Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Editor’s Note: Paint the Town Blue
On my soapbox

By Ryan Pitkin

January 17, 2019

Justin LaFrancois (foreground) and Ryan Pitkin get to work on their new distribution boxes. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The Nerve’s presence is growing.

You might have noticed the sudden appearance of newly painted marine blue newspaper boxes that popped up around the city on the morning of Jan. 2.

Seemingly overnight (actually not seemingly, it happened overnight), these marine blue boxes popped up in 40 spots ranging from University City to the West End to South End … well all the ends really.

Or maybe you didn’t notice, because who the hell pays attention to newspaper distribution boxes but me?

As with everything involved in starting this business, putting a bunch of distribution boxes on the street seemed like a simple enough process on paper, but thousands of dollars and more than 100 labor hours later, fate proved us wrong.

My paint-stained business partners and I placed the last of the boxes down in front of the BLKTECH Interactive storefront in Camp North End at 2 a.m. on Jan. 2, just six hours from the time we would start delivering our third issue.

But let’s rewind.

It all started at a Winston-Salem graveyard. No, not the amazingly picturesque graveyard in Historic Old Salem. I’m referring to the back parking lot at the Winston-Salem Journal, where hundreds of newspaper boxes had been standing like gravestones for God knows how long.

We took a walk through the old graveyard back in November when we signed a contract with the WSJ to print our paper.

It was among this necropolis that we found about 50 boxes that were still in wrapped in cardboard, and had therefore escaped the elements to this point.

Upon unwrapping one, we found that they were boxes meant to hold Skirt Magazine, a Charleston-based publication that still prints issues but no longer distributes in these parts.

The boxes were a beautiful shape that can’t be found around Charlotte, and the fact that each one was still in pristine shape made the decision easy. Upon agreeing on a price with our printers, we made a deal and returned in December with a U-Haul ready to haul our loot back to the Queen City.

That’s when the real work began. The boxes were a sparkling green, which was nice and all, but didn’t vibe with our brand. So after hitting the local Home Depot and deciding on which color best meshed with our logo (marine blue), then spending an unseemly amount of money on everything else we would need, we began the biggest arts and crafts project we’ve ever took part in.

(Photo by Grant Baldwin)

We rolled each and every box we had, a total of 58, into my business partner Justin LaFrancois’ backyard. That would became our home base of operations for the entire week of Christmas. As friends and family celebrated the holidays and exchanged presents, we sanded, sprayed and brushed our way closer to 2019.

First order of business: sand the paint off of every last box. Once we finished that project, which was no short order, then came the primer, which we applied with a sprayer.

About three days in, we were ready for the final step: the marine blue paint, all done by hand. Justin and I spent many hours working with just the two of us, and Justin painting alone as I spent some family time on Christmas Day, but we were not alone in all of our work. Justin’s mom Marietta came out to help despite her fighting a cold. Much props are owed to local musicians The Business People and Justin Fedor, as well as photographer Grant Baldwin, who came by on a Saturday to help us put what we hoped would be the finishing touches on the first round of boxes.

We wrapped up around 1 a.m. on that Sunday morning knowing that rain was approaching but believing that the boxes would be plenty dry by then. How wrong we were.

Anyone with experience painting outdoors already knows what we learned the hard way that day — that paint doesn’t really dry at all when it’s on steel and the temperature is under 60 degrees.

I woke up early that Sunday morning and drove to Justin’s house hoping that any damage done by the rain would be minimal, but I was in for a rude awakening. I walked in on him stuffing his face with a sub, which I immediately took to be a bad sign. We had planned on hitting a local brunch spot to celebrate our progress, but his facial expression alone told me that was clearly not going to happen.

In his backyard, every box was crying blue tears onto their respective tarps. The primer below the paint glared mischievously at us, knowing we had never wanted to see it again.

So yet again, we went to work, re-doing the countless hours of painting we had put in over the weekend. And that’s how we ended up spending a total of 126 hours over the span of eight days doing something we thought we could knock out in a weekend.

So when you see our boxes out on the street, just know that a lot of love went into those. We know they’ll get tagged, scratched and dented over time, as they are now wild and free on the streets of CLT, but just know each one of those boxes has two proud parents who only get to see them when we feed them twice a month.

So please treat them right.

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