If you drive down Chapel Hill Road, or even better, travel via the No. 10 bus line, you will enter possibility.
Two miles southwest of downtown Durham, the neighborhoods—Lakewood Park, Lyon Park, Longmeadow and Tuscaloosa-Lakewood—are some of the most racially and economically diverse areas of the city. Filled with gleaming euphoniums, The Tuba Exchange is down the street from two tiendas. The vibrant colors of Pine State Flowers, a new business at the corner of Lakewood Avenue and Chapel Hill Road, contrast with the colorful robes in the window of Africa Land. The scent of tripas floats from Azteca Mexican Restaurant, and, until the soul food joint closed, mixed with the aroma of fried fish and greens wafting over from the Lakewood shopping center.
Once a 1930s amusement park (with a roller coaster, no less), as the commercial core of the neighborhood The Shoppes at Lakewood, is well, shopworn. The issue is not what's there—Food Lion, Dollar General, Africa Land, Faith Thrift, Las Amazonas, a day care center, storefront churches and a beauty salon—but that there is so much nothing: Thousands of square feet of vacant space and dead zones between shops. For all its homegrown charisma, Lakewood as neighborhood still lacks a bank, a pharmacy, a coffee shop—and a business to help connect the disparate parts of the community.
That could change with the arrival of the Scrap Exchange, a reuse, art and creative center, which moved from Golden Belt to Lakewood in August. A Durham institution, the Scrap, as its known, hosts its grand opening this weekend. But this could be considered not just a grand opening for the Scrap in its new space, but also a reintroduction for the city to the neighborhood.
Ann May Woodward, executive director of the Scrap Exchange, envisions the area as a reuse district, modeled on one in New Orleans, with artists' studios, pop-up stores, woodworking and welding shops. A sculpture park, shipping container mall, community garden and basketball goals could also attract visitors from throughout Durham.
Woodward also wants to create jobs by hiring people from the neighborhood. While Forest Hills, a wealthy area, is just a half-mile away, working- and middle-class neighborhoods directly abut the shopping center. Encouraging and teaching people how to make items—whether it's art from the hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film or clothing from the acres of fabric the Scrap carries—diverts tons of trash from the landfill. That also fulfills the Scrap's environmental mission.
"I like places that engage the community," Woodward says. "And we're perpetuating self-reliance. We're trained to be the ultimate consumers but we're going against the grain."
The shopping center itself runs against the retail grain. Traditional stores—the Best Buys of the world, which prefer the suburbs—aren't going to locate in Lakewood. Instead, says Brad Bowman. president of First Federal Properties, which manages the part of the shopping center north of Food Lion, "we see tenants that would have good synergy with the Scrap Exchange. A microbrewery, an ethnic marketplace with foods and spices from all over the world. The tenants here would be local. The Scrap Exchange adds stability."
Scrap Exchange bought its building, a former cinema, from First Federal. (Food Lion and points south are owned by a different company). But the rents for the rest of the strip mall are cheap, just $7.50 a square foot, half or a third of the rates downtown. "We're looking for people like Ann [Woodward] with vision," Bowman says, "and it's hard for many people to see that vision."
The low rents in the shopping center and in adjacent properties have fostered new businesses. Inside a quirky building across the street from the shopping center, Maggie Smith owns a small business, Pine State Flowers, which specializes in locally grown plants.
"The main thing is I want to revitalize this building as much as it can be and to support the local flower economy," Smith says. "I love being in this neighborhood."
Earlier this year, Pine State Flowers hosted a community dinner and Love Song Karaoke. Smith sees the shop also as a gathering place, a spot where a pot of coffee is always on, and people could sit outside near the community garden and read the paper.
"I want for people to come here and enjoy coming here," she says. "I want to have a place to interact with each other."
The fear, and it's a legitimate one, is that as people discover—or rediscover—Lakewood, it could become like the north side of downtown: Gentrified.
"Property values go up and people of color get excluded," Smith says. "It's really important that doesn't happen in Lakewood."
A member of the Scrap board of directors, Ethel Simonetti co-owns the Tuba Exchange and has lived in Lakewood since 1974. She's witnessed the last 40 years of the neighborhood's history from her shop at the corner of Dean Street and Chapel Hill Road. Twenty years ago, the shopping center had restaurants, a drug store and a coffee kiosk. Over time, those businesses left, for downtown, Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, the southern suburbs.
Simonetti says maintaining the balance of longtime residents and newcomers—which the Scrap Exchange can foster—is key to thwarting the gentrification that is undermining other neighborhoods. "We want to keep institutional memory and not just high-end housing," she says. "The whole thing with the Scrap is that it's nice to see people walking down the hill with their families. Young people, old people, the community."
Happenings at the Scrap Exchange
WHAT: Grand opening celebration of the Scrap Exchange
WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 5, noon–7 p.m.
WHERE: 2050 Chapel Hill Road, Durham
WHAT ELSE? Children's TV personality Willa Brigham will emcee the festivities, which include a ribbon-cutting ceremony with State Sen. Mike Woodard and his wife, Sarah, at 1 p.m. The Bulltown Strutters will lead a parade through the facility; artist demos. plus free art-making in the Make-n-Take Room. Plus, Don't Waste Durham's first trash-free food truck rodeo, Junk Jams, live music from local bands and a fund-raising raffle to win a Naked Elf car.
HOW MUCH: FreeLakewood: what's in store?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Lakewood: what's in store?."