The business scene on Tate Street looks tougher today than it has in many years. Seven of the 27 storefronts are empty. Some had been pillars of the business district for 20, 30 or even 60 years. The biggest store on Tate has been dark for two years.
The business district has been pretty resilient for decades. Over the past 25 years or so, at least, the occupancy rate has consistently been zero or close to it. There has always been turnover, but new businesses have kept replacing the ones that failed or left. Now the closings are outrunning the openings.
In recent weeks, three restaurants have closed in rapid succession: Los Cabos, Taste frozen yoghurt and Thai Garden. Also empty are the former locations of Addams bookstore, the leasing office for an apartment complex, The Scene (and Maya Art Gallery most recently before that) and the University Laundry.
An additional element of uncertainty is the pending sale of New York Pizza. Triad City Beat reported in December that the business was for sale and a buyer had been found. There was no information about whether the business would remain as it is or become something different. NYP has occupied Tate Street’s most prominent location, a corner at Walker Avenue, since 1977.
The news isn’t all bad, though. In recent years, Tate Street has attracted a local chain, East Coast Wings, and another national one, Chipotle. When India Palace closed last summer, a Pakistani and Indian restaurant, Cafe Mirchi, opened right away.
Several longtime businesses appear to be rolling right along, including the College Mart, FedEx Office, Manhattan Pizza and Subs, Leon’s, Sisters, Subway and Tate Street Coffee House. Sisters is the newest of that group, and they’ve been in business for 19 years. Wear Yours hasn’t been around quite that long; it, too, seems to be thriving.
Some of the newer restaurants are doing well. Sushi Republic started in a small Tate Street location, moved to a bigger one several years ago and then opened a successful new restaurant where it had been. Boba House, China Wok, Coffeeology, Jimmy John’s and Slices all have survived the treacherous early years of new businesses.
All you can eat
Renovation is already under way at the former Los Cabos, and there’s a sign up for a Smoothie King location in one empty storefront (though it has been there now for months with no further progress).
But … about those restaurants. There had been 17 of them before the three recent closings. How many restaurants can Tate Street support? Perhaps less than 17. Unfortunately, that seems to be the type of business that works best on Tate Street, since many storefronts having no parking of their own. There aren’t that many other types of businesses that rely on customers walking in.
Losing two of Tate Street’s oldest businesses is especially problematic. It’s one thing for new businesses to close. The failure rate for start-ups is high everywhere, and there’s no reason why Tate Street should be an exception. That hasn’t been a problem, though, partly because there have been so many long-established stores and restaurants anchoring the business district.
But when you lose Thai Garden after 20 years, Addams after 30 years or more and The Corner after 60 years, the stability of the business district takes a serious hit. One business, Taste, has already failed in The Corner’s old location since it closed five years ago. The Addams location has been empty since the bookstore left two years ago. Originally a movie theater, it may be the largest storefront on Tate Street.
The challenges of Tate Street
The closings of Addams and The Corner weren’t caused by the dynamics of Tate Street. Addams was killed by the Internet. The proprietor of The Corner retired after decades of sitting at the cash register.
The difficulty in filling those two storefronts, though, is a Tate Street issue. There may still be too many restaurants for all of them to survive. Besides, what else is there to try? There are already five Asian restaurants, three pizza places, two sub shops, and two coffee houses. There have been two Mexican restaurants, neither of which lasted very long. Taste followed the path of Ben & Jerry’s, which had a brief run in the ’90s. There was even a tiny little Burger King for a couple years.
So many things have been tried. Movie theaters and bookstores are things of the past. Various types of retail have come and mostly gone, including two record stores, back when record stores existed. Two tanning salons have had short lives on Tate Street. Laundromat, pool hall, even a fitness place once, all closed.
There’s been a lot of talk in the news media in recent years about Greensboro’s entrepreneurial community. Tate Street would be a great place for them to focus some attention.