The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

Some Carrboro business owners fear rising rents after 300 East Main construction

 Gloria Gonzalez works at Don Jose, which recently changed its location from East Main Street to Merrit Mill Road. Gonzalez said that the rent prices became too high for the store to remain at its previous location.
Buy Photos Gloria Gonzalez works at Don Jose, which recently changed its location from East Main Street to Merrit Mill Road. Gonzalez said that the rent prices became too high for the store to remain at its previous location.

The 300 E. Main St. development has been billed as a makeover for Carrboro’s entrance since its inception in 2007 — but even with its parking deck and gradually filling retail space, nearby business owners worry it might not make the town as beautiful as advertised.

Don Jose Tienda Mexicana, which had occupied a building across from 300 East Main for more than a decade, recently moved, raising concerns for other nearby businesses.

Gloria Gonzalez, former owner of Don Jose, said her rent doubled at the beginning of the year, forcing her to find a new space.

“I don’t see any mom and pop stores surviving on this stretch,” said Tom McFall, owner of TJ’s Beverage & Tobacco.

His space is owned by Main Street Properties, the developers of 300 East Main, and he said the new development has led to a dramatic increase in his rent.

“They asked for a $1,000 increase (per month) for this year and another $750 next year,” McFall said.

He says the elimination of parking in front of his building and stagnant foot traffic has made it no longer worth the price.

“I’m not going to cut back on the salary of my workers or customer experience, and what they’re asking for isn’t sustainable for me if I want to keep my business to my standard,” McFall said.

The development has so far added retail, a Hampton Inn & Suites and a 500-space parking deck to the 300 block of Main Street.

Patrick Malley, owner of Wings Over Chapel Hill near the development, says because he is only three years into his 10-year lease, he is not concerned increased rent will hurt his business.

“I’m not super worried about it at all, the increases I have are pretty standard year-to-year,” Malley said.

Patti Benedict, the leasing manager and investment partner for 300 East Main, said the development is designed to blend in with the surrounding neighborhood.

“This is our neighborhood too, and we want to be good neighbors to those around us,” she said.

She said while Main Street Properties is committed to finding local businesses to populate the development, they have no control over the rents for nearby businesses.

“We want to find businesses we think would do well in Carrboro and institutions already here,” Benedict said. “I can’t speak for the other property owners, however, but I would hope they do the same.”

Manufactured fear

Emil Malizia, director of UNC’s Institute for Economic Development, said the fear of increased rents following development is manufactured.

“This whole idea of small, local businesses being forced out by big, corporate developments is just a creation of media,” Malizia said.

He said rents for buildings directly involved with the redevelopment usually increase simply due to the improvement of their space — but the market generally allows for diverse properties.

“On the retail side, the biggest threat is construction restricting the ability of customers to reach the businesses,” Malizia said.

Struggling to survive

McFall said he was concerned with the future of accessibility for businesses surrounding 300 East Main.

“I’ve already lost my pull-up parking in the front, which for a run-in store like mine really has hurt the business,” said McFall. “The businesses with absolutely no parking may benefit a little but I think all the plans will just make people less likely to go to the places around here.”

Benedict said developers are trying to improve accessibility for all nearby stores.

“We recognize that parking is an issue, but we are trying to provide it for our businesses and others,” she said. “The parking is a positive for us and we hope that it can have a positive impact for others.”

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