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.
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