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Tin Cup Joe closes, owner points to infrastructure, housing

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Tip Cup Joe owner Chris Jordan has been serving coffee to the community since 2016. The local business is run out of an old camo camper that was painted red.

About eight years ago, Chris Jordan’s coffee shop coworker asked him if he wanted to buy an espresso machine. He didn’t think about where to put his new machine until after he bought it.

“I had to figure out where to put it, because it couldn’t stay on the kitchen sink, so I built a coffee shop in my driveway,” Jordan said.

The driveway coffee shop, Tin Cup Joe, opened in March 2016 in Carrboro, but spent the last 5.5 years on North Graham Street in Chapel Hill. But on Saturday, Tin Cup Joe closed its doors. Jordan said several infrastructure changes in Chapel Hill influenced his decision to close the coffee shop.

Jordan said that when he started Tin Cup Joe, he built a successful business until the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

“It was difficult to know how to handle when it happened, right?” Jordan said. “So that was problematic for everyone. But during that time, there was a shift in traffic patterns.”

In March 2022, Chapel Hill’s Estes Drive Connectivity Project began construction. According to the Town’s website, the purpose of the project is to provide improvements for pedestrians and cyclists along Estes Drive and the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Estes Drive intersection. The project converted most of Estes Drive into one-way traffic.

Jordan said that while the shift in traffic from the lack of commuters during the pandemic was not a big problem for him, the road closures from the Estes project were.

“We took off half of Franklin Street, closed off Rosemary, as you know, split around the jam, and we closed off Estes,” he said. “I think if I understand correctly, they’re about to close MLK in front of the fire station. Which is the last fucking side access to town. How are people going to get here?”

The Town is modifying the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Street intersection just north of downtown. While there will be delays and slowdowns, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is not closing.

Jordan said that for walkability to even positively impact business, people have to live within walking distance. While buses are a good option, he said they are sometimes unreliable, reinforcing car-dependency. He said the costs of parking downtown are a barrier for employees that need to commute.

 Katelyn Bowen currently works at Quantum Soul, a metaphysical store located beside Tin Cup Joe. Bowen said living in Chapel Hill has always been unattainable for her because of the living costs. 

“Even with all the networking that I've done, even with all of the jobs that I've had here, it still seems to not be enough to be able to be here," Bowen said.

She said she loves the community in Chapel Hill and thinks it is accepting, but only if you have the right wallet and can afford to live close.

Amy Nikitas, who lives and works in Chapel Hill, said many of the apartments near downtown are not economically feasible with the wages people in town earn.

“I know that finding a place to live is really hard because of the housing prices,” she said. “It's really difficult for anyone to find a place to live where they don't have to work three jobs just to afford their own place to live, whether it's by themselves or with roommates.”

Sarah Viñas,the director of affordable housing for the Town of Chapel Hill, said affordable housing and the success of local businesses are critically linked.

“The way I look at it, there's really two ways two ends of the equations to work on,” Viñas said. “Like there's how I think we can provide more affordable housing to workers so they can afford to live here. Or we can increase wages, or we can do both, but there's really two ends of the equation to be impacted and both are really important.”

Jordan said that in order for businesses to be successful, residents must be able to access places of commerce — which he said has been a problem from both a transportation and housing perspective.

“Aside from not being able to get the traffic to generate the business to pay the rent, the rent is going up to the point that I'm moving to Burlington, because that's where people who aren't two plumbers or a doctor can afford to pay the rent,” Jordan said.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article did not include context about the construction at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Street. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is not closing during the project. 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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