DevelopmentNews & Opinion

OPINION: Tipsy Pickle Is a Bad Direction for Camp North End

Enough with the pickleball, already

A very big Tipsy Pickle facility in the foreground with the Charlotte skyline in the background
A rendering of the Tipsy Pickle facility that’s set to open at Camp North End in 2024.

A century ago, a Model-T and Model-A Ford factory was built off what is now North Graham Street. During World War II, the site transformed into a Quartermaster Depot to support the US Army. The Cold War saw the site transform into CAMP (Charlotte Area Missile Plant), followed by a pharmaceutical plant (first Eckerd, then Rite Aid) and then, in 2016, the site was purchased by a New York investment firm and transformed into Camp North End.

Inactive train tracks from the World War II iteration of the site weave throughout the 76-acre campus, a water tower still a central element in what is now referred to as The Boileryard. Warehouse space has been converted to storefronts and coworking space, providing myriad opportunities for creativity, community and small businesses. 

Camp North End is home to a James Beard-nominated chef, award-winning craft beer from a community-minded brewery, and a 20,000-square-foot art gallery whose mission is to provide artists with paid studio residencies and the public with free arts events. It is home to the annual Durag Fest and BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, among countless other cultural and family events, with vacant walls filled by works from local muralists.

A coffee shop serves house-roasted beans alongside an upscale dining menu and natural wines, a plant and home goods shop owner gives hands-on advice on plant care, a boutique carrying items from local vendors opens its garage-style doors to a courtyard of pingpong tables and a chiminea that’s perfect for hosting family gatherings year round. 

The site is slowly adding more tenants of all varieties, seemingly with a preference for unique concepts.

Camp North End has made a name for itself in its support for startups and the arts. According to the website, business owners “… share a common desire to be immersed in a creative atmosphere.” A personal moment of pride was when friends visiting from Seattle were awestruck by the complex, telling me they had nothing like this back home. 

Ah, yes. We are doing something right.

Enter: Tipsy Pickle.

It was recently announced that a collaboration between a couple of area beer bros would see a 35,000-square-foot destination for entertainment and pickleball fill a vacancy in The Mount. Renderings were released on social media showcasing the building’s exterior, with glimmering lights offset by a nighttime skyline. 

Inside, Sims-like avatars sit along a bar with televisions airing sports games overhead. Others show a flannel-clad fella musing over billiards, and a couple of pals conversing by the foosball table.

Tipsy Pickle promises space for up to 1,000 guests to play at their six pickleball courts, golf simulators and shuffleboard tables. The Tex-Mex menu will be accompanied by three bars, giving guests plenty of ways to live up to the name.

Social media comment sections have been a whirlwind of dialogue and diatribe, with the outrage spanning from a need for skateparks and basketball courts to the question, “What the hell even is pickleball?” 

Make no mistake about it; some people are thrilled. The pickleballers of the city are ready to rally (not to be confused with another new pickleball establishment recently opened in South End … or the one in Uptown). But therein lies the point: The pickleball crowd and the Camp North End crowd are not one in the same. 

This could very well be seen as an argument for compartmentalizing our city, keeping the recreational drinkers on one side of Uptown and art-seekers on the other. Is there space for all kinds of people in all corners of the city? Absolutely. Pickleball enthusiasts are and should be welcome, but should such an establishment be erected to accommodate the relentless need for drinking games?

On the most basic level, this feels out of touch, another attempt from Charlotte business owners and out-of-town investors to gobble up profits Hungry Hungry Hippo-style, with a pervasive inability to read the room. I have no personal qualms with the sport. I have no problem with small business owners growing their portfolios or profiting. That is, of course, a primary objective of business ownership. 

A big part of the issue, though, with opening a place called Tipsy Pickle in a campus that claims to be “an inclusive, supportive creative community that allows for a constant flow of ideas and collaboration” is that the former does not lend itself to the latter. 

I suppose this new venue will provide an opportunity to study and observe the various types of people who will now flood Camp North End, but the above self-description is proven to be ripe with buzzwords, given that some tenants were blindsided by this aesthetic disruption.

One artist spoke to me under the condition of anonymity so as not to upset her Camp North End landlords, calling the new bar “shortsighted ambition.” 

“I got nauseous when I read this, [and] didn’t realize it was coming to Camp,” the artist told me. 

An upside, according to this artist, is that putting in a higher-paying large tenant like Tipsy Pickle can help support keeping artist space affordable, which Camp North End has become known for, though they added that still creates a catch-22 “‘cause it’s lame.”

There is an underlying insecurity in Charlotte’s overall development scene — a concern that other cities are outpacing us makes elected officials so set on proving our city is “world class” that we bastardize ourselves and sell our souls to anyone willing to be an investor. 

This mindset is manifest in how the city markets itself as a tourist destination. Millions of tax dollars are spent annually on ad campaigns to show the shiniest parts of the city, working the ad creative to mirror regional competitors like Nashville and Atlanta. 

This is the exact type of development marketers salivate over, ready to throw an image of pickleball players sipping craft cocktails on billboards lining highways near and far in hopes of dragging in hoards of day-trippers and overnight guests to a “destination on the rise.”

In South End, we lost Phat Burrito to Flower Child, Common Market to a high rise. Price’s Chicken Coop sadly shut down after being offered exorbitant amounts of money for their property, and more recently Central Coffee’s South End location shuttered due to rising rents. 

In NoDa, art galleries have been replaced with cocktail bars and high-priced vintage clothing shops while street vendor rights are in limbo. The 70-year-old Johnston YMCA quietly made a deal with an undisclosed investor while the NoDa Neighborhood Business association begged to be included in the development plans, which ultimately fell through. 

We are losing our artistic and cultural spaces to profiteers, pushing out those who bring so much culture and vibrancy to our growing city. Camp North End was poised to be a refuge for those displaced from neighborhoods along the light rail that have lost their identities to looming developments. Now they will be home to a business whose tagline states, “If you’re going to be in a pickle, you might as well be tipsy.” 

We are indeed in a pickle but no amount of tipsy can keep our city from close-minded progress. And yet, if the Johnston YMCA can come back from near obliteration, anything is possible. 

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