RALEIGH, N.C. — Once the heart of college life, Hillsborough Street has become more of a thoroughfare than a destination.
Empty storefronts and "for lease" signs are the norm on what used to be one of Raleigh's busiest streets.
"It's going to die. It's getting more and more expensive to stay in business here and if you don't have any customers, how are you going to stay in business?" business owner Chris Candes said.
"This street has so much potential and it's been the heyday of Raleigh in the past," said Linda Swann, who owns Brothers Pizza.
Swann and fellow business owners are lobbying for more parking on the south side of the street and more meters.
"If my families aren't able to park with their infant and their mother in the wheelchair, they're not going to come," Swann said.
"We feel neglected down here, too. We're part of the city here," Candes said. "I'm not asking for $20 million to build a hotel. All I want is a little parking here."
For years, Hillsborough Street merchants have heard promises from city leaders about revitalizing the traffic corridor. There is a master plan, including adding roundabouts on the street. So far, they have seen little action because the city has yet to receive federal money it needs to make the plan a reality.
"I think this could be booming, 10 times better than Franklin Street," student Ben Murphy said.
Many students said Hillsborough Street could come back, but it is not all about parking. They said it is also about having nightlife that attracts young people.
"There isn't that right kind of business on this street or not enough of them," he said.
The 172-room Velvet Cloak Inn on Hillsborough Street is closing because occupancy dropped below 40 percent. The buyers have not announced what they will do with the property, but say it will not be a hotel.