Growth & Identity

Charlotte keeps losing bits of itself as the city grows

The Dairy Queen on Central Avenue that's closing after 70 years. Photo: Google Street View

Is there anything more “Charlotte” than bemoaning the closure of local icons? 

In one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., with rising rents and rapid changes in long-established neighborhoods, there’s sure to be a certain amount of churn in the local business scene. Angst and nostalgia are certain to follow. But as it grows and stretches, Charlotte is shedding pieces of its skin, and many don’t like the new identity they see emerging. 

The latest blow is the impending closure of a 70-year-old Dairy Queen on Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood that’s long served as an informal gathering place and, as the neighborhood grew more popular and affluent, increasingly anachronistic reminder of the way things were. The Charlotte Agenda reported the owners couldn’t reach a new lease agreement with their landlords (they plan to open a new location nearby). 

“It’s very disheartening,” co-owner Sherman Walters told Agenda reporter Katie Peralta. “There are elements of that neighborhood that are going to be really sad to see it go.”

Sure, it’s one chain restaurant in a city teeming with new places to eat and drink. But the vintage Dairy Queen, with its decades-old facade and design, still felt special to the people who lived there and patronized it, or even just drove past and saw it as a neighborhood marker. And in a city that has more than quadrupled its land area and tripled its population in just fifty years, authentic signifiers of identity can seem few and far between. 

Here are six other local Charlotte-area businesses that have closed in the past five years. Some were regarded as iconic; others are neighborhood spots that were cherished by the few, but fiercely. 

Phat Burrito

One of the pioneer businesses that led South End’s comeback, Phat Burrito closed after a 20-year run in 2017. The blue-and-yellow building has been redeveloped by owner and developer Asana Partner, and a fast-casual chain restaurant focused on healthy options called Flower Child has opened there. 

Architect and urban planner David Walters lamented what the closure meant for the area. 

“South End is a place where young people sleep and drink beer, and that’s about it,” said Walters. “The property market killed the goose that laid the golden egg, but still worships it.” 

Phat Burrito in 2015. Photo: Google Street View
The Double Door Inn

Opened in 1973, the music venue in a converted house on Charlottetowne Avenue hosted acts including  Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and hundreds more bands. The venue closed in 2017, and Central Piedmont Community College is redeveloping the site. 

“It’s more than just a local bar. It was a linchpin for the national and regional music scene,” writer and photographer Daniel Coston told the Charlotte Observer at the time. 

The Double Door Inn, 2015. Photo: Google Street View. 
Owen’s Bagel & Deli

The longtime South End bagel spot across from Atherton Mill closed in March, though the owners have said they plan a new location. Snooze AM Eatery is opening another location in its place, along with other new tenants in the revamped retail center. 

Mary Jo’s Cloth Store

For almost 70 years, Mary Jo’s built a reputation in Gastonia as “the iconic fabric Mecca of the South.” Thomas Cloninger, son of the original owner and operator Mary Jo Cloninger, announced his retirement and the store’s closing in August.

“No one could run this place like Mary Jo herself, and the time has come for me to retire,” he said. “My mother always said there can only be one Mary Jo’s because there's only one Mary Jo.”

Tommy Tomlinson eulogized the huge store for WFAE: “Places like Mary Jo’s give our area its texture. They belong only to us. They’re the raw materials for what we make of ourselves, the same way a beautiful piece of fabric becomes a dress or a blouse.”

Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop

Another South End staple, Pike’s was located along the Blue Line Rail Trail. The shop, known for its burgers and shakes, announced its closure after 25 years in May. 

“We have reached an agreement with our landlord that is mutually beneficial for termination of the lease,” owner Randy Chitwood told the Observer. He has said he is planning to reopen in a new location. A Shake Shack will open in 2020 in the former Pike’s location. 

Tremont Music Hall

Described by Charlotte Magazine as “the last dirty rock club” in the city, Tremont Music Hall closed its doors in 2015 after the property was sold for redevelopment. 

A new townhouse development, with prices starting at about $450,000, has replaced the former music venue. Names of the newly laid streets are all that remain: Fender Place, Lyric Lane and Music Hall Way. 

Tremont Music Hall, 2015. Photo: Google Street View