Rumblings at Eastgate?

The CH Herald reports that Somerhill Gallery's lease has been terminated: Owner Joe Rowand received a notice that his lease was being terminated by center owner Federal Realty two weeks ago. "There was no rationale given," Rowand said Tuesday of the notice, which gave him 45 days to vacate the location. "It was a three-paragraph notice of termination. If you dig deeper, there are other merchants here that have been told they are not being renewed."

Is the implication that Federal Realty, having upgraded the mall area, now wants to churn the tenant population to charge higher rent? Anyone know any thing about this? Aside from my own admiration of Somerhill and my feeling that it's an asset to both mall and town, I have to wonder about efforts to change the nature of Eastgate in a volatile and perhaps failing economy. Has Federal Realty not noticed the unoccupied spaces on Franklin St. and University Mall?



At this time when a lot of us have concerns about the potential impacts of another mega mall at Buckhorn Village, Eastgate mall is an interesting study in what can happen to a strip mall when an anchor store pulls out. I'd like to see some data on how much business the other stores at Eastgate lost when Southern Seasons moved. Then for awhile, Eastgate and Federal Investments were listing Earthfare and Steinmart as anchor stores.

I never did really understand why NC based Earthfare, which featured at least some locally produced foods and rarely had the terrible crowding and lines of the nearby Whole Foods didn't do better than it did at Eastgate. But, it's gone, (one of the only examples of an Earthfare closing that I know of), and in it's place is a Trader Joe's that features low cost foods imported from thousands of miles away. I'm not sure what all that says about the real commitment of Chapel Hillians to buy local. But, it's disturbing to see more and more of these malls that for whatever reason can't seem to keep the smaller, locally owned and serviced businesses giving way to more big box import stores.

It's this kind of thing that I think about when I think of building a whole mall around the idea of a big box anchor store, such as was done with the original Walmart in Hillsborough. What happens when the big box store leaves for whatever reason? In the Hillsborough example, and to some extent in a lot of these older examples, the result is lots and lots of unused space that frequently just sits unused, or under used for years.

I certainly hope that the respective commissioners and planners take all this into account before assuming that more malls are the answer.

Sorry, but comparing Earth Fare to Trader Joe's is about like comparing a Chevette to an Alfa Romeo. The similarities stop at: they both have engines and 4 wheels...

As for the overall topic, I mourned the loss of Play-It-Again Sports to Durham. They ran them out too...

I think Federal Realty is doing a great job of turning Eastgate into a ghost town in about 3 years when all of these silly stores they bring in close up shop.

The barber I go to and the Bagel place seem to be faring well and Sal's has a loyal following, but your basic assumption is correct that most of the existing tenants from before Southern Season left are gone...

--Freedom is not just another word

Earthfare was basically a Whole Food's clone with nothing to differentiate it, from product, look and feel, to pricing. It is not surprising that it had trouble competing. When ever I went in to Earthfare it was mainly empty. They need to be someplace where there is no Whole Foods, but they saw fit to locate around the corner from Whole Foods. A big mistake.

Trader Joe's is a distinctly different animal, from the time you walk in to the time you walk out. I predict it will do very well even steal some business from Whole Foods and A Southern Season.

I would buy TJ's stock but they are privately owned.

I shop all three stores or with Weaver Street all four stores. And if you include Chatham Market Place, all five stores. The Chatham Market Place hot bar rocks.

First, my bias: I grew up outside of Asheville. Earth Fare is by far the best grocery store we had back there, with the Co-op routinely lacking, and other stores either overpriced or absent of local fare. I like that if I bought herbs, I knew where they grew up - in fact, I spent some of my childhood running through those greenhouses playing tag at potlucks back in WNC.

That said, there is a long standing rumor that in recent years, Earth Fare has been trying to position itself to be bought out by Whole Foods. The Eastgate store isn't the only example of strategic placement. When they first opened here, everyone figured that they must have done some pretty comprehensive market research to assume that they could open just a stone's throw away from another natural foods store. Since Whole Foods has managed to buy up or merge with a good number of their competitors through the years, it probably wasn't a bad gamble from the business's point of view.

I'll set my personal opinions on the ethics of the whole mess aside for a moment, and just say that despite some misgivings, I still do 80-90% of my shopping at Weaver Street. Eastgate/UMall were only attractive options to me when they were a quicker (and less steep) bike ride than the Weave' - in my humble opinion, that whole triangle between Franklin, 15-501, and Estes is ripe for a complete redevelopment.

The Eastgate area should be turned into a lake with an amphitheater and some discriminately chosen shops & restaurants. This would not only add a great feature to the community, it would also exhume Bolin Creek and prevent future flooding in that area.
Booker Creek.

Mike,  I understand your concern, but I might look at your point another way---look at how successful local businesses were at Eastgate because of the presence of an anchor tenant.  It's a tested and proven model that a strong regional or national tenant drives traffic that supports locally owned businesses in the same center--businesses that might not be strong enough to act as their own destination point.     


Anita, that's one of the reasons why I've been saying that if Buckhorn Village gets built, it needs to include a regional farmer's market, a restaurant featuring locally produced foods, and an artist gallery featuring local arts and crafts. These would be mutually beneficial to the developers and to the locals, and would draw repeat customers while still keeping some money from the project in local control.

The idea of a giant anchor store seems to drive these projects, and to some degree that's understandable, but the big box retailers from out of state selling goods imported from around the globe really don't do all that much for the local economy other than serve as magnets to attract people to other businesses, and *sometimes* provide tax revenues. (Though Cabela's is notorious for negotiating to keep sales tax, and that's one of the big box import resellers that's being discussed for Buckhorn Village.)

Personally, I think the model of the big box store that draws people from all around will be in serious trouble just as soon as the cost of fuel and energy takes it's toll on recreational consumerism. That will force relocalization and a renewed focus on regional sufficiency. But, that mindset is still in it's infancy. In the meantime, I think it imperative to really look at what would be of long standing value to the local economy even if the big box anchor store were to pull out at some time in the future.

I can remember a time before the mall; we east-siders used to fly kites on that dusty plain that seemed too low to build upon. But Eastgate was starting when I first visited my girlfriend (my spouse of 47 years) in 62. The space now known as Ram Plaza (as difficult to maintain as Eastgate) was a drive-in movie and the space now occupied by the Holiday Inn was a college hang-out much like The Shack.

But when we moved to Chapel Hill from Indiana in 65 (the Indiana years considered by my spouse to be her service in hell) Eastgate was already in its pattern of temporary stores (who knew that tiny little shop on the edge called A Southern Season would make it) and flood prone parking. Sals was there when I arrived and I long ago named one of my arteries after them. The guys at Eastgate Barber have been the sustainer of my hair (that's singular) forever.

Like the tide, Eastgate has begged and booted stores. I have an old friend who has been an investor in Eastgate and there is no doubt that Federal Realty is tone deaf in its desperation to make the shopping center profitable and stable. They have had water adventures to match the 9th ward. When things look good Federal wants to be upscale and they start booting; when things look bad (the exodus of A Southern Season seemed fatal) Federal begs the shops to stay.  What else is new?

Trader Joe''s has brought hope to Federal so adios Somerhill. "What have you done for me recently?" Had good times prevailed in Hillsborough you would see the old shops of Daniel Boone being assisted out the door.

Is there any shopping center in Orange County to match the prosperity of New Hope Commons and Southpointe? We have a store here and there (Whole Foods, A Southern Season, Weaver Street, etc) but all the "centers" are suffering, most famously including the center of our town.

Landlords are and will be landlords.

"But Eastgate was starting when I first visited my girlfriend (my spouse of 47 years) in 62."

Roscoe, this is remarkable, you married your wife a year before meeting her.  Perhaps some Asian custom?

on a more serious note, my first two memories of Eastgate are getting pulled for speeding on East Franklin right at the Eastgate entrance in 1969, and eating at Mariakakas on the 15-501 border of Eastgate that same year.  Everyone called it "Ptomaine Tommy's" 

Gads, maybe it only seems like I married her before I met her......but I was from Indiana, not India.  The year was 61, not bad......yes, I married her the same year I visited her first in Chapel Hill, but we had gone to the same college in 1957.

Tom Mariakakas was a - albeit crabby - treasure; and it was he that got me addicted to double-the-cheese-double-the-sausage pizza before Sals came along. Eastgate Amoco (over the creek) took care of my cars and was owned by Jesse Page, as right-wing as the other Jesse.

Gerry, my first NC traffic ticket was given to me in front of Mariakakas's when I, with hot pizza on the front seat, ran the stop sign to get back on 15-501 (known as the "bypass" rather than Fordham Blvd).


Growing up in the Lake Forest area, Eastgate was the place to see and be seen ! Woods Five and Dime, the A&P grocery, Eastgate Hardware, the barber, the bank, three service stations, I can't recall the name of the surplus store there, but that guy would give you some deals ! As kids we would always talk about monkey wrenching the dam at Grandma's Lake (Lake Forest) and washing Eastgate away ! One day I'm going to put on my headlamp and spelunk the creek tunnel from one end to the other, don't tell Federal !  

Mike,  that is a great idea for Buckhorn, and I think everybody would like that.  Can I just think out loud for a moment as someone who has been involved in both development and leasing of commercial space--though not nearly on a scale like Buckhorn or even Eastgate.   

 A developer or commercial property owner  cannot guarantee what kinds of tenants will eventually occupy his space.   He can tell you what kind of center he "thematically" wants, or wants in principle, but at the end of the day the developer  provides a space, does his best to recruit the tenant mix he wants,  and works to make the deal.   The tenant may turn down the space and go elsewhere.  At which point the developer will look at another tenant. 

It's sort of like buying a house---you give an offer with earnest money, and if the seller accepts it, they have to take that house off the market to other people.   You're not going to give an offer until you are pretty sure that's the house you want, at the price you want, and that you can afford it.  The seller isn't going to take your offer until he's pretty  sure that the terms and conditions are the best he's going to get and that the deal isn't going to fall through because of some conditions in the contract.     Everybody involved has a lot of contingencies that have to work for the deal to work.  

In the case of Buckhorn, If you're the buyer (tenant) ,  are you going to tie up your credit, your earnest money and your ability to buy another house to put an offer in on a house that isn't built and that you have no guarantee will be built by the time you need it?     The seller won't be able to quote you a price until he knows what the permits will require him to do--pave your driveway or leave it gravel?  Put hurricane tie downs on it or not?  Put curbs and gutters or not?  put in a spray septic, regular septic, or sewer?   How can the seller possibly tell you who's buying the house when he can't tell the house buyer what he's buying? 

 if you're the house seller (developer), are you going to be comfortable being told that you have to sell your house to only this type of buyer because "we"  want a certain mix of homeowners in this development?  What if there aren't any of those particular buyers interested in your neighborhood?  Are you going to be OK with not selling your house at all, or selling it way below what someone might offer you,  because some homeowners assocation or other regulatory entity  put this kind of limitation on you?   What if the person you have to sell the house to can barely afford it and you're being asked to finance it--should you be required to sell to this guy rather than one who is a better credit risk?  

I'm using a bit of an absurd example, but I think it illustrates the point.   If we want to get to solutions,  I think it's important to understand the realities that everyone faces in this transaction.    My example is valid (with some latitude)   for both Buckhorn and Eastgate--the only difference being that Eastgate is built, so a potential tenant at least sees what he's leasing. 

 And if you are the seller and don't understand a good deal when you see it, well then, you're the one who'll get the bad debt calls and is it the role of regulatory entities to protect you from your own lack of business acumen?   Sometimes you make a choice and it's the wrong one. 

Of course this information only matters if you want a transaction to occur in the first place.  

Anita, I realize all that. But, don't most of those objections tend to go away if either the county or the NCDA commit to running the market long term? I don't think it's too much to ask of a developer of a project of this scale to provide some regular benefit to the surrounding community that is certain to be affected by the radical increase in traffic. A farmer's market in between the NCDA markets in Raleigh and the Piedmont Triad would partially address that.

Now, having said that, I do believe that producer run markets tend to be more beneficial to the growers since the producer run markets tend to cut out the middlemen and eliminate the truck farm resellers. But, the caveat is that small groups of growers rarely have the capital to establish a market space. Whereas, it would be relatively trivial for the developers of such a massive project as Buckhorn Village to make a nice permanent covered shelter with electricity and a retail center. What fraction of the overall budget would that even entail?

As near as I can tell, there are over a hundred market growers within a 20 mile radius of Buckhorn, and yet there is no daily market in the area.

As Chapel Hill and Carrboro try to place themselves as "arts towns" and build a creative economy, a landlord essentially evicts one of the Southeast's leading art galleries.

Somerhill, open for over a quarter of a century, has a national reputation.

I hope both towns work hard to find a suitable relocation spot. The interior of that space was pretty amazing. And galleries do need parking. (People do not move sculpture on the bus or their bicycle.)

I like the Southern Season anchored U Mall. While there's always been turnover, there are also local businesses that have been there for decades - like Camerons and the Children's Store and the kitchen place and the lingerie place and Minata.


I am no fan of Federal Realty. I am also an avid sports person and unapologetically a sports shopaholic.

When Federal Realty forced out Play-It-Again Sports forcing them to move up 15-501 to the new shopping center, I was upset. Checking around, Play-It-Again tried to find another location in Chapel Hill. They were shut down.

Apparently, many Chapel Hill landlords have no use for local businesses. I have to admit complete ignorance to the merits of the Somerhill Gallery. It isn't my cup-of-tea...

But I find this a disturbing pattern where large, out-of-town landlords and big corporations are pushing out locally-owned and/or operated companies that do not fit Chapel Hill's perceived demographic.

I am not sure if it is spoken for, but the empty Applebees has all of the elements a gallery could use and a prominent location that would showcase the works of art.

The bottom line to me is that as Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough continue to become destinations, we have to fight to keep the things that make us unique.

On the surface, Somerhill and Play It Again Sports could not be more different. However, let's not ignore the similarities and see if we can guess the next target. I have said it before (and Franklin before me), "We must all hang together or we will all hang separately."

Both businesses served a small, but devoted following. Both are being forced out to bring in businesses that appeal to the perceived need for more elite shopping opportunities for suburban house husbands and wives.

As someone who plays sports, I mourned the loss of Play It Again to Durham. As a Chapel Hillian, I mourn the loss of Somerhill. Not because, I have ever set foot in it. I haven't.

I mourn the loss of Somerhil because it is one more part of what makes us unique lost to mass popular culture.


--Freedom is not just another word


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