People often talk of Charlotte as being two cities: the haves and the have-nots, the gentrified and the not-yet-displaced — two populations that are socioeconomically and racially segregated. Quietly nestled between these two worlds sits a quaint boutique appropriately called The Store of the City. Its art-adorned walls and graffiti-painted shelves filled with statement clothing shed light on an underrepresented area of Charlotte. In an era of dog bars and countless breweries, this one-of-a-kind shop is a breath of fresh air; perfectly blending authenticity and unapologetic drip.
Cantwell Street isn’t part of those trendy neighborhoods you’ll hear about every five minutes in Charlotte’s media landscape. In fact, if you’re not a Charlotte native, you’ve probably never heard of it. Tucked between Freedom Drive and Brookshire Boulevard, between Enderly Park and Chemway, the Thomasboro-Hoskins neighborhood isn’t one that could be defined as hipster, and God forbid it ever becomes that. Yet therein lies one of Charlotte’s coolest new spots, a clothing store that serves up three local, independently owned clothing brands from up-and-coming Charlotte entrepreneurs.
As native Charlotteans know, the west side hasn’t always been a mecca for breweries and coffee shops. In fact, just a few years ago, the same Sunday brunchers and IPA sippers wouldn’t have dared to venture through the streets of the now-trendy Walnut Avenue, let alone further down Freedom to Cantwell Street. The influx of growth and development has been welcomed by some and shunned by others. Where some see progression, others see displacement.
Born and raised in the Queen City, Store of the City owner and local artist Demetrius Ross has witnessed Charlotte’s growth firsthand. He looks at things optimistically. The growth around him coincides perfectly with his mission to help other local artists reach their full potential. “I love Charlotte and I do like how it’s developed and continues to grow,” he said.
Ross and co-owner James Donel opened Store of the City in October 2018 “out of need and necessity.”
“When you’re an independent clothing brand, it’s harder to get your merchandise in a store,” Ross explained. “So, we as a team decided to cut the middle man out and make our own way.”
And make a way they did. The idea for the store was birthed as a means to host the in-house brand Trap Society Inc., started by Ross and Donel, and other up-and-coming artists. Ross explains, “I came up with the name because I’m from Charlotte and I’m always representing.”
He sticks to that mission by not only representing his own brand, but putting others on as well. Featured within the store are brands like 930E, 1 of a Kind and LVC. Not only are all the brands locally owned, but you’re likely to find the owners of a coupe of them kicking it any given time you stop by the store.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Teezy the Don, founder of 930E, was behind the counter when Queen City Nerve stopped by.
“That’s why Demetrius came up with the name Store of the City,” Teezy explained. “We really wanted to incorporate everybody that got something going on. Each of one of us had something going on before we even met each other and we just happened to bump heads and created this. The first few months it wasn’t as fast as we wanted it, but now we got steady clientele coming in, we got steady customers, everybody’s happy, so it’s pretty much ‘of the city.'”
Although the name was derived from Ross’s pride in being a native Charlottean, he chose his grandiose title with world domination in mind. “I can take the store name and concept anywhere in the world and the name and concept will work,” he said, with implications of the growth he has in mind.
You can feel the hustle mentality as you peruse the one-of-a-kind merchandise on the shelves at Ross’ store. Shirts with the words T.R.A.P skillfully printed to resemble the 90’s organization D.A.R.E hang next to abstract paintings from local artists. Beauty products, accessories and even gold grills are sprinkled about like snow.
Donel said the main focus of The Store is to collaborate rather than compete, so everyone can succeed.
“Our whole thing was to really just put on for Charlotte because there’s not many people that do things together for the city’s sake,” he said. “We have a lot of people doing certain things that can make a city come up … we’re just not doing it together. When we go out we see pop-up shops, we see people shopping, we see people asking for t-shirts, so we’re trying to fill that lane right now.”
The Store of the City is more than just a place to shop. It’s also a fully functioning recording studio and art gallery. Hosting local talent like Teezy, Ruger and Perry A, who also launched 1 of a Kind. In fact, almost everyone who works and sells clothes out of The Store records music there as well, save for Ross, who Teezy called “the brains.”
The store is dripping with artistic expression.
“I’ve always worked in the field of fashion, music and art.” Ross said. “With my background in photography and cosmetology, I just combined everything. It’s all part of [my] evolution.”
Evolving from a local artist to full-fledged entrepreneur is a journey that began with the inspiration of a few familiar names. Ross attributes his business mentality to well-known entrepreneurial legends like Jay-Z, Master P and the late Nipsey Hussle.
Nipsey was a beloved member of the Compton community in Los Angeles because of his entrepreneurship and willingness to give people jobs. He was shot and killed in front of his store, The Marathon Clothing, on March 31.
“What I’m trying to get people to understand around Charlotte, especially around areas like this right here, is you got Nipseys,” Donel said. “You got Nipseys that’s ready to step up and have been doing this stuff forever, so let’s put the light on them because they’re gonna put the light on somebody else anyway.”
In addition to local brands, The Store of the City offers up hot sneaker releases like the coveted Jordan 1s, 13s and 9s. A sneakerhead myself, I asked Ross what his favorite shoe was. “The Vapormax,” he answered, immediately and impressively. “They’re comfortable and they come in a million color schemes.”
Color isn’t something Ross shies away from. A true artist at heart, his love for making unique products is truly hands-on. In one of his store’s Instagram videos, you’ll see him standing on a ladder, spraying custom graffiti on the store sign. How many store owners have you seen taking their brand in their own hands with that sort of dedication?
The Store of the City is a symbolic representation of Charlotte itself. A predominantly corporate city, hints of creativity bubble up from beneath the surface if you know where to look. By capturing the essence of Charlotte’s diversity within a clothing boutique, The Store of the City embodies what it truly means to be a creative and an entrepreneur in a city known for its bankers.
On a deeper level, The Store of the City is holding on to its authenticity like an anchor. In a part of town where entire neighborhoods are gutted and replaced with high-rise apartments, these enterprising creatives have staked out their spot while embracing the sea of change around them.
While they’re currently dug in on the west side, Ross has big plans for the future of The Store of the City.
“[My goals are] to continue to grow our store and individual brands while ultimately franchising in the future,” he said.
Could we see The Store of the City in big named areas like Atlanta or Los Angeles? Quite possibly. But while we have them all to ourselves in the Queen City, stop by their boutique today and update your summer wardrobe. There’s no better one-stop shop for local gear, art and everything else. The marathon continues, after all.
[Ryan Pitkin contributed reporting to this article.]