It's weird to me how some people are upset about the recent announcement that the owner of littleSpoon (a breakfast/lunch spot in Myers Park) has purchased the property formerly known as the Penguin. Personally, I'm pretty happy about it. I've never been to littleSpoon, but friends I trust say it's fantastic.
Living in nearby NoDa, I've been watching the conversations on some of the Plaza Midwood Facebook pages, and it's been interesting, to say the least. People are actually pissed off about the opening of a small business. Would they be happier if a chain restaurant was coming? Of course not.
People are freaked because of the prices this restaurant is expected to have (comparable to Soul Gastrolounge's). To them, I'll say this: Dig into your pockets, open a place and sell inexpensive food — but make sure you can cover the expenses of running a business in a high-rent district.
The bigger issue, of course, is the neighborhood is changing.
I've seen so much whining lately. "They didn't put what I want in there" or "We have enough of that" or "What I think is cool IS what is cool ... how dare they" or "I can't stand newcomers moving in here taking MY neighborhood." Really? Just stop. No neighborhood is "yours" or "mine" — at least, not for long.
I grew up here. Yep, born at Mercy Hospital, lived along Central Avenue until moving to Matthews and Mint Hill in junior high. Went to Villa Heights Elementary (Go Busy Beavers!) and Piedmont Middle (Go Pirates!). We lived in the apartments behind Dim Sum, in the ones across from Wembly Drive, and later in a duplex on Wembly Drive.
The neighborhood has never stayed the same. Each wave of newcomers has been welcomed by some and seen as invaders by others. I was there in the early '80s when lots of Vietnamese moved here as a result of the boat refugees that flooded the U.S. for a while. Back then, plenty of folks bitched about that. Me? I was excited to try new, exotic foods I'd never had before.
Dish used to be a Chinese restaurant called Ho Toy; I learned to use chopsticks there.
The building that is now Fuel Pizza (The horror! A local business flipping some pie that people seem to like!) had huge piles of used tires for sale. In fact, the whole strip along there, which I stared at every day while riding the school bus, was filled with boarded-up windows, small businesses like John's Country Kitchen, pawn shops and more. If you want to know what that beloved stretch of Central Avenue looked like just a couple decades ago, take a drive down The Plaza between Parkwood and 36th. Very similar.
The area was also home to a gay bar called T.A.G.S. (today's American Gay Society). (I never went there — obviously I was way too young — but heard about it.) Back then, to have a business like that meant you had to be located where the "good folk" didn't frequent so they'd leave you alone. I don't know much about Elizabeth's history, but do recall the masses racing to the 'burbs in the '60s and '70s to get away from the "undesirables" who filled most of our now-popular urban neighborhoods.
Not long ago, much of what is now PM was a complete dump, and I say that lovingly. I have great memories from that time and loved growing up there, in Merry Oaks and throughout this district.
I remember, in the early '90s after college when I had a landscaping company, working on a yard at a home on the corner of Thomas and Hamorton. PM was just starting to become popular among the funky and artsy crowd at that time. But I remember thinking how sketchy my old hood had become — how I had to make sure I kept an eye on all of my equipment and my truck locked up.
The 'hood was beginning to change. My friends and I would venture over to Central to check out the junk shops or go see The Perch, an improv theater group that performed in the space that is now Soul (one of my favorite restaurants ever).
I guess I should be mad all of this is now gone, based on the griping I'm seeing on Facebook. But I love what PM is today and love living next door in NoDa.
The way things are won't remain a photograph in time. The best you can do is to try and help shape the neighborhood because change is inevitable. You'll be surprised at the influence you actually can have.
Scott Lindsley is a native Charlottean and happy resident of NoDa. A longer version of this first appeared on Lindsley's Facebook page and is reprinted with permission.