still stand and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Together Southside and South End comprise what was, and is, Greensboro’s first and only downtown neighborhood. And here’s the best part. You can feel all this time and transition surrounding you, not a line but a layering, like peering through a folded scarf — everything you see is tinged with the past. And there’s so much to see. So put your walking shoes on, people. Early bird gets to learn.
In just a two-block stretch of South Elm, some half a dozen businesses are dedicated to helping you start your day feeling your best.
One of the newest editions, Sonder Mind and Body, opened just over a year ago. Owners Jessika and Veronica Olsen have popularized sensory deprivation tanks in Greensboro and brought together a collection of healing and health practitioners. Services include massage, acupuncture, Rolfing, hypnosis and more. The concept behind Sonder, it turns out, is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” This sounds like the motto for South End.
If it’s time to clean up your locks, On Point Barbershop delivers a precision fade. One waiting customer says of Willie Dowd, owner, “He’s the best. I go wherever he goes.” A few doors away, Rocks Hair Shop, promises “classic cuts, close shaves and craft beer.
But if you come in either place on a Friday or a weekend, be prepared to wait. Same is true for Boho Salon, which emphasizes natural products and processes. Or you can learn how to be on the other end of the scissors at Dudley Cosmetology University, which relocated to South End in 2013.
Then visit Vintage to Vogue Boutique, where a carefully curated collection of designer clothing and shoe brands await. Just few feet away you’ll find in Antlers and Astronauts’ handpicked treasures to adorn you and your home.
Founder Alexa Terry Wilde Reidsville native, wanted the store to be more than a place where people bought things. “The way we’ve set it up was very intentional,” she says. “We want people to come in and shop, but we also want them to feel like they can just stop in for a visit.” The couch, coffee table and upholstered chairs in the center of the space provide that very invitation, and, in fact, the entire store feels like a home, with its midcentury and ’70s influences. There are also events such as live music and classes featuring local artists. And the inspiration for the name?
“It’s a reflection of my husband’s and my different sensibilities, combined,” Wilde says. “I’m all about nature, the outdoors, so I’m the antlers. And he’s a science guy — the astronaut.”
As she’s gotten to know her customers, Wilde often sources with them in mind, just like the hand-selling you can expect in the world’s best bookstore, Scuppernong, by people who know books and know you (even if it isn’t on South Elm; it is in spirit).
Social Status has to be the most honestly named store ever. Devoted to all things sneaker, this South End store will hook you up with the latest in street fashion for your feet.
Across the street is Hudson’s Hill, which bills itself as an American general store dedicated to making and selling goods with purpose and meaning. And like everything else in South End, the new draws on the old. The two founders celebrate Made-in-America ethos with their carefully curated collection, focusing in particular on Greensboro’s denimed past. The name comes from Hudson Bros. Grocery, owned in the late 19th century by John Hudson, and the slight rise of land where the store was situated — hence, Hudson’s Hill.
If the railroad tracks that mark the beginning of South End were once the line some really picky folks wouldn’t cross, let that metal border now be the sign that you’ve arrived where most of what you find can’t be found anywhere else.
Like Elsewhere, of the indoor swings, where you can also step inside a rose-lit teepee and inspect rows and rows of artifacts offering a new way of seeing and imagining. Saturday tours will start you on your journey. Or Terra Blue, which will celebrate 20 years in South End this fall, and will double in size with the acquisition of the other half of the building, adding class space for crafts like candle making, a salon and café space for people to gather.
And of course, the artists are here. They’ve been here, waiting for you. For 15 years Artmongerz has provided co-op space for artists to display their work. You’ll find all media, from paintings to photography, even room-sized sculpture. Photographer and co-owner Earl Austin says, “Even only a few years ago, when I told people where we are, their eyebrows would go up. Now we have more foot traffic than I’ve ever seen.”
A few doors away, Ambleside Gallery is also celebrating 15 years with a focus on paintings, drawings and sculpture. Owner Jackson Mayshark has been representing both established and emerging artists from throughout the world for nearly 40 years. Examples of local artists include Alexis Lavine and the late Leigh Rodenbough, who was an attorney for 51 years before turning his attention to painting in oil an pastel; water scenes — beaches, harbors — that make you squint in their sunlight. But Mayshark is also global, and his gallery displays works by British artists Nigel Price, Vicky Cox and Peter Archer, Chinese artist Guan Weixing, considered one of the world’s greatest living watercolorists.
Ambleside Gallery is one of only a few venues nationally that hosts the traveling exhibition of The American Watercolor Society. But the gallery also houses the ceramic works of Brown Summit–based brothers Bryan and Brad Caviness. Each piece, which looks from the outside like a piece of pottery with a crack or hole broken into it, hosts within a meticulously detailed miniature world — a Pueblo Indian settlement, a Moroccan town, a French streetscape. When asked what these treasures are called, Mayshark shrugs and smiles. “There isn’t a name for them. There isn’t anything else like them.”
Well, how about that.
And if you want to make your own treasure, then you need to come to Forge Greensboro Makerspace. Just go to the end of Lewis Street, hang a left, and look for the double doors with the sledgehammer handles. Whether you want to work in metal, clay or fabric, the tools and machinery you need are there. Even more important, there are people and classes to guide you in your creative journey. “We see ourselves as a gym for people who like to make things,” says executive director Joe Rotondi. “It’s not just the work but the creative collision that happens when you bring people together.” Tours are offered daily.
In the Spirit
Tired yet? If you’re ready to cool your heels and your throat, the options in South End keep growing — and just like their neighbor shops, boutiques, galleries and creative spaces, South End’s restaurants and bars each have their own distinctive feel. Mellow Mushroom came to South End a decade ago — and yes it’s a chain, but its success, and the reason it’s a perfect fit in South End, is because each ’Shroom is locally owned with a ton of creative control over the space. This is a cathedral theme, with arched, mushroom-themed stained-glass windows by Winston-Salem artists Veronica and David Bennett.
Across the street is a newer kid on the block, Chez Genèse. Open for breakfast and lunch, Chez Genèse serves up a warm blend of French-inspired comfort food and inclusivity — adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities comprise much of the staff and are paid a fair wage and benefits.
For dessert, why not be a kid yourself — in a candy store, naturally. Gate City Candy Company will take you back to the time when happiness was sugar on your tongue. Try a fresh daily selection of gourmet chocolates, fudges and peanut brittle (well, peanut brittle only if a certain writer doesn’t get there before you).
For the grownups, there’s The Bearded Goat, Horigan’s House of Taps, the Greensboro Distilling Company (the first legal distillery in Guilford County since Prohibition) which makes the wildly popular Fainting Goat Spirits, and next door, the SouthEnd Brewing Co. Across Lewis Street, Boxcar Bar + Arcade is family-friendly and very fun.
And then there’s The Hemp Source, which sells CBD products developed in a family business based in Wendell, N.C. Though they won’t get you high, different concentrations of the hemp-based product, in oral and topical forms, can provide pain relief and relaxation.
The Yellow Brick Road Leads to South End
The Community Theatre of Greensboro finally found its forever home in South End in 2012, when the Broach Theatre, named for one-time South End supporter and City Beat founder Allen Broach, became available. CTG is entering its 70th season and will mount its 25th production of The Wizard of Oz in November. Though Oz, its main fundraiser, is performed at Carolina Theatre to provide enough seats for the beloved annual production, the soul of CTG can be found through the red doors on South Elm. CTG is proof of the power of story brought alive on stage to thousands of actors and audiences of all ages, year after year. The Wizard of Oz involves a cast more than 100-strong. Multiply that by all of the families of those actors, and the volunteers, the staff and the audiences, and you can begin to imagine how big a heart CTG has to give to all of us. Just like its South End home.
It takes faith to believe in something you can’t see. Maybe it takes even more faith to believe in something you do see, but no one else does.
A self-described Jersey street kid, Andy Zimmerman came to Greensboro in 1978 when his father moved the family furniture business to High Point. The move cut short his rabble rousing and introduced him to a new love — mountain climbing and kayaking North Carolina’s mountains and rivers. He soon found his own path to entrepreneurship with two kayak manufacturing companies, the latter of which he sold to his employees, who later relocated it to Arden, N.C.
In 2010, a friend asked him to look at a building downtown, which is now the home of. Greensboro Distillery and South End Brewery. Back then, it was a hulking shell. His friend asked him what he thought it would take to restore and upfit the building. “A million,” Zimmerman ventured.
“I’m out,” his friend said.
But Zimmerman needed to take on something new. The street-punk-turned-whitewater-thrillseeker was ready for his next challenge. He asked if his friend minded if he bid. Within the day the building was his, the first puzzle piece in what has become his life’s passion — the revitalization of South End. That was the start of Zimmerman’s new company, AZ Development.
His office is in the Lewis Street building that houses HQ Greensboro, a shared workspace with 24/7 access for members. It also features resources available to the public, including conference rooms with flexible layouts and state-of-the art technology, multipurpose rooms, and the ability to network and learn from other people who are starting something new. In just four years, HQ has come to house or support 80 companies and 130 tenants, who avail themselves of 25 private office suites and a well-stocked coffee bar. In time they’ll have company, as Zimmerman’s next project gathers steam: The renovated Gateway Center on the corner of South Elm and Gate City Boulevard, will welcome an estimated 230 employees in the coming months. The scale may be different, but the passion is the same. “I see myself as a place maker, not just a developer,” Zimmerman says. Bearing out his statement is a big deck in back of HQ, overlooking a beautiful secret garden laced with bloom-dotted narrow stone paths.
Executive director Kaitlin Smith says it’s become a thriving neighborhood space. “The folks at Elsewhere, our next-door neighbor, keep a vegetable garden here as well,” she says.
And that’s South End in a nutshell — a progressive workspace cultivating new companies right next to an experimental, nationally known museum born in a thrift shop — its products not things, but human imagination unleashed. OH
Quinn Dalton is the author of two story collections and two novels, most recently Midnight Bowling. She also co-authored The Infinity Of You And Me under the pen name JQ Coyle with fellow UNCG MFA grad Julianna Baggott.