Donnabeth Leffler

Greetings!

 During the past week or so, I’ve been in two drugstores. Both times someone called out to me with a hearty “Welcome to _______.” It happened again when I stopped in a home improvement store.   It seems the Walmart greeter idea has spread. I was going to say it’s become contagious but that would be a less-than-subtle way of sharing my opinion of this practice. Don’t get me wrong; I adore good customer service. But I think some/many stores of all types and sizes are using the welcome instead of providing the type of help a customer really needs. When I walk into a store, I’m thinking about the errand I need to do. Once I circle around the item I need, that’s when I may need someone to help me. Typically, that’s also when no one is around. I’ve begun to feel that the greeter is designed to trick me into thinking the store is providing customer service when really it’s a personnel version of lip service.  I do admit to a lack of consistency on this topic, as I also don’t like being ignored. So, what do I want?  ·      I want a salesperson to notice when I’m scanning a section and then to ask me if I need help.  ·      I want someone to say “Let me know if you need help” and then I want to be able to find that person when...

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Filling the Border(s)

You know that 25,000+ square feet of empty retail space we used to call Borders? Well, we may soon be calling it something else! Joe Mendola, property manager with Tri-City, Inc. tells this Savvy Spender that he’s in serious talks with three different tenants and there’s a possibility a fourth will enter the picture.  Not surprisingly, he is hoping to fill the spot ASAP but he says that making a good deal is important, determining “the best mix with (current tenant and neighboring store) Lowe’s” will help drive the deal. Also not surprisingly, Mr. Mendola wouldn’t share the names of the possible tenants amid negotiations but he did tell me they are largely “regional or national” retail stores.  Hoping to live up to the savvy part of my title, I did try a bit of begging to get him to tell me the type of retail. Mr. Mendola has quite a sense of humor because he came back with an answer that sounded something like “the kind that sells things”. Ouch! No matter, I had to try to find out!   He was kind enough to assure me he’d let me know as soon as he had a firm deal with a tenant. One other tidbit is that the space won’t be subdivided because it’s “too expensive to subdivide a space that size.”   Which leaves us knowing only that Chapel Hill will likely soon...

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Open for Business

When I first started writing this column, I sent the Chapelboro honchos a very brief bio. When asked to expand it I added that I chose to cover business from the consumer perspective because, here, business is public policy more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived (and that’s not a few places!).   In my quest to be your fully informed Savvy Spender, I’ve been pestering a few of our local notables to educate me. Two very busy gentlemen made time for me this week and I’d like to thank them: Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s Economic Development Officer and Jim Norton, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.    I started by understanding the tug-of-war this town faces between the downside of the reliance on residential property taxes and the desire to keep the low-key charm of a town not teeming with commercial development. That’s a tension that plays out many places but here; it just seemed… well… more tense.   When I heard or read about Chapel Hill’s so-called resistance to business, I didn’t really understand how that manifested or if it really did. Turns out time and effort = $$ and the town has for years had a permitting process for all commercial development that had a chilling effect on business growth, if not an actual deterrent.   Well, there’s a change afoot! This week the town announced a one night, multi-board...

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The Grocery Gavotte

Forget the government’s new pie-shaped food guide; I’m still living by the pyramid. Well, mine is more of a triangle and it doesn’t represent food groups in the way nutritionists hope it does. Mine is a triangle that moves between Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter and back again. There are some side trips: Farmers’ Markets, The Meat House and Cliffs, some lovely bakeries, to Southern Season for extra-special goodies, to Costco for less-costly sparkling water by the case. But mostly, I tour my main triangle because someone in my family wants a yogurt only sold at Whole Foods. Someone else will perish without Trader Joe’s Corn Salsa (that would be me!), staples and pantry basics frequently come from Harris Teeter in the way I’ve always patronized a traditional grocery store.  Part of me balks at this because I feel like a gerbil on a wheel, never completing a task. Part of me longs for the one-stop shopping that was the only option when I was a child at the table. It has become sort of like the first piece of dirty clothing in the newly-empty laundry basket or the first used fork in the dishwasher: a never-ending source of house-management drudgery. In fact, it’s become a joke in our home:  Me: “I’m off to __________, do you need anything?” Spouse or Child: “Not until after you get back.” Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha...

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Meeting The Meat House: A New Business Owner Profile

 As your Savvy Spender, I sometimes want to know the story behind a place where I might do some of that savvy spending.  This made me interested in the new store on Franklin: The Meat House.   Getting to know new business owners is part of my mission here on Chapelboro.com so I pulled up one hot morning and entered a protein paradise! Paul and Donna Coon moved here a little over a year ago from New Hampshire (brrr) when Donna had the opportunity to relocate for her job in textbook sales.  Paul had spent many years in corporate engineering and had been contemplating a change and was investigating franchises.  While they were discussing all this, they had to eat.  Where did they shop in chilly New Hampshire?  Frequently it was at The Meat House.  As customers they appreciated the product and how they were treated and another sort of marriage was born. Living the corporate life, the Coons had moved before and had even lived in NC before: Charlotte and Winston-Salem.  But when they had a choice they picked the BEST part- right here! The idea behind The Meat House is that it offers “one-stop shopping for a meal”.  From freshly butchered meats to pre-packed portions, the various meat and chicken options are available marinated or ready for your own recipe.  Side dishes and sauces are also sold. The...

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A Business Owner's Return to his Roots

As your Savvy Spender, I plan to report on new businesses sprouting up in our midst and also those that close.  There’s another category of interest also: when an established business changes hands. I recently sat down to chat with the new owner of one such business.  Though he’s new neither to Chapel Hill nor to the type of business he now owns.     Kevin McManus is a Chapel Hill native who recently purchased the women’s health club in Ram’s Plaza.  Previously known as Ladies Fitness & Wellness; he has renamed it Women’s Only Workout.  As Kevin admits, this allowed him to use the acronym WOW. Kevin grew up in Chapel Hill and returned a few years ago to help his ailing mother.  He had owned a women’s gym in Durham years before but had left that business and moved away, saying he’d “never again” own his own business.  Well, apparently you can go home again because McManus has not only returned to his hometown, but also returned to being a small business owner.  His personal reasons explain the former so I asked him to explain the rest.    He had been working for a multi-state health club company and found he learned a lot about his (in)tolerance of the politics of a big company and that he can “work better for myself than I do for other people”. Kevin...

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BUY LOCAL: A 2-Way Street?

 I really believe in trying to spend my money locally.  I don’t always do so but I really do try.  And this is true not only for goods, but services as well.  I look at it as sort of part of a public service that benefits all if we help each other. The benefit accrues to us with more money for schools and government services and the bettering of those keeps home values as high as possible. Simply said, I feel it is my obligation (and frequently my delight) to support local businesses.  But I had an experience recently that made me wonder if a local business feels any obligation to support its customers. It started while I was reading my colleague Jan Bolick’s “Good Business” post on UNC turning around a bad situation to make things right.  I was reading it while waiting for a service call.  You guessed right.  I could have read it several more times and with all compliments to Jan, I did have other things to do that day.  Not only did no one from the business show up, no one called, texted or emailed.  A returned call the next morning to my after-hours voicemails informed me the service folks were at an emergency call and didn’t have my number in their truck.  They did have a name and address, I pointed out.  I...

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Changes in Store (sorry!) at Carr Mill Mall

We’ve been hearing about changes at Carr Mill Mall in bits and pieces:  Fleet Feet left for elsewhere in Carrboro (as reported by the WCHL News team at the end of April), and a few weeks ago I mentioned the upcoming move by Jewelworks to University Mall. Manager Nathan Milian told me there’s also news about what’s moving in to Carr Mill.  A card and gift shop is almost ready to announce its arrival.  So close that Milian felt comfortable sharing the type of store, if not yet its name.  As for a replacement for Fleet Feet?  He would say only that talks are in the works with a possible new tenant for the space Fleet Feet outgrew.  Fleet Feet co-owner (with his wife Tricia), Brian White told me Carr Mill had been good to them but options to expand seemed to be “like putting a Band-Aid on a bigger problem”.  Jewelworks owner Rod Chambers says he’s also getting more space with his move to University Mall, planning to approximately double in size.  He’s also quite excited about the specifics of his new location: next to the very popular A Southern Season.   At University Mall, though, Jewelworks will be joining a few other jewelry stores including Gerry & Co. and Wentworth & Sloan.  Chambers also faces competition from other stores also carrying jewelry including Cameron’s and Dillard’s and several...

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Moms as An Economic Engine

This time I’m going to veer off the shopping experience to discuss what I believe is hidden economic engine in our towns… and one that honors Mother’s Day.  Wait until you read how I tie those two together!    I have lived many places both in this country (small, medium and large towns) and abroad and no other locale has had such an abundance of highly-educated, high-achieving stay-at-home moms.  I have been slightly obsessed with this since I did a project a few years ago that led me to coin the term SWAT Moms:  Smart Women with Available Time.  How Chapelboro has become home to so many SWAT Moms is somewhat clear:  Smart people are drawn to our community thanks to UNC and to all the other smart people here.  Also, with our cost of living still reasonable compared with a place like Berkeley, the need for double-income families is lower here. What I can’t figure out is what we can do with all this talent.  I don’t pretend to speak (write) for everyone in this category and I’m also asking the following questions in a big picture way because I don’t mean to suggest or even infer that SWATs should work if they don’t want or need to. We have a stalled economy and though we are better off here than in many other places, recovery would be...

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J.Crew and University Mall

Remember these crowds from over the winter? These are people lined up to spend money in our University Mall! With no more drugstore, rumors of Dillard’s leaving, the departure of the Children’s Store, people whispered and railed that the mall had too little to offer. What then were all these people doing there? The shopping throngs above are waiting to spend $$ in University Mall… in Chapel Hill… and their collected sales tax will go to Orange County! What? Is this some sort of parallel universe? No, it’s a J.Crew warehouse sale – a “pop-up” sale in that it...

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