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The Lumina Theater
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Chapel Hill, NC
More than six months ago, Gray Squirrel Coffee Co. would open at 6:30 a.m. The smell of freshly brewed coffee floated outside, as several customers waited in line to get their first caffeine fix of the day.
That looks a little different now. Gray Squirrel’s operations have changed substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The local coffee roastery and espresso bar located on Main Street has reopened after a few months, although the Chapel Hill Public Library location is likely to stay closed.
COVID-19 has been an obstacle. But it hasn’t stopped Gray Squirrel from finding ways to get its coffee into hands, from modifying the hours and adding takeout and online ordering options.
“Our days are all about coffee and people,” said Gray Squirrel owner Shaw Sturton.
For Sturton, who’s been in the coffee business for a while, the goals of Gray Squirrel have stayed true despite the turbulent times brought by coronavirus.
“For us, it’s about consistency all the way through,” he said. “We can’t have a good drink without good coffee, we can’t have good coffee without a good roast, can’t have a good drink without a good barista. So, we focus on all of those aspects.”
Sturton and his wife moved to Carrboro from California, wanting to open a cafe with specialty coffees.
“We love the community here and just wanted to be a part of it,” Sturton said.
Since its reopening, Gray Squirrel has seen the return of baristas who’d been laid off, along with regular customers.
“People were excited to come back and get the product again,” Sturton. “Even though we’re not a 100 percent, it’s nice seeing some of the regulars come back again, even if it’s half their face under a mask.”
The Lumina Theater in Chapel Hill has also changed its operations the past few months. Currently in its 20th year, the locally-owned movie theater still shows first-run films and caters to smaller audiences and families.
“It’s just an anchor of the community,” said General Manager Doug Rowe. “It’s been here for 20 years, and we adapt with the times.”
Similar to Gray Squirrel, the theater closed down in March. But that hasn’t stopped the work.
According to Rowe, renovations of the theater from floor to ceiling began in late May and is currently in its second phase of construction, which includes a small kitchen or restaurant area in the theater.
Meanwhile, the theater hosts “Movies by Starlight” on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights starting at sunset in a socially distanced outdoor setting.
The Lumina Theater also has special events planned for the local community to enjoy films and other forms of art in a safe in the coming months.
One of those projects is a new series called “Shine on Black Stories.” The series will start in September and the Lumina Theater will show Black-centered movies every Thursday, while raising funds for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The series serves to educate the community about Black history in light of the current movement for racial justice.
The four films that will be shown are: “Harriet,” “Selma,” “Just Mercy” and “The Hate U Give.”
“We’re going from pre-Civil War to basically today,” Rowe said. “And we’re showing that though there are changes made, laws passed, that there’s this string that’s still there of injustice.”
The Lumina Theater is also collaborating with the Southern Village Market Street and Film Fest 919 to host an “Art in the Park: On Screen” series. The outdoor series, which begins in September, will be a socially-distant way to watch concert recordings, festival films and more.
Rowe said the community support and collaboration has made difficult times during the pandemic more hopeful.
“It’s just a nice area and we’re all just trying to help each other,” Rowe said. “We’re all successful together and we all fail together.”
This article is sponsored by the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. Learn more at visitchapelhill.org.