Feb 21, 2024 - Business

The cost of a cup of coffee on Beatties Ford Road

Men around a table at a coffee shop

Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Many franchises tell local developer Chris Dennis "not yet" to the idea of setting up shop in the Beatties Ford Road area.

Zoom in: Dennis owns and flipped two commercial strip buildings on Beatties Ford, which connects several historically Black neighborhoods.

  • He says he's talked to various businesses, including Starbucks and Jersey Mike's, about signing leases. For different reasons, they haven't come.

Why it matters: It's a complicated time for the Beatties Ford corridor. The area has lagged economically ever since it was cut off from the rest of the city by highway construction decades ago.

  • Today there's momentum to turn it into a place of opportunity for long-time residents. The city is investing millions into various projects in the area as part of its "corridors of opportunity" program.
  • That mission is conflicted by fear that gentrification will push residents out first.
  • A Starbucks chain opening may appear to some as a sign of economic prosperity. Others would interpret it as a warning the longstanding community is dwindling.

Yes, but: Some businesses are more valuable to a community than a Starbucks. Take Archive coffee shop, for instance.

  • Inside, an old Harvey Gantt campaign sign hangs on the wall, next to Ebony covers and portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. It's a place where community leaders, especially those of color, meet and engage in meaningful conversations.

Between the lines: Archive is a distinct, community-centric concept. It sells a $7 coffee (and runs out) in a neighborhood where people thought that would never be possible.

  • Owner Cheryse Terry tells me one potential investor told her they'd only invest if she'd moved locations because of the narrative around crime. But she says there's crime all over Charlotte.
  • "I only wanted my business on Beatties Ford Road because I'm from this side of town," she says. "I didn't have any fear."
  • Not all are happy to see those price points, but Terry says Archive's prices are comparable to any other coffee shop in Charlotte. And it's successful, bringing people far and wide.

Another local success: Mackins Bridal Boutique, which sells wedding gowns for thousands of dollars on Beatties Ford.

  • Owner Tracie Mackins didn't think twice about opening her store in the neighborhood. It's the same space her godparents used to run a beauty salon.

Driving the news: At the coffee shop after hours last week, I listened in on a conversation with Dennis and a couple of entrepreneurs — two Black men with business ideas who had yet to leap. Dennis says he wants to talk more about what makes a thriving storefront in west Charlotte.

  • "If we don't get this right," he says," we end up with a CBD lab and an arcade."

Clement McKinley, who tells the group he grew up down the street from the cafe, pitches an idea he's mulled for over a decade: a restaurant that fuses food and music, highlighting up-and-coming guest artists and chefs and giving them space to experiment.

"We always have to either move away or somebody has to move in for the community that you grew up in to have value," McKinley says. "Why do we have to leave?"

What they're saying: But McKinley has to consider how to make his business viable. Just considering the price of a pizza slice — or a coffee — is a debate at Archive on this night.

  • The conversation underscores one of Beatties Ford's biggest and newest challenges: How do you embrace the changing demographics to make a profit while respecting the existing community?

Zoom out: Community members like Dennis have bought up real estate along the corridor over the past several years.

  • Erika Troutman bought a small house at 1202 Beatties Ford Road. Inside, she rents space to Black and female-owned businesses to help them grow their clientele so they can establish a standalone presence in the neighborhood.
  • Dianna Ward has injected a fresh vibrancy to 1800 Rozzelles Ferry Road, a colorful building next to a public plaza. She's brought on family-friendly and affordable tenants, like Rita's Ice.

What's next: Dennis plans to continue hosting coffee conversations for prospective entrepreneurs. He aims to build their confidence, break through barriers and flesh out business ideas that make sense in the community.

  • "We always have to be the change that we want to see," Terry says.
  • She notes Beatties Ford Road has been home to countless Black establishments, from churches and schools to the famed Excelsior Club to salons like the ones the Mackins' godparents once owned.
  • "It takes everybody to change the narrative and restore what once was," she adds.
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