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Ninth Street business owners see Durham scene change

Posted September 28, 2011

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— Business owners on Durham's Ninth Street near the Duke University campus say buzz is building in the Bull City, but not necessarily in their neck of the woods.

"It seems like downtown gets all the attention and all the ink in the paper and the press, if we could just get our fair share of that," said John Valentine, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop.

In the store's 35 years on Ninth Street, Valentine said it has seen its share of ups and downs.

"People's dollars (are) stretched, so they are going to Southpoint, to downtown, to Chapel Hill, to Erwin Road," he said.

Valentine said he's glad to see growth elsewhere in Durham, but doesn't want people to forget about the unique shops and restaurants on Ninth Street, which is sometimes called the heart of the city.

"It's pretty eclectic," he said.

Danielle Martini-Rios, who opened Blue Corn Cafe in 1997, agreed. 

"I love that you can stand here at any given moment and see all sorts of people," Martini-Rios said.

But, she said, her restaurant and neighboring businesses have "struggled a little bit in the past year." She and Valentine are hopeful that the popular melting pot of students and townies will remain an important fixture in the community, despite Durham's evolving business landscape.

"I'm proud of being on this street this many years and hope to be here another 15 or more," she said.

Some Ninth Street business owners said the city has played a role in their decline. They said lighting needs to be improved in the area, specifically in parking areas.

A city spokeswoman said there are no plans to update or change existing lighting on the street and that the amount of lighting is "quite good."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • liferofdurham Sep 30, 2011

    I can only speak for myself, I read the article correctly. MY issue with 9th street is the parking. The lighting doesn't bother me as it does with others. You take the cars from the folks who work there in addition to customers, it adds up. I know a few places on 9th who highly recommend their workers park (if working during the day) off the street and walk in. I have seen some owners and staff park right outside their business ALL day, which I think is shooting yourself in the foot by not freeing up space. No, there is no law that says you can't do that, but having been a former business owner elsewhere I made my employees do that, and I would've never parked out front all day. Again, just my opinion.

  • mpheels Sep 29, 2011

    The businesses on Ninth St could do what business on Fayetteville St in Raleigh and Franklin St in Chapel Hill have done - pool their resources and invest in free valet parking for anyone visiting during peak hours. I bet the city would provide a parking lot for them at little/no cost, then they just have to contract with a valet company. From what I've seen, it works very well for other area cities that do it. The other option is to build a parking deck, but that requires a lot of money, open land, and time.

  • dmartinirios Sep 29, 2011

    I am one of the business owners that was interviewed and commented. If the article was read correctly, we are not concerned about how much parking is available, we are concerned about lighting in the parking and street areas. I am a huge advocate for downtown progress. Our lighting on 9th Street has not been adequate for some time and customers are often worried about the fact that it is dark. Terry is an amazing man and has done a remarkable amount for 9th St. and the city of Durham. What he does in the future with his lot and properties I am sure will be fabulous. Coming from the business owners perspective, we were approached about concerns. We only have lighting concerns and a bit of economy concerns just like many business owners. It is wonderful to see establishments growing on this street and it only brings an added harmony. As for building parking decks, we are all small business owners, we do not have a budget for any decks. Contrary to the opinion of one commentator, I do no

  • mbellkida Sep 29, 2011

    As a business owner of a Ninth Street business, I'm sorry, but my business is thriving, and growing each and every day. I really have no idea what these owners are talking about. Parking does suck on this street, and it's pretty ridiculous that there's an entire open lot adjacent to Ninth Street that's not used. Also, as a former journalist, this story is grossly under-reported.

  • Lead by Example Sep 29, 2011

    The problem with Ninth St is the lack of parking, which is the reason why that's the last place I prefer to go.

  • liferofdurham Sep 29, 2011

    All valid points, thank you! I think that's a great idea of having him charge folks to park there. He opens up the lots on Alumni weekend, and graduation for Duke which I think is pretty nice. I hope something moves into that space soon. I have heard many rumors. I don't have anything against the guy, I don't know him, but I use to bag his parents groceries over at the red and white on University when I was a kid. Great folks.

  • Gay Truth Sep 29, 2011

    Hi liferofdurham, I don't have the answer about where to make more parking. But if these businesses want to survive, they are gong to have to do something. Maybe they could buy the parking lot from Terry and build a parking deck with ample parking. Of course this comes with a cost and they would have to charge for parking. In the bigger picture, Terry is paying property tax on this parking lot. If I were him, I would charge for parking and cover my cost of taxes, cleaning and parking administration and a profit. The bigger thing that bothers me here is that George's had to put up with many years of not having parking for their own customers because people were using his parking lot for all the other businesses. I stopped going to George's because of this very reason. So now George's is close and these businesses are wanting his parking and offering to ONLY pay to keep the lot clean. That sounds pretty self centered to me. I don't blame him one bit for closing the lot.

  • liferofdurham Sep 29, 2011

    @gaytruth, I agree when George's was open that parking was an issues for folks trying to eat. What should businesses do to create more parking? Where would they do this? Build a parking garage in the smaller lot where 9th street active feet use to be? BTW- I don't own a business there, just someone who doesn't frequent 9th street anymore because of the parking issues. When I asked owners about parking, this is what I was told. George's closed in 2009, I can see where it would be an issue if he did open that lot to parking and then tried to "train" people not to park there again when something moved into that space. Again, just curious as to how to create more parking in that area.

  • Gay Truth Sep 29, 2011

    Ninth Street is very cool. But the businesses there need to invest in parking. It is always a hassle to find parking in that area, thus I stopped going. The other areas mentioned in the story seem to have much better parking. The businesses on Ninth Street know what the problem is, now fix it. As for Terry not allowing parking in his lot, best I remember he had major issues with people using his lot when NOT eating at George's. So the businesses there should not even expect to use that parking lot. When another restaurant opens, that parking will be for that business. Stop being cry babies and invest in parking like other responsible businesses do and stop looking for a free hand out.

  • OakRapp Sep 29, 2011

    The 9th street merchants had little competition for years. Now downtown has more/better restaurants, bars, stores, and parking while Erwin Rd. has become the shiny chain restaurant mecca. 9th developed a reputation as a Dookie/high school kid hangout, crowded as heck during the semester. Now that grownups have alternatives they've moved on. Time for 9th St. merchants to figure out whether they want to remain the kids hangout or change to compete for the grownup crowd. My bet is that the remaining "grownup" venues will move downtown where their customer base has gone.