Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salty-sweet economics: comparing Second Helping and a certain 24-hour bohemian coffee shop

In a tiny storefront in a small strip shopping cluster on Central Avenue, workers at Second Helping Charlotte hustled all day Friday to serve a crush of customers.

A volunteer from the nearby Merry Oaks neighborhood took phone orders. One employee struggled to increase her speed at the register. A bit of media coverage and a boost from social media bumped up business at the carryout restaurant that serves home-style food like fried chicken, meatloaf and desserts from Neet's Sweets. The leaders of the carryout and catering business had spread the word that the storefront just wasn't bringing in enough cash. Closing loomed.

Second Helping was started to employ women who had been incarcerated - those who faced huge obstacles to employment. So a closing meant the loss of jobs for people who had few other choices.

The higher social purpose spurred neighbors in Plaza Midwood and Merry Oaks to help - through social media, with food purchases or by giving time on site taking phone orders.

That's not an uncommon story. Why it matters now is that the surge of business fell on the same day that a beloved bohemian Charlotte coffee spot faced a social-media assault. One former worker shared a tale of perceived wage theft and time-clock shenanigans, and word again spread through Facebook, Reddit and Twitter. Other former employees joined the pile-on. Some loyal customers said they planned to avoid the coffee shop until labor questions were resolved.

The coffee shop responded late Saturday night with a Google document shared on Facebook. It tried to walk the fine line between defending itself and not commenting on a "personnel matter." It failed.

The writer said the business intentionally hired people “who are not otherwise employable,” or as one Reddit commenter called the workers, "alternative people" with tattoos and piercings.

(What exactly are "alternative people?")

By about 9 a.m. Sunday, the coffee shop's defensive post was deleted. That's a good thing, because in light of Second Helping's mission to hire formerly incarcerated women who face true employment obstacles, the words fell flat.

But this isn't a story about crisis communications or the power of social media and local TV coverage. It's a story about a changing economy, where service jobs make up a larger part of the labor force, and where the fight for a living wage has targeted chains like McDonald's and has even become part of North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.

The 24-hour coffee shop and hangout opened in 2008, amid the great economic unpleasantness. By 2011, its staff had grown to 60, and one owner visited the White House to share how it succeeded when other small businesses failed. The hangout space and bohemian environment were key - it created community in a part of town where wages were scarce and time was plentiful. Now, amid economic recovery, it's struggling with scaling up, perhaps even turning into a franchise, without losing ambiance.

One Reddit commenter defended the coffee shop, noting that it paid all employees more than minimum wage and helped with car-repair issues and an eviction problem. The shop had also given to charities without asking for receipts for tax write-offs, the commenter said.

The defense, though, echoed the paternalism of Charlotte's textile-mill past. Good service and a communal environment are hard to scale. Prior goodwill can turn into a negative social-media pile-on in an instant.

The pressure of the price of labor is increasing as North Carolina’s economy recovers. Some policy leaders say we should let Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market determine wages. In more-liberal Raleigh or Chapel Hill, the living-wage concept has spread more broadly, and service-worker pay of $10 an hour - the proposed new federal minimum wage - is common.

In Charlotte, the invisible hand is here, now, and the communication tools of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit speed its effects. That invisible hand includes many customers who support businesses with social purposes like Second Helping. Its storefront grossed $1,200 on Friday, up from an average of $100, not including donations. Those numbers pale compared to the coffee shop, but it's a start.

The beleaguered coffee shop grew in a community that once was a paternalistic mill town, in a city where industry has traditionally kept unions away by treating employees well, at least until the great re-set of recession. As the economy turns, Adam Smith's invisible hand will serve labor as well as business owners. And the often-invisible power of people who care about socially responsible spending has strengthened.

That’s a salty-sweet economic reality. It even helps alternative people.

Want to help?

Second Helping offers carryout at its Central Avenue storefront at 2903 Central Ave. It accepts pre-orders for delivery at several other locations in Charlotte. It’s an LLC formed by nonprofit Changed Choices in Charlotte. A quick look at Changed Choices’ tax forms through Guidestar for 2012 showed no issues with excessive compensation of directors.

Photo courtesy of Second Helping. (I wish I knew the worker's name - if you know it, please let me know.)

Monday, May 07, 2012

North Carolina primary election results 2012

Here are live election results for Mecklenburg County from the Mecklenburg Board of Elections, with results Tuesday night. These numbers include primary results for tthe Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, at large and district races.

Beware: Results listed there for congressional races may be only partial results, for Mecklenburg County only (I'm unsure). Check the full North Carolina results at the next link for races that stretch over more than one county.

Here are live election results from the North Carolina Board of Elections, with results Tuesday night. These results include votes on the North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, as well as primary results for the governor's race, lieutenant governor and council of state.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Charlotte mayor, council and school board elections for 2011: results and research

You can get direct election results from the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections from today's mayor, council and school board races later tonight. Polls close at 7:30 p.m. and results will start showing up almost immediately.

Figuring out who to vote for in the 2011 elections is a little harder. You can check endorsements at The Charlotte Observer. The League of Women Voters has an extensive PDF voter guide that includes candidates for towns in Mecklenburg County.

Try getting your sample ballot from the board of elections before you hit the polls.

Here's a list of more places you can research candidates in the Charlotte elections:, from UNC-TV and the N.C. Center for Voter Education.
Charlotte Observer school board candidate profiles.
Charlotte Observer city council candidate profiles and positions.
Charlotte Observer mayoral candidate profiles and positions.

For the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board race, Lisa Hundley has withdrawn for health reasons, but her name will still appear on the ballot.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

2011 Charlotte early voting for city council and school board

Early voting is open in Mecklenburg County.

You can vote in downtown Charlotte at the Hal Marshall Annex or at various libraries around Charlotte. Merry Oaks voters have choices for Charlotte City Council at large and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.

Hal Marshall is open today, Oct. 29, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 30, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Final early voting day at that location is Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. On weekdays, the annex is open for voting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Nov. 4. Other locations are open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Oct. 30 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Nov. 5, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Other locations:

  • Beatties Ford Road Library,
  • 2412 Beatties Ford Rd., Charlotte
  • Hayes Building (Ballantyne),
  • 11405 N. Community House Rd., Charlotte
  • Independence Regional Library,
  • 6000 Conference Dr., Charlotte
  • Main Branch Library (Downtown),
  • 310 N. Tryon St., Charlotte
  • Matthews Branch Library,
  • 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews
  • Morrison Regional Library,
  • 7015 Morrison Blvd., Charlotte
  • Mountain Island Library,
  • 4420 Hoyt Galvin Way, Charlotte
  • North County Regional Library,
  • 16500 Holly Crest Ln., Huntersville
  • South County Regional Library,
  • 5801 Rea Rd., Charlotte
  • Steele Creek Library,
  • 13620 Steele Creek Rd., Charlotte
  • University City Regional Library,
  • 301 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., Charlotte
  • West Boulevard Library,
  • 2157 West Blvd., Charlotte

Candidates' backgrounds
The Charlotte Observer has background about the candidates for Charlotte City Council and Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board. Research here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Charlotte election 2011: Charlotte mayor and city council candidates' forum

From an email from our friends in Coventry Woods, here are the details about Thursday night's candidate forum at Amity Presbyterian Church:

WHAT: Charlotte’s mayoral and at-large City Council candidates in the general election will field questions before the leaders of 17 or more East Charlotte neighborhood and civic organizations.

WHEN: 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Johnson Hall, at Amity Presbyterian Church. The church is on the corner of Pierson Drive and North Sharon Amity Road – on North Sharon Amity between Independence Boulevard and Albemarle Road. The church is easy to spot. Johnson Hall is on Pierson Drive, the side street there. There is ample parking.

The East Charlotte Forum – also held in 2005, 2007 and 2009 – is the prime opportunity for citywide candidates in the general election to answer questions before the leadership and key members of neighborhood groups and other civic associations in East Charlotte. They are among the most influential voters in East Charlotte.

Groups participating include the Coventry Woods, Winterfield, Country Club Heights, Grove Park, Marlwood, Birnam Woods, Windsor Park, Merry Oaks, Brandywine, Shamrock Hills, Eastwood Acres, Idlewild Farms, Ravenwood and Plaza Eastway Partners neighborhood associations; Charlotte East Community Partners (CECP), Eastland Area Strategies Team (EAST) and Eastside Political Action Committee (E-PAC). Additional co-sponsors will be added in follow-up press releases.

This forum offers candidates the opportunity to answer questions of paramount interest to the eastern quarter of the city. The forum, with mayoral and at-large City Council candidates, begins at 7 p.m. sharp. It will last no later than 9 p.m.

At the forum, candidates will be asked identical questions and given an allotted time in which to respond.

The mayoral candidates will be be first. At-large candidates will field questions after the mayoral segment of the evening.

NEW THIS YEAR: This year, an optional after-forum event has been added: At 9 p.m., candidates and those in attendance are invited to continue their meet-and-greet and discussions at Steamer’s Bar & Grill, a family-friendly restaurant and pub several doors down Pierson, between North Sharon Amity and Albemarle. Steamer’s is providing complementary hors d’oeuvres for all who come.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Visual ties to the past for the new Harris Teeter store in Plaza Midwood

The cropped photo at the top by the legendary Jeep Hunter shows the old Plaza movie theater on Central Avenue. It stood next to the First Union bank, now Wachovia, and in its place is a parking lot.

The next image is part of an architect’s rendering of the primary sign at the new Harris Teeter at Central Avenue and the Plaza.

The old photo is likely from about 1986. By that time, the theater was showing second-run movies at cheap prices, aimed at kids during the day and older audiences, let’s say, in the evenings. The strategy didn’t work too well.

Architects for the new Harris Teeter grocery store have used the similar marquee styling, and the main sign at the Teeter is one of the details that requires a rezoning exemption from pedestrian overlay classification. Art deco curving details are also part of the store’s exterior design, emphasizing the sometimes-hidden deco details of Plaza Midwood.

At a neighborhood meeting in June, those architects seemed to think the theater was torn down in the 1970s. I’m sharing here just to correct a bit of history and capture the visual details.

The photo comes from the on-site print archives at The Charlotte Observer. The photo is stamped, “Property of Knight Publishing Company.” Jeep Hunter, the photographer, was inducted into the N.C. Hall of Fame for his photojournalism in 2004. His work spans 60 years, and he is a two-time recipient of the prestigious "Southern Photographer of the Year” award, among others.

I believe much of his work is held by the University of North Carolina, and some is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The uncropped old photo is here too.

(Intent is to further work on neighborhood design and to preserve some history. If anyone would like me to unpublish Jeep’s photo, please let me know.)

More background on the planned new Harris Teeter grocery store.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Harris Teeter Store No. 1 in Plaza Midwood: Details of the makeover

Architects for the makeover of the Harris Teeter at 1704 Central Avenue met Tuesday with a small group of neighbors at Green Memorial Baptist Church

The meeting was one of several community outreach efforts by Harris Teeter as the grocery chain seeks a rezoning of the store property at The Plaza and Central Avenue. The area has a pedestrian overlay zoning classification, and Harris Teeter seeks exemptions from some of those rules.

The store is the first Harris Teeter in Charlotte, opening in 1951 after the Harris Food Store moved from about half a block west, in the heart of old Plaza Midwood. Plans for the new store on the property include a display that tells about the site’s history.

A few random facts from the meeting:

Size: The current store is 28,200 square feet. The new store will be about 51,000 square feet. By comparison, the Cotswold Harris Teeter is 53,000 square feet.

Energy: Inside the store, refrigerated products like butter and cheese will be behind glass doors, rather than in refrigerated tubs, to save energy.

Green roof: The roof the the building will have a large “clear story,” or pop-up area with windows to let in light.
The green roof cover will primarily consist of plants in the sedum family, made up of fleshy, low-growing plants that require little water, withstand heat and sun, and bloom frequently in yellow. The roof will require watering, particularly June through August.
Green roofs help control temperatures in the building and are a bit fire-retardant. The Ritz Hotel in uptown Charlotte has a similar roof.

Coffee: A small coffee shop is planned near the store entrance at the corner of the Plaza and Central Avenue.

Design: The art deco elements of the new store are designed to reflect quite a bit of historical art deco near Plaza Midwood among historical buildings and some that still stand. The store sign will be lit and is one of the elements that requires rezoning approval.

Nearby Teeters: The overlap of customers between the Plaza Midwood Harris Teeter and the “tiny Teeter” at the corner of Providence Road and Queens Road, at 1015 Providence Road, is 36%, said one of the architects who designed the exterior of the Plaza Midwood store. Store leaders are planning to remake the tiny Teeter as well, staggering its renovating with the Plaza Midwood store.

Timing: The expansion will require the removal of some gas tanks at the corner of the Plaza and Central Avenue. Therefore, the earliest that demolition is likely to happen is June 2012, with completion in 2013, but those dates most likely would slide about a year to coordinate with the tiny Teeter’s makeover.

Background on the rezoning request.

Photo: Historic image from Groceteria, edited.