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Businesses come and go on Franklin, but residents say the spirit remains

MidiCi Italian Kitchen at 100 E. Franklin St. specializes in Neapolitan pizza baked in 90 seconds.

This summer Franklin Street saw several storefront changes, with at least four icons leaving town and five new businesses opening their doors. 

Starbucks remodeled their store while Trolly Stop Hot Dogs rebranded to a new name, The Beach on Franklin.Toppers Pizza, R&R Grill, Smoothie King and Noodles & Company were among Franklin Street's casualties. For students who haven’t been on campus since May, new spots include Midici, The Pizza Press, Hops Burger Bar, Lula’s and YaYa Tea.

Danielle Moore, spokesperson for Noodles & Company, said their lease ran out, and the restaurant decided to close.

The Pizza Press, which opened in late July, plans to stand out from the other pizza places with its unique 1920’s era newspaper inspired theme, Andreas Handrinos, the restaurant's general manager, said.

“We have an atmosphere that you can’t get at any other restaurant,” Handrinos said.

The restaurant works closely with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to draw people to the Carolina Square area. For example, The Pizza Press is one of the first restaurants to offer patio dining on the sidewalk, Handrinos said.

Elinor Landess, interim executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said they’re encouraging more restaurants to offer sidewalk seating for customers.

In addition to storefronts changing, Franklin Street also got a “facelift," Landess said. The entire street was repaved, and the lines were freshly painted over the summer. The actual street is owned by the state, so the town has no control over when the street is redone.

The Downtown Partnership aims to keep Franklin Street feeling as consistent as possible, despite businesses coming and going, Landess said.

“Downtowns are always changing,” she said. “Franklin Street means a lot to a lot of different people, and we want to retain the things that are important.”

Despite Franklin Street seemingly changing at alarmingly fast rates, businesses stay put more often than they leave, according to a report from the Downtown Partnership.

The Downtown Partnership tracked the number of open businesses on Franklin Street in January 2013 and again in January 2018. The retention rate for the 5-year period was 75.6 percent, meaning three fourths of the businesses stayed open.

Barry Smith, the assistant director of public information for the North Carolina Department of Insurance, attended UNC from 1974 to 1978. He said Franklin Street has always meant a lot to the University.

He said a lot has changed in regards to who occupies what store fronts, but that's one of the most constant things about Chapel Hill.

“It looks like it did in the 70’s," he said. "Restaurants have changed but still look a lot the same.”

His favorite place, The Porthole Restaurant, is now gone, but his second favorite restaurant, Carolina Coffee Shop remains, Smith said.

“Obviously some restaurants I wish had made it,” he said. “But I like the changes. I like seeing new restaurants, new places to go, to shop and eat.”

Smith mentioned the past existence of Michael Jordan’s restaurant as being something he particularly missed.

“When I think of Chapel Hill I think of Franklin Street. It’s iconic,” Smith said. “When I was there, you had students, townsfolk, professors — everyone would congregate and say hello. It’s still like that, and I love it.”

Both Smith and Landess agreed that the people on Franklin Street, students and Chapel Hill residents, are what make the street so special. 

Landess said it was important to the Downtown Partnership to keep Franklin Street the spiritual center of Chapel Hill, so everyone could feel at home there.

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She said everyone in the community, including students, Chapel Hill residents and visitors, can find something they love in downtown. Although Franklin Street is looking shiny and new, the vibrancy of the street will never change.

“There’s no place like Franklin Street anywhere you go,” Smith said. “It’s bustling, it always has been and I hope it always be.”


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