RIP South End

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It’s official: South End is dead.

The funky neighborhood emerged from the ashes of abandoned warehouses and became a beacon of weird and cool over the past 20 years. But that beacon attracted development, and the development slowly but surely squeezed the life out of South End.

The final blow: Phat Burrito will close for good Saturday.

Now let’s be real: Phat Burrito has gone downhill recently. (I stopped going after they handed me a bag of Tostitos for my “chips” and salsa.) But Phat Burrito was quintessential South End: Opening in 1998 right as the neighborhood was ready to blow up and operating out of a bright yellow building with graffiti and stickers all over the place. It had that artsy, kinda grungy vibe that made South End South End. That vibe has all but disappeared.

We’ve seen this coming. I wrote about it back when Amos’ Southend announced it would close, and I ranted about it on an episode of the CharlotteFive Podcast.

Let’s just go down the list of what the area has lost in the past couple of years (and I’m sure I’ll forget about something):

– Tremont Music Hall.
– The original Common Market South End. (Yes, they’re opening a new one, but who knows if it will recapture the magic of the original.)
– Black Sheep Skate Shop (and everything else in the building it was part of).
– The old Food Truck Friday lot.
– Amos’ South End.
– And now, Phat Burrito.

What have all those things been replaced with? Apartments and a massive office building that will stick out like a banker bro in Common Market.

What’s left in South End? Price’s Chicken Coop (may it never die), that gas station with the good fried chicken, a few breweries and … a crapload of ugly apartment buildings? Oh yeah, and the Anthropologie and Free People! A vibrant neighborhood that does not make.

Heck, I’d rather hang out in LoSo.

“South End is a place where young people sleep and drink beer, and that’s about it,” David Walters, an urban planner and professor emeritus at UNC Charlotte, told the Observer. “The property market killed the goose that laid the golden egg, but still worships it.”

My co-editor, Katie Toussaint, who lives in a weird gray area between Dilworth and South End, told me she’s no longer claiming South End. Burn.

A couple years back I told a good friend that he should move to a cool part of town, like South End. Now I feel like I gave him bad advice. (Sorry, Morgan.)

Before long the draw of living in all those beige South End apartments will be access to the light rail line — so you can take it to legitimately interesting neighborhoods like NoDa. (At least until development drains the life out of it, too.)

Maybe we’ll learn from our mistakes. Maybe we’ll look at NoDa or Plaza Midwood or the next up-and-coming neighborhood and say, “Let’s think carefully about the zoning here so we don’t ruin what makes this place great.” Maybe.

South End, you had a good run. Your candle burned out long before your legend ever will.

Now, if any displaced South Enders are looking for somewhere to land, you can come down to my slice of Monroe Road. We’ve got that Common Market status.

Photo: David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer

24 COMMENTS

  1. I have lived in Ashbrook Clawson villiage for 20 years. I cant understand why the city keeps permitting these gigantic apartment buildings in old established neighborhoods? I cannot even pull out of my street onto Woodlawn Rd unless I make a right turn. Then the city does the Scaleybark Rd atrocity… The person in charge of that project told me “Scaleybark was never intented to be a major road”. OK, well when you squeeze in a couple extra thousand people into southpark mall, park rd shopping center area, what do you think is going to happen? So they purposely make Scaleybark an obstacle course to slow people down, redesign it so you have to sit at the light. What is the end result of that? People now speed through all the neighborhood streets where everyone’s kids are playing because they dont want to wait for a traffic light. Your article here corroborates what I have been noticing for years, we are Atlanta 2.0. There seems to be no consideration for secondary effects of what they allow to develop here beit overtaxed infrastructure or character of the city.

  2. Yes, South End will lose some character thanks to the closing of the perpetually overrated Phat Burrito. But to say it won’t be a vibrant neighborhood anymore, with nothing but apartments and beer, is complete and utter bullbleep. They’re developing retail/restaurants and public spaces up and down Camden, as well as in and around Atherton Mill. Tremont will have the new Common Market as well as mixed use developments. Similar projects are being developed along South Blvd. and South Tryon. Frankly, South End never was as funky/boho as NoDa or Plaza Midwood, and never was going to be. In five years South End will be a much more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, with tons more choices to eat and shop at.

    • Seriously. You can’t complain about the environmental impact of non-pedestrian-friendly cities (like Atlanta, where everybody drives) while bemoaning the loss of character due to changes in population density as a result of trying to put more people closer into the city. How do people think that happens? I get that it sucks to lose some of the older institutions in the transition, but if you’re not excited about what new retail/restaurant spaces will open in response to a more concentrated market, you should probably look for a city that isn’t benefitting from economic growth and all the spoils that come along with this new opportunity. Maybe Detroit would be a better fit?

      A restaurant closing in the middle of a population booms says less about the boom and more about what the restaurant *isn’t* doing to keep patrons in the door.

  3. Hang on a second….I’m pretty bummed about Common Market, Phat Burrito, the death of the food truck Friday spot, the loss of Amos’, Tremont….etc….but c’mon. Do the property owners of these places really have a choice? There’s only so much adaptive reuse we can apply before a new concept becomes irresponsible. I’m a 14 year Dilworth resident – meaning I lived here before there was a Southend. I watched realtor’s market Dilworth homes as Historic Southend. What I’ve learned is this – nothing is constant but change. The notion of keeping things the same, yet making them better isn’t, hasn’t, and will never be the Charlotte way. It’s nearly impossible to develop new while maintaining the fabric of old. I think there are couple lines in the sand (Atherton Mill and Design Center) that require a watchful eye….but there’s no stopping the progress. As far as oversight or master planning, look toward Southend City Partners – there have been 4 directors in just about as many years – a revolving door if you will. It’s pretty hard to maintain a master plan when said leadership and oversight keeps changing. Bottom line, Southend is very much in flux….but I suspect in 10 years it will have made a very impressive transition. I only hope there’s a local place that has a burrito half as cool as the Phat version!

  4. I agree with Vance 100%. These huge buildings are going to have retail, commercial and residential all in one. Those old run down buildings needed to go, and so they did. Now if people want to buy and up-fit/renovate the old warehouses and buildings behind the Steelmill and off of Hawkins, more power to them. That whole area is on the rise too. I think it is progress and what Charlotte needs.
    As far as people just sitting around, drinking beer, I beg to differ. All you have to do is get on the light rail and go where ever and do what ever you want. Inexpensive and no worries about having a cold one and driving home.
    I have been here 58 years. I have seen Charlotte grow and when we had the protest uptown last year I was very upset with people, (criminals) busting out windows and vandalizing my city. We do need more asphalt for the amount of cars we have but other than the traffic, I love this place!

  5. SouthEnd is, hands down, my favorite part of Charlotte. It hurts to see these great buildings and businesses crumble. And I see Corey’s point, that SouthEnd is losing its character, there’s a lot of truth to that. But while it grows and “evolves,” it is keeping a good part of its spirit. Queen City Bikes is a FANSTASTIC bike shop. Craft has great food, an awesome selection of tap brew, and might have the best bottle selection south of Uptown. Good Bottle – very solid. Ruth’s Barber Shop? Best secret in all of Charlotte. There are app development companies, there are refurbed warehouses, start up businesses, breweries, Little Hardware, auto repair shops (CMD is still my #1), Price’s, Ground Crew recording studio, Little Gym (I think?), kitchen/bath/home design centers, Light Rail Trail – so yes, it’s losing some character for sure, but it still has some really great, unique, eclectic things too. I mean…15 years ago that pink mini skyscraper was very out of place in SouthEnd. Now? It’s an icon. I don’t disagree with Corey, but are some great things happening there, too.

  6. Charlotte native here, 64 years old. Charlotte is a lot like Atlanta where greedy developer sharks descend upon the city councils and county commissions with visions of lollie-pops and maximum FICO scores, only to leave town with their ill-gotten gains to move on and exploit other growing cities. The end result is highway infrastructure that is 20 years behind it all and traffic, more traffic, orange barrels, more orange barrels, and loads of road rage, enough to have everyone chewing on their steering wheel before they get to work. I believe that it was Thomas Jefferson that warned if we get piled up on one another in big cities like they did in Europe centuries ago, we will become as corrupt as Europe was in his time, although taking a look at modern Europe it’s easy to see he was correct. It’s always about the money; people, cultures, neighborhoods, those are just talking points for developers; their bottom-line is the bottom-line, not Charlotte’s future.

  7. Our so called “leaders” are bought and paid for by the likes of Ned Curren, Peter Pappas, Hugh McColl (who displaced many black families in 2nd Ward, and moved the transit center from in front of BOA to current location to keep the ner-dowells away from his precious banker bros), and other big money out of town crooks. South End is becoming a dangerous place to live or work. How many murders in past 12 months? How many robberies and car break in’s?
    Look at the bad decisions by Vi Lyles (I-77 tolls), Al Austin (famous for his “post tramatic slave syndrome” statement), and host of other wooden headed puppets who jump at developers campaign money with no thought to the general public.
    The narrative in the tragic Keith Scott shooting is being spun as lack of affordable housing caused the riots…this would be horrible if true, but he didn’t even live in Charloot, he lived in Gastonia. More riots can be expected in the future, especially with such a weak mayor who refused to protect the citizens and property against the gangs of CMS dropouts. The genie is out of the bottle, developers won, the citizens lose…Welcome to Detroit-upon-the Catawba.

  8. I used to work on South Blvd. in the 90’s, so that whole area was my hangout spot. Some great places – Nug’s Tavern and Tremont were like my second homes. It used to have that “crappy neighborhood” vibe that was just funky enough to work, and Southend Brewery was considered the nice place to hang out. Sorry to see the area get developed and lose the vibe. RIP Southend. You guys are welcome to come up to Asheville and visit. We’ve got the funk now!

  9. I do not get the fuss about parking at this location. That happens when you beome a big city — there’s not parking right at the door of every establishment. Yes, the quality of some South End projects leaves much to be desired, but if you want more people in an area, and more options for everything from food to entertainment to shopping, you either walk a bit or you have South Park where people park at the door, shop, then drive across the street to repeat the process.

  10. If the vibrancy of a neighborhood is really determined by the availability of an overrated burrito, we have some work to do in this town anyway. Read the reviews for this place over the last year. It’s certainly not “parking issues” that are driving their revenue down. To point to that as the scapegoat is completely unfair to every hardworking business owner in that area who makes sure they give people a reason to keep coming back. As someone else said, none of the business here, or in most other neighborhoods for that matter, have parking right outside the front door. South End has a lot to offer, but it doesn’t sound like some people are interested in that. Its easier to complain about change than to participate in it. Years ago, people complained that this part of town was underdeveloped and dangerous. Now that it’s moving in that direction, it’s RIP South End? Thats melodramatic and irresponsible. It’s ok to have some nostalgia for the places you’ve frequented for years. But to say that this entire neighborhood is dead because its changing? Come on. Try Futo Buta. Check out a show at the Art League. Price’s Chicken Coop has been doing fine fine just fine for years without a legit parking lot. This is a foot traffic-heavy area. Phat Burrito could have cashed in on the incoming lunch crowds with the influx of new office buildings, but that means having to fix what’s broken instead of blaming it on everything outside your window.

  11. South End is far from dead! As the president of The Charlotte Art League, I can assure you the art scene is thriving here in South End. Tonight is our monthly First Friday Crawl. Come out and see for yourself all that South End has to offer. Start with dinner at one of the many wonderful restaurants along the rail trail. After dinner enjoy a stroll through several galleries in the area. Maps will be available at the Charlotte Art League. Take in the local art, chat with the artist and enjoy a glass of wine or some craft beer.
    Come out and explore all the things that make South End great!

  12. “What have all those things been replaced with? Apartments and a massive office building that will stick out like a banker bro in Common Market.” — You’ve missed the beauty of Common Market with this statement. The beauty is that anyone and everyone was welcome, and immediately fit in. Even a banker bro. My grandparents felt as comfortable there as I did, and it was a place I could spend time with a variety of friends (singles, childless, families…)

  13. Yes, please keep publishing stories and commentaries from the “South End RIP” perspective.
    I live in the building right across the tracks from Phat Burrito (the one on the right in your photo).
    Our neighborhood is coming along just fine, especially for residents who thrive amid an urban — if not urbane — lifestyle. And there’s more than enough of us. One thing we don’t need is more publicity, and pieces like yours are quite helpful on that front.
    I take the train to work Uptown — from my front door to my office’s back door, in less than 6 minutes.
    I regularly go to my neighborhood’s art galleries and studios. I walk and run the rail trail daily. I drove my car all of 220 miles last year (getting an oil change based on time due to lack of miles).
    One thing my neighbors and I continue to hope for is that our neighborhood remains primarily a place for us to live and work (and less a tourist draw). And while we are not happy to lose a place like Phat Burrito from our community, we simultaneously look forward to the upcoming renovations at Atherton Mill and the Design Center. In addition, the new Dimensional Fund headquarters will also contribute to the vitality of Camden Rd. as the center of South End (365 daily employees will certainly help support the increasing array of retail options our community needs).
    Thus, in the end, if you think South End is dead, great. Don’t come here. Find another neighborhood to live or hang in that better fits your needs. And take your friends and family with you. We who live here won’t begrudge you, but we won’t miss you either.

    • Says a Yankee carpet bagger, who will never have kids or raise a family in this community. Your attitude will be the downfall of Charloot.

      • Old Smoky b: Guilty as to my NYC roots; however, I’ve been raising my 12-year-old daughter here in South End for the past 7 years…

        • Paul, as a native Charlottean who moved away for many years (including to NYC) before returning, let me say that I and many other Charlotteans welcome folks here from all over the country and the world with open arms. The influx of people from different regions and cultures is what gives Charlotte its vibrancy, and makes it 1,000 times better to live in than it was when I grew up.
          The real downfall of “Charloot” would have been if only small-minded, untraveled, nativist trolls like Smoky made up the entirety of the population.

          • Yea, let’s open our arms to Yankees who’s attitude is “if you think South End is dead, great. Don’t come here. Find another neighborhood to live or hang in that better fits your needs. And take your friends and family with you. We who live here won’t begrudge you, but we won’t miss you either.” That’s the type of inclusiveness that Charloot needs.
            And you wonder why the riots happened?? Maybe it’s this type of attitude that helped start the fires.

  14. So glad to see the positive response for development. A skate shop and a burrito place begs the demise of Southend? I’m sure if parking were the issue, the lot across the street from Phat Burrito could have been purchased years ago to accomodate that. And I bet if you asked Sycamore and Wooden Robot, they’d have a different opinion of “dying” Southend.

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