Specialty food and gift store Southern Season will be closing in early 2020, and its Weathervane Restaurant closed down this past Sunday.
Founded in 1975, it was known in the Chapel Hill community for providing gourmet food products and wine and beer, as well as housewares and cookware. Current owner Eric Brinsfield purchased it in 2016 when it was facing bankruptcy.
“Two things I underestimated were the challenges of buying a business in bankruptcy, and I didn’t factor in the capital requirements of the aging building,” Brinsfield said. “People don’t understand that in 2016, Southern Season was days away from liquidating, and I bought the business in three weeks. You can’t buy a house in three weeks, but I bought a business in three weeks. I also inherited a ton of issues that I didn’t anticipate.”
Brinsfield said people are pretty disappointed about the closing of Southern Season, and he is as well.
“I poured my heart into this business, and I really made a tremendous effort,” Brinsfield said. “Everything we did was in an effort to make the business successful, and ultimately, there were too many challenges.”
Due to all these challenges, he said the business has not been successful lately.
Veronica Johnson, store manager of Southern Season, has worked there for seven years. When she first started, she was a seasonal associate but said she loved it so much she decided to stay.
“I have mixed emotions,” Johnson said. “I really like it, and since I’ve been here, I’ve not only met some of the nicest people, but I’ve met and formed a bond with a lot of the customers. It’s like losing a part of your family. I’ve been telling folks, it’s just a different chapter.”
Johnson said the building is old and has had a lot of mechanical issues, and they have had a hard time finding parts to fix the units.
Johnson said she is passionate about Southern Season and all the business does for the Town and University, like preparing gift boxes for sports teams.
“They always say to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” Johnson said. “I’m ride or die. I’m here till the end of the closing of Southern Season.”
Aaron Nelson, president of the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said the original bankruptcy was related to expansion, but the current owner purchased it for a favorable price.
“There are lots of changes in retail trends and customer shopping trends which are not favorable to Southern Season,” Nelson said. “As customers purchased more online, the store tried to keep up with customer interests. They were just not successful in an Amazon age. With the stress on retail, it was very difficult to operate a retail facility that large.”
Nelson said everybody he has spoken with is very disappointed about the closing of Southern Season. Customers who have long loved the store are sad to see it go, and so are the employees.
“The good news is for the employees, there are many opportunities locally for them to find other work,” Nelson said. “For the customers, the future of University Place is very bright. The redevelopment of that property will bring great opportunities for local customers.”
And for now, Southern Season is going to continue selling products on its website.
“For the next couple of months, we will be honoring the great impact this store has had on the community and town,” Brinsfield said.
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