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ESSAY: A Farewell to Plaza Midwood

A love letter from a former resident

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Sister Plaza Midwood
Soul Gastrolounge is just the most recent Plaza Midwood staple that’s been forced to shut down. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Recently, on just another Monday afternoon, I couldn’t shake the words my friend had said to me in a conversation the night before. 

I was hosting Bone Snugs & Harmony karaoke at Snug Harbor, a dive bar and music venue in the heart of Plaza Midwood, that Sunday night when he asked me how my recent move to Matthews had gone. I told him that I was finally settled in and getting used to living in a new place that was not in the neighborhood. 

What he said next I did not expect: “Oh yeah … You’re one of the lucky ones; you got out of Plaza Midwood in time.” 

The only thing I could think to respond with in that moment was, “It’s bittersweet, my man.”

Up to that point I had lived in and around Plaza Midwood for 10 years. My life in Charlotte started in 1995 when I moved here as a child with my family by way of Atlanta from San Antonio. We ended up in Mint Hill and eventually built a house in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood near Harrisburg and I-485. 

After high school I attended Appalachian State University in Boone, returning home on occasional weekends to see friends, shows, and family. After graduating I lived briefly in Sedgefield and Dilworth, where the Tyber Creek Pub of my youth is on its way out and a new Common Market South End now resides. 

My time living in the Plaza Midwood area began with a rented house and three roommates in what is technically the Plaza Shamrock neighborhood. I eventually moved to Commonwealth Park with my best friend during the 2020 pandemic. 

Of all the places I have lived I had lived in Plaza Midwood the longest of any; over a quarter of my life thus far. In that time I watched from a distance as the devious arm of gentrification came swooping through South End and all other points around the Uptown area. 

Wheels for Equality
The author, Greg Martinez manages traffic during an NAACP rally in Uptown in 2020. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Sitting in a corner table at The Penguin or on the back patio of Thomas Street Tavern with friends noshing on bar food, cheap beer, and heavily poured shots, I noted indifferently as the stretch of razed warehouses and barren foundations down South Boulevard along the light rail, CATS’ Blue Line, erupted into construction of cheap, inexpensive, and outrageously priced condos and apartments advertising “luxury urban living.” 

Alongside fellow intellectuals, we waxed philosophical over tall boy after tall boy of PBR on the ever-growing Common Market (original location) patio. We somehow became hyper-focused over games of billiards and darts at Elizabeth Billiards — colloquially known as EB’s — before walking across Pecan Avenue to catch a show at Snug. 

People perusing outside of Common Market in Plaza Midwood
Common Market’s original location still stands in Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Occasionally I would take a field trip into NoDa only to watch as audacious and emboldened entrepreneurial “pioneers” slowly circled the wagons into semi-exclusive pockets, eventually pushing out the established creative natives who for so long had cultivated a symbiotic relationship with residents of NoDa and neighboring Villa Heights and Optimist Park.

On any given afternoon in Plaza Midwood you could simply walk over and pop into Armada Skate Shop, grab an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen, then wrap up the day at Tommy’s Pub with a local punk show. 

A lot of mornings started with a quick breakfast at Sammy’s Deli and just around the corner you could shop for unique cultural items at Boris + Natasha or Reggae Central. Often an impromptu date night happened as you climbed the stairs up to Soul Gastrolounge for amazing drinks, great food, and good tunes. 

Reggae Central owner Carolyn Barber smiling
Carolyn Barber recently celebrated 25 years running Reggae Central, but was forced to celebrate in a new location removed from Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

It was an easy and perfect way to spend any day of the week if you were showing visiting friends around who had just recently bought a house in any of the neighborhoods along the western arc between Wilmore and Enderly Park. 

One of the few remaining things that cannot be removed from Plaza Midwood is the community within the neighborhood itself — one that I was luckily able to be a part of. It was indeed the grungy and alternative parts of the neighborhood that had served as a shining light for those who wandered through and looked around at something new to them, thinking, “Well, isn’t this place nice?” 

I’m proud to say that as rough around the edges as this community seemed to those on the outside looking in, it was in fact one of the most welcoming ones I have ever experienced in the city of Charlotte. You were never a stranger twice in Plaza Midwood. In all the other cities I’ve found myself wandering around in search of each their own respective bohemian, punk, and hipster havens, Plaza Midwood had set the bar high. 

The New Creatures play a show at Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor is one of Plaza Midwood’s last remaining bastions. (Photo by Austin Stallings)

Over the years I witnessed people come together from an array of different stories and backgrounds to build what I like to think of as a “Community of Duality.” On one side everyone worked in unison to create an experience that told stories of daily life in the neighborhood as well as endless adventures beyond. 

All forms of creativity in a single location came together to form a world of music, visual and performing art, and all those creatives promoted social events that showcased what a neighborhood could still feel like in a fast-changing world where it was hard to know which way was up, let alone find a place to land and call home. 

On the other side of this duality were the losses we have shared together over the years as a community. We became accustomed to losing things — slowly, gradually, then exponentially. 

The first to go were our homes. In what was once an affordable part of town to live in, it quickly became more and more difficult to find reasonable housing close to the places we had worked so hard to make our own for all to enjoy. Soon after, we began to lose the businesses and venues where we regularly communed with our friends, family, and neighbors. 

Again, rising costs had pushed locally grown businesses either far enough away in an attempt to self-sustain or worse, forced them to close their doors completely; the lights turned off for the last time leaving long-time patrons and customers in the dark. 

With our houses and haunts gone it is no wonder that we were also left to deal with the loss of our friends themselves. Through whatever means, whether by choice or by fate, we have suffered together, learning how to say goodbye to our friends and family, letting them drift away with promises that we would still stay tight despite long distances. 

Boris & Natasha
Hope Nicholls in the original Boris + Natasha location with her coworker Charles. She has moved her family-run business to The Plaza, outside of Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

There are also those whom we lost to death, folks whose legacies will always carry on in our memories of the neighborhood — which will soon be all that we have left to carry away from this place. 

Once again, and with more experience this time around, gentrification has come in to do its ugly work. Under the guise of words like “improvement” and “rejuvenation,” it skillfully painted both residents and business owners into a corner. The only escape now is through a slowly, steadily closing window on a wall that all have come to find themselves with their backs up against. 

The next chapter in the story of Plaza Midwood has already begun, written on a new wall across the room from that same window. The chapter of time I was privileged to be a part of isn’t over quite yet. However, we now stand solemnly watching the erection of a seven-story concrete tombstone whose epitaph will read, “To the Death of Fun.”


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5 Comments

  1. Gentrification? Give me an effin break! Though I hate what is happening to this community, it hardly meets the definition.

    1. “the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”

      how is that not what is happening?

  2. This is lovely Greg. You’re what gives PM her soul. I too feel the heartache of watching so many charming, distinctive, close-knit neighborhoods being swallowed up by cold, empty, “fake,” disjointed development. Gentrification as simple as businesses crowding in and changing the character of neighborhoods has been breaking our ties to people and places. Most people only see it from the surface. They don’t have the wisdom to understand how destroying our community’s roots undermines our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual wellness. Nor how it’s contributing to our nation’s crumbling existence. I miss CLT. Even surrounded by soulless apartments, I know her heart’s still beating.

  3. You all voted for it. The people you put in place of leadership are getting their pockets filled with cash while you all are sitting back crying about all the changes. This is just the beginning.

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