Blake Barnes founded the Common Market in Plaza Midwood 10-and-a-half years ago and in that time has rightfully become a 'hood ambassador. Here's why: What started as a small neighborhood convenience store selling beer, wine and cigarettes has become an even bigger small neighborhood convenience store selling more types of wine, beer and cigarettes, adding over the years delicious deli treats and unique knickknacks. It's a Plaza-Midwood staple that embodies the quirky neighborhood's off-beat spirit, and we'd sure miss it if it ever left. We asked Barnes for his thoughts on all the frat boys moving in and how he would describe the area to aliens.
Creative Loafing: What are some of PM's attributes?
Blake Barnes: The number of independently owned businesses, and the fact that so many of the businesses are outside of the box. There is a neighborhood business association and tons of emailing back and forth. A while back, a lot of cars were being broken into, so the business owners came together and hired an off-duty cop who patrols the neighborhood Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Plaza Midwood also gives Charlotte a lot of taste and texture. There are so many chains in this city — you know what you're going to get when you walk in. That's what makes this neighborhood so unique; you just don't know what you're going to get.
What are some problems you are seeing or experiencing?
The biggest issue is all the developers. I feel like the old guy from Up — everything is just blowing up around me. There's also a lot of gentrification going on, an attempt to make everything a little more pristine, cleaner. Not that it wasn't before. There's just a lot of upgrades going on. But what makes this neighborhood cool is its dinginess. I don't want this neighborhood to lose its heart and soul.
Are the business owners doing anything to stop the development?
A lot of us don't own our property, so our hands are tied.
What would you like to see more of?
This neighborhood is becoming so bar-oriented, it'd be nice to have more retail. You have some stores around, like Boris+Natasha. But it'd be fun to have more knickknack-y, independent retail places, just to add some spice.
What would you like to see less of?
Unfortunately, the affordable housing in this neighborhood has pretty much gone away. I'd like to see more of it. I'd also definitely like to see more parking. There's virtually none after 6 p.m. But it's such a heavy biking and walking neighborhood, anyway.
How would you explain Plaza Midwood to a group of aliens that just landed on Earth?
I'd point out all the diversity. I get everything from homeless people to millionaires, drag queens to businessmen in this store. That's the beauty of this neighborhood. It's culturally rich, with a lot of different lifestyle choices and races. That's why I'm going to continue to raise my children here. I like that they get to see so many different lifestyles.
Putting together this year's neighborhood guide has really made me appreciate how cool this city is.