The North Tryon Street corridor is in a state of transition as construction continues on the LYNX Blue Line extension, scheduled to open in 2017. Maybe this long-ignored stretch of road will become the next South End.
The owners of The Last Word are betting on it.
The family-owned used book and media store thrived since 2010 at the Grande Promenade, a shopping center at the corner of North Tryon and W.T. Harris Boulevard, where it shared a parking lot with businesses like Thai House, IHOP, Walgreens and FedEx.
I was drawn from the beginning to its huge, well-organized selection of books, CDs, DVDs, video games and vinyl, as well as its generous buying policy. Bring in your used items and if they’re accepted you get 50 percent of the store’s marked price in store credit.
The business’ move just three miles south down North Tryon, past University City Boulevard, but before Eastway, lands it in the middle of the light rail construction and in a place where there’s not a whole lot of retail going on. AMF University Lanes, a no-frills, old-school bowling alley, is practically next door, but there’s not much else.
So why did they do it?
The owners, Liz Pope and her sons, Matt and Marshall Hicks, want to be there when the light rail transforms the neighborhood. They expect to see more restaurants, more shopping and more foot traffic. The neighborhood will be more connected to the city and that connection will provide more opportunity.
They purchased the old Faulk Brothers Hardware building, where Faulk Brothers had done business for 50 years. It’s a standalone building of more than 8,000 square feet, almost 2,000 square feet larger than their old space. The building has a homey feel, and character to spare. It even has the original oak floors.
Of course, The Last Word introduced some character of its own to the building. The Star Wars action figures. A big checker board. A puppet theater for kids to man. A small but surprisingly robust selection of vinyl. And a rocking llama with real llama hair.
Pope and her sons plan to make The Last Word a destination, a place to be, rather than just a shop to buy a few books for the beach. They’ll have a coffee bar ready by the end of February. They’ve always hosted a few recurring events like open mics, game nights, kids’ art classes and wine and painting classes, but will be expanding programming.
Right now, the neighborhood’s transformation is so early in its infancy that the area doesn’t even have a name yet. I crowd-sourced this question. What do we call the stretch of North Tryon between University City Boulevard and Eastway? I got a smattering of suggestions like “Sugar Creek Area” and “Plaza Area.”
I asked local historian Tom Hanchett, who was stumped and pointed me to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department. Senior planning coordinator Kathleen Cornett said the area’s name will come about organically through community and business involvement.
“My best guess,” Cornett said, “would be that as this area redevelops over time, it will form its own identity consistent with its character.”
If you’re interested in what one of the new light rail neighborhoods will be like, get a glimpse now by checking out a business — The Last Word — that’s staking its claim.