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Mural, sculpture and film released in memory of Plaza Midwood staple Jonathan Mariano

 By Shaun Bowman

Cover photo: Mural by James Jefferies and Mike Wirth.

January 22, 2020

The Plaza Midwood neighborhood is evolving fast. New restaurants are popping up on every corner and many old staples have served their last customers. But despite all these changes, the Common Market remains a neighborhood hub, offering a safe space for residents who have been a part of Midwood long before its most recent surge in popularity. Planted on the edge of Commonwealth Ave. since 2002, the Common Market is a home for many locals in an ever-changing cityscape.

If you walked along the alley next to Common Market Plaza Midwood today, you’d notice a rainbow-colored mural doting its exposed side, laced in chess pieces, a man beaming from the center. That man was Jono.

Jonathan Mariano at Common Market Plaza Midwood. Photo by Ryan Miller

On September 22, 2019 crowds gathered to celebrate the life of Common Market’s unofficial frontman Jonathan “Jono” Mariano after his tragic and unexpected passing. For hours, community members, family and friends shared stories of his kind, philanthropic nature and his unending passion for people. A one-of-a-kind sculpture was revealed in his honor, perched at the top of the building: a giant fork holding a cigarette, an adaptive invention by Mariano himself. The project was completed by local business Iron Giant Fabrication and Welding.

In November, the aforementioned mural, created by local artists and friends of Mariano, James Jefferies and Mike Wirth, was also unveiled. Common Market was Jonathan’s home away from home. 

Fork and cigarette statue at Common Market by Iron Giant Fabrication and Welding dedicated to Jonathan Mariano

“I have had regular customers pass before,” said owner Blake Barnes. “I can’t remember any of them touching me the way Johnathan did. He was more than just a guy that bought Tall Boy PBR and cigarettes. He was more than a fixture at the store. He was a part of what makes my store what it is. He was loved! I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion at his celebration of life event. I will miss his spirit for many years to come.”

Jonathan was connected to the local community in a myriad of ways: as an avid chess player to any willing opponent, occasional doorman at Thomas Street Tavern, former improv actor with the Crowded Monocle, video production consultant for Carolinas Healthcare System, and speaker for ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation.

He regularly volunteered in the Pediatric Trauma Survivors Network of Levine Children’s Hospital, mentoring others who had survived life-altering injuries, as he himself had experienced a traumatic spinal injury, which left him with limited mobility and motor control at a young age. But he didn’t let that slow him down. 

Jonathan was also a filmmaker. His last project, Rob is Terminal, is gaining regional attention. The short film focuses on a man who is met with a terminal diagnosis and follows his friends as they cope with the impending loss. 

“It’s strange to lose a friend, even more strange to lose a friend after creating a film where death is the main theme,” said filmmaker Ryan Bennett, who co-wrote, directed, and produced the film with Mariano.

The project began in 2017 but the final edits were completed last summer, before Jonathan’s passing. The team was nervous to submit the film to festivals but decided to make the plunge anyway. Unfortunately, Jonathan passed away before it was officially accepted anywhere.

Crowds gathering during Jonathan’s Celebration of life at Common Market Plaza Midwood. Photo by Mike Cruse.

“Jono was involved in every step of the making of this film. It’s hard enough to get an able bodied person to meet up with you, let alone someone who is quadropoligic. During pre-production he would take a bus across town to go location scouting with me,” said Bennett. “We made a good team. He was an incredible person and I miss him a lot.”

In parallel to the film, the community Jonathan left behind continues to look for ways to remember and honor their late friend. The growth and changes in Plaza Midwood will inevitably continue, but the tributes put in place to honor him will remain. An official screening for Rob is Terminal is being planned for the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. Details for the event, slated to happen early this year, will be posted to the Rob is Terminal Instagram page.

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