By Erin Maddrey
July 18, 2016
April Fool’s Day is a significant day for Common Market South End. In 2008, a lease was signed for the 1515 S. Tryon Street space and, exactly one year later, the doors opened and owner/manager Chuck Barger began greeting customers. Fast-forward to 2015 when word came that, in the name of development, growth, and progress, the strip of land that Common Market, Food Truck Friday and other small businesses called home, was sold. This would have been the cruelest April Fool’s Joke, but it was and is real. On July 30 the South End location of Common Market will serve patrons for the last time.
There are many things we could say about those involved in brokering the deal that will see Atlanta-based Cousins Properties develop a 200,000-square-foot regional headquarters building for Dimensional Fund Advisors on the former Common Market space, but that’s not the point of this article. This article is to honor a Charlotte institution that has meant so much to so many.
In 2002, Blake Barnes opened the original Common Market located at 2007 Commonwealth Avenue in Plaza Midwood. Over time, a local and loyal following developed for the market on the corner. One of these locals was Barger. Almost daily, Barger would work remotely for his job with Interactive Knowledge, Inc. at a table within Common Market.
“I told someone once that my dream job would be to run Common Market and that’s how they introduced me to Blake,” said Barger with a laugh. “I just loved the vibe and the sense of community it created. I guess I learned you should watch what you say!”
Little did Barger know that Barnes was already thinking of expanding the Common Market brand into another neighborhood.
“That was a time of growth,” noted Barnes. “I was growing my family and growing the business and our presence in Plaza Midwood. Sometime in 2006, before I met Chuck, I started thinking of adding another location. I started looking at South End as an option. I didn’t know South End at the time, but I saw potential. At that time it reminded me of Plaza Midwood around 2000/2001.”
A friendship developed between Barnes and Barger and when a location in the up-and-coming South End neighborhood was found they jumped on the opportunity. The fact that the lease was signed and the grand opening of Common Market South End occurred on April Fool’s Day (and during a recession) hasn’t escaped Barnes and Barger.
“I will always be most proud of the fact that we opened a successful business at the bottom of the recession,” said Barger.
“When we opened during the recession, my thought was, well, here we go,” Barnes said. “I knew it was going to be interesting.”
As soon as the doors of the South End location opened, Barnes and Barger noticed that many regulars ventured from Plaza Midwood to help support the new business.
“At the time we opened, there wasn’t much traffic around our location at that time,” Barnes reminisced. “We grew with the neighborhood and getting to know South End back in the day was so cool. As the neighborhood got busier, so did we. I was surprised to see many of our Plaza patrons at our new location. It was so good to see folks utilizing both stores.”
Barnes said that he knew they created something special in South End when, during their third year of operation, a patron said they had no idea there was a Plaza Midwood location. “That showed me that South End had taken ownership and claimed the shop for themselves.”
There were differences seen almost immediately between the two locations. Homeless traffic in the South End location was more prevalent than in the Plaza Midwood location. As time passed, the “harder” clientele of South End changed as more apartments were built in the area. Breweries, new restaurants and bars, and the Lynx Light Rail brought the South End a younger demographic with disposable income. The Plaza Midwood location sold more cigarettes, PBR, and wine while the South End location sold more Diet Coke and higher-end beer, according to Barger.
“We had a hand in the growth of South End,” Barnes recalled. “Food Truck Friday, Phat Burrito, us… we created a synergy that was further continued by the breweries. We didn’t just grow South End, we were engulfed in it… and then we got kicked out.”
As their time at the South End location comes to a close, Barnes and Barger try to focus on the positive memories from the past and the ones still to come.
“I am most proud of the rich mix of people you see here,” Barger said about the South End location. “We created a space where people of different backgrounds can sit together at tables and just enjoy the day.”
The diversity and welcoming atmosphere helped to make Common Market so unique. “What I’m going to miss most about this place is that it is the only true draw to South End that is completely inclusive,” manager Lauren Bilski said.
Barger talked about the weddings, the proposals, the baby showers, engagement parties, bridal showers, and even bible study groups that have all occurred on their patio. Nurses coming off long shifts at the hospital having a beer and commiserating about their days and patients can be seen sitting next to business people having meetings. Tattoos, piercings, lululemon, and Sperry shoes can all be found sitting at one picnic table.
“I had a preacher once tell me ‘I don’t want to go to heaven unless it’s like Common Market,’” Barger said proudly. “We created something for everyone and I’m proud of that.”
On July 22, the Common Market will host their “Season Finale” party. The party will feature bartenders of past and present, serving patrons, music from some talented employees, and fried food. For this occasion, Barnes purchased a fryer to which he and Barnes can’t hide their giddiness.
“We’re gonna fry everything that we can in the store,” is a comment I heard from both Barnes and Barger when speaking to them for this article.
“I’m looking forward to hearing people share their memories of Common Market – I think it will be a way for us to get closure,” Barnes said. “Frying and telling stories… it’ll be a great day.”
“The party will be like a big family reunion,” Barger mentioned. “Also, please note that the party is a ‘season’ finale, not a series finale. We’re not done yet, we’re just packing up the magic for a bit.”
They certainly aren’t done yet. Be on the lookout in the next few months for announcements about plans for a Common Market location in South End, and possibly in other locations. Both Barnes and Barger emphasized that having a location in South End is very important to them.
“What’s happening to us is not South End’s fault,” Barnes said. “They embraced us. The good thing is that with the sale and the development plans, we are still able to leave on our own terms in our own time.”
As we wrap up our conversations about the past, present, and future status of the Common Market South End, I can’t help but ask Barnes and Barger about the current state of Charlotte. They’ve seen neighborhoods change with development and newcomers to the Queen City, but what is it that Charlotte really needs?
“It’s started, but I think Charlotte needs to have spaces where citizens can have discussions, forums, and panels and focus on issues that are affecting people on a local and national level,” Barger said. “Justice issues should be discussed, not just selfish ones. Issues that affect all, not just some. Our goal is that as we grow and expand the Common Market brand, which we will, that we are able to be a part of these conversations. Even it’s just to be the meeting place.”
“Charlotte has a lot of gut and soul to it, but I wish Charlotte would stop tearing down older cultural buildings,” Barnes said. “All established cities have grit and history, and many of those cities are proud of their older buildings from a bygone era. Things don’t always need to be flashy and new.”
After further reflection, Barnes chimed in: “I wish every neighborhood had a Common Market type of business… microeconomies. Each neighborhood becoming it’s own microeconomy with it’s own individual vibe and quirk. That’d be so cool.”
I asked Barnes if he had any final thoughts about the Common Market South End location or its patrons.
“Thank you all for supporting and being apart of our growth… for being entwined with our growth. Moving forward we will still be a part of the community and the South End neighborhood because that’s us. Community first and commerce second.”
Details on the Season Finale Party on July 22.
More photos by Jonathan Cooper
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