Small businesses feel squeeze of gentrification—here’s why we’re writing about it.

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Photo by David Foster/The Charlotte Observer
Around 120 tenants in the City North Business Center off of North Tryon Street were forced to move out because the new ownership was repurposing the site.

Editor’s note: The Charlotte Observer’s development reporter, Danielle Chemtob, and retail and sports business reporter, Katherine Peralta, have put together an in-depth look at how gentrification affects Charlotte’s small business owners. Here, Danielle tells CharlotteFive why this topic is so impactful in our community.

As a development reporter, I’m often inundated with news about new buildings, office towers, restaurants, food halls, co-working spaces — you name it. But the hardest question I’ve had to grapple with is this: when you add all of this growth up, what does it mean for the community? Who does it benefit, and who does it leave behind?

I’ve wrestled with that question when it comes to affordable housing, residential displacement, and so many other issues. But my coworker Katie and I had seen firsthand how small businesses are being pushed out to make way for new development. But unlike residential gentrification, the issue wasn’t being discussed in the community. And there was little data to track it.

So when we heard that around 120 tenants in the City North Business Center off of North Tryon Street would have to move out because the new ownership was repurposing the site, we decided to tell this story.

Photo by David Foster / The Charlotte Observer
Community Dream Builders Communications Manager Angela Haigler, left, and Marketing and Communications Director Michelle Mattison pack up their offices in the City North Business Center along North Tryon Street in Charlotte, NC.

We found tenants including Zandra Smith, who started her business while in law school. She never thought she could have an office of her own until she found City North Business Center, where she rented two spaces for a total of $1000 a month for her medical supply company. But in February, she received a notice telling her she had to leave by the end of April.

Minority-owned businesses affected

We’ve focused much of our coverage at The Charlotte Observer on the issue of inequality, as the city has grappled with its ranking 50th of 50 cities for upward mobility. But small businesses are a key part of that issue. And data shows minority-owned businesses earn less than their white counterparts, making them more susceptible to rising rents and property taxes.

For more than a month, Katie and I visited and talked with tenants across the city, along a historian, city officials and other experts. Tenants allowed us into their businesses and their lives, and shared stories of how their neighborhoods had changed — and wondered who that change would benefit.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Neighborhoods such as those along North Tryon Street, Plaza Midwood, Villa Heights and others are attracting development and investment, with the light rail attracting young professionals who wish to live near city center. That drives up costs for residents, but it also drives up rents and property taxes for business owners.
  • While resources have been devoted to issues such as affordable housing and job creation, there’s been less attention on small businesses. “We missed the ball a little bit,” City Councilman Justin Harlow told us.
  • Small businesses don’t just create economic mobility for their owners, experts told us. They also benefit the community, creating jobs and holding up the local economy. But those who study gentrification say that when large chains move in with gentrification, the money they make tends to benefit corporations based in other places.

Read more of our coverage in today’s Charlotte Observer article.

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