When we first arrived in Durham in 1981 it was a very different place from the Durham of today. The university has long had an affect on it, but tobacco had a bigger one for most of the 20th C. It was still a sleepy, southern town. Ninth Street's biggest store sold hardware and farm tools. The street had a bit of a scrubby, run down air to it. The only sign that things were begining to change was the arrival of Ninth Street Bakery which was a bit like an oasis in the desert. Slowly over the next few years new stores began to open.
A restaurant called Anotherthyme opened (I think I remember that correctly and I think that's the spelling). It was rather health-food-y/hippy-ish serving brown rice and over using soy sauce on the healthy steamed vegies. Then a lovely little health food grocery store opened - Wellspring - which was decidedly better, having wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables and a great cheese section. In time Wellspring grew, opened several new stores in the area and was eventually bought by Whole Foods.
Now Ninth Street seems to be totally given over to restaurants catering to the university crowd along with a few other interesting shops. There is a book store and another store with an interesting mix of women's clothing, shoes, high end knitting yarn and interesting knick-knacks. Good old Bruegger's Bagels, one of the earlier shops to open since the 80's is still there. And, of course, Brightleaf Square is still there and a few more tobacco warehouses have been turned into apartments.
This visit, however, I was bowled over by the changes in the main part of "downtown". This is the section that is reached by heading down main street, past Brightleaf Square and over the rail road tracks. I don't remember going into this area of town at all during the 1980's except to go to the main post office which is still there.
Quite a stately building, but there wasn't much else around it. There was the towering CCB building (Central Carolina Bank), now owned by Sun Trust Bank and I seem to remember a Woolworth's, but that has been long out of business. There was a not very interesting book store and a furniture store, but nothing else to make one cross the RR tracks.
We have also stayed in-town at the Durham Marriott on occasion. The first few times it was rather down-at-heels, but it has been nicely renovated recently.
It has been a few years since staying at that Marriott, so quite a few years since I saw the down-town and WOW! what a difference I saw on this trip!
Like elves at work while I was sleeping, someone has been really transforming this area! There are a number of lovely, square-like areas with trees and benches. There are also so many more shops and restaurants.
I love the name of this one.
Hard to see, but it's "Toast" and they sell Italian sandwiches and have tables outside. There was also a great bakery called "Loaf" with some of the best bread that I've had outside the Bay area.
Here's a cafe/bar we stopped into for tea.
And the biggest surprise was how "hopping" it was! It was Saturday afternoon and the place was packed with people sitting in groups, talking, using the wifi, eating cake. Just a few years ago the streets would have been mostly deserted during the weekend. This time there were people everywhere and this was not the only cafe open and serving.
A bit hard to see, but there are a number of tables filled with people relaxing on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
It was wonderful to see! Many of the old buildings are very charming and really worth the effort of restoring and putting to good use. There is still a way to go, and it is unclear if all the improvements will pay out and keep customers coming back, but it looked very promising.
Here is a picture of the front of "Loaf" where we bought bread, sandwiches and a wonderful pastry.