TOPO Distillery Celebrates New Law

Top of the Hill owner Scott Maitland had a lot to celebrate last week.

The same day that his son Andrew was born, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that allows distilleries to sell one bottle of liquor per person, per year

“The final bill passed on Thursday, five minutes after my son was born,” he said. “So I kind of felt like I was giving birth to twins.”

The Top of the Hill distillery on Franklin Street sells craft spirits, such as whiskey, vodka and gin. It is now allowed to sell some of its liquor at the distillery and celebrated with an open house.

The first legal liquor bottle sold outside of the ABC system since 1909 was sold to North Carolina state senator Rick Gunn Thursday morning. Gunn sponsored the bill and helped get it passed.

“We’re super excited,” said TOPO distiller Keith Crissman. “We feel that we now have a chance to get our spirits out to the public”

Before the law was passed, all liquor sales were handled by the ABC commission, meaning anyone wanting to purchase liquor would have to do so at an ABC store.

Despite only being allowed to sell one bottle per person per year, Crissman said he thinks the new laws will make it easier for people to try craft spirits.

“People recognize the quality that craft spirits can bring,” he said. “They maybe want to pick something different than their parents or grandparents drank.”

Maitland said he expects the new laws to help with local tourism because it will make distilleries a more attractive place to visit.

“Whether people are touring breweries, wineries or distilleries, but also diaries, they’ll say ‘hey I can come, I check it out and I can take a bottle home with me’ and that’s a big thing,” he said.

He said he thinks the next logical change is to allow a person to buy one bottle of each product per year, but said after fighting for years to get the current law passed, he would like to take a break and run his business.

For Maitland, the birth of his child and the expansion of his business is something he’s experienced before.

“I got the opportunity to buy (the distillery) right when my daughter was born, so I was reviewing documents while I was feeding her as a week old infant,” he said. “I think it’s really interesting that now Andrew is born and a week later we’re having this event.”

Armed Robbery Reported on Franklin St

Chapel Hill Police are investigating an armed robbery from over the weekend.

A man was robbed at knifepoint early Sunday morning on Franklin Street, according to a report from Chapel Hill Police.

Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says police received a report of the armed robbery just before three o’clock.

“The victim reported that two white males approached him and asked him if he had any drugs,” Mecimore says. “He replied that he didn’t and then they, in his words, began roughing him up, showed a knife and took $350 cash from him.

“It sounds like he spent 30 minutes trying to find them and then eventually came across an officer that was working downtown and reported the robbery.”

The report states the man was assaulted in the alley behind Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub at 206 West Franklin Street.

Mecimore says the victim was unable to provide much more than a vague description of the two suspects beyond that they were white males.

“Early-to-mid 20’s,” Mecimore adds, “both around 5’9” tall, couldn’t give a build or weight, no clothing description on one and then the other was in a blue shirt and blue pants.”

The victim suffered minor injuries, according to the report.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is encouraged to contact Chapel Hill Police.

Demolition at U-Square is Underway

Demolition is underway at the newly-named Carolina Square on Franklin Street.

Meg McGurk, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Parternship, says big changes are coming.

“Those three buildings in the front that are closest to Franklin Street will come down, and then construction of the new buildings will begin.”

For decades the downtown strip mall just west of Colombia Street was known as University Square, then later called 123 West Franklin.

The new Carolina Square will include 246 apartments, 159,000 square feet of office space and 42,000 square feet of retail as well as one acre of green space and a parking deck with 880 spaces.

McGurk says it’s the largest downtown redevelopment in Chapel Hill’s history.

“It’s going to be a dramatic change for our downtown, a vast improvement and a better use for that site, bringing a lot of new businesses and people living and working downtown. So it’s really exciting.”

The project will consist of two six-story buildings and one ten-story building. Construction will start once the trio of buildings currently on the site is torn down.

Demolition will last through October.

Despite the complexity involved in tearing down what’s already standing, McGurk says you’re not likely to see any large scale explosions on Franklin Street anytime soon.

“I have begged to be able to blow up those buildings, but it will not be a massive explosion, even though I think that would be fun to see. It will be a typical deconstruction with machinery.”

The property is owned by Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings, which is the real estate arm for UNC.

Developer Northwood Ravin will manage the residential side, while Cousins Properties will oversee commercial leasing.

To date, UNC has already committed to leasing 62,000 square feet to accommodate the Carolina Population Center and the School of Public Health’s Biostatistics and Epidemiology groups.

There are no changes are planned for the student housing complex Granville Towers, which shares the 11-acre lot with Carolina Square.

The full project is slated for completion in summer of 2017.

Why Are Some Trees Being Removed on Franklin Street?

Many of our readers and listeners have been asking us about the removal of some trees on Franklin Street.

So we asked Meg McGurk, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

“It’s part of the streetscape improvements on the 100 block of East Franklin Street,” she says. “And this is part of the Downtown Streetscape Master Plan that the Town of Chapel Hill adopted in 2009.”

McGurk says some of these same improvements have already taken place on West Franklin Street, Rosemary Street, and some of those connecting roadways.

She adds that they are working on improving many aspects of the sidewalk areas on Franklin Street.

“There has been limbing up of a lot of the trees,” she says, “and now there are some trees that have been removed, some raised brick planters that have been removed.

“There will be sidewalks rebuilt. Also, there are going to be trees that are placed back that have metal grates.”

The metal grates will help level the sidewalks of Franklin Street.

McGurk says one more feature that was needed to complete the project was additional bike racks for the many residents in our community that choose the two-wheeled form of travel.

“As a bike rider, there can never be enough good places to actually lock up your bike where they’re supposed to be, instead of attached to signs or trees,” she says.

“The streetscape improvements that have happened, and are happening, have really wonderfully opened up the street.”

The majority of the demolition has taken place this week, which McGurk says was intended to correspond with spring break at UNC, when there would be less foot traffic.

“In the coming weeks, you’re going to see the rebuilding of the sidewalks, the installation of the bike racks, [and] the newspaper bins and trash cans being moved around,” she says.

A release about the project says work will go forward for an estimated five weeks, weather permitting. Sidewalk closures are not anticipated. There may be changes to bus stops. If that happens, officials say they will give advanced notice.

Varsity Theatre Over 50% to Goal for Digital Conversion

Technology can lead to amazing spectacles, but it also brings the possibility of turning some of our favorite experiences into memories.

The Varsity Theatre, with its historic marquee, has been a staple of downtown Chapel Hill for over 50 years. But technological advancements in movie making have threatened the future of the Franklin Street cinema. Paul Sharesian owns the Varsity Theatre and says the theatre needs major upgrades because of a transformation in the movie-making process.

“We hit the point where, if we didn’t convert to digital, we wouldn’t be able to show films anymore,” he says, “because they’re not producing them on 35 millimeter [film].”

That problem, and some helpful ideas from the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, resulted in a Kickstarter page to help the Varsity with the renovation costs.

“We did a blast campaign during the Chapel Hill parade,” he says. “Then we sent a major e-mail blast. That was done through the Downtown Partnership, and that did a big bulk on the front end.”

With the goal of raising $50,000, Sharesian says they are well on their way.

“So far it’s been great,” he says. “We’re over 50%.”

They settled on $50,000 because, based off of estimates, that is how much it will cost to convert one screen from 35mm to digital.

Sharesian says that they have special offerings for anyone who wants to donate to their campaign, including concessions items, movie tickets, and t-shirts. And, of course, the more money you give – the more you get.

Sharesian says that any money raised above their $50,000 goal will go toward converting the second theatre.

He adds that they have been overwhelmed by the support from the community.

“We really thank the community, obviously, for the donations,” he says. “When we introduced it at the parade, people were all over it. They were behind us. That was a nice positive feel to get to that.”

As of January 1, the Varsity Kickstarter had over 450 backers, totaling over $30,000 in donations, with just over 40 days remaining in their campaign.

You can help the Varsity Theatre covert from 35mm to digital – and get some great offerings – by visiting the Varsity’s Kickstarter page.

Protesters Briefly Block Franklin Street After Grand Jury Verdict

About 60 people marched down Franklin Street on Wednesday night to protest a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Chapel Hill Police spokesman Josh Mecimore said some officers were on hand to escort the group as they marched from Peace and Justice Plaza to University Square.

“Our entire involvement was in blocking the street to keep cars from being able to drive into the area where those folks were gathered, and then once they were out of the street we opened the street back up,” says Mecimore. The demonstration lasted about an hour.

More demonstrations are planned in Durham on Thursday and Friday.

Sunday AM Franklin Street Shooting

Story originally posted 8:17 a.m., June 22, 2014

A shooting early Sunday morning in the 100 block of East Franklin Street sent one man to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.

Chapel Hill Police report the shooting took place shortly after 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Ledarren Deshawn Parker of N. Gutherie Avenue in Durham was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and resisting arrest. Parker was found a short distance away from where the shooting took place, according to police. He is being held in the Orange County jail on a $15,000 bond.

When police arrived at the scene, the found Steven Charles Moore Jr. suffering from a gunshot wound. He was transported to UNC Hospitals’ ER for treatment.

Woman Cited for ‘Twerkin’ It’ in the Middle of Franklin Street

Contrary to the opinion of one woman with a case of dance fever, the driving lanes of Franklin Street do not turn into a “Twerk Zone” after 2 a.m.

That’s the strong opinion of Chapel Hill Police, who disabused 26-year-old Whitney Green of that notion, in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

The incident occurred around 2:20 a.m. on the 100 block of Franklin Street, just as bars were turning out customers for the night.

Here’s Public Information Lt. Josh Mecimore of the Chapel Hill Police:

“Officers observed this woman dancing in the travel lane, and asked her repeatedly to move out of the travel lane. Cars were having to slow down and go around her because of her blocking the travel lane. And so [police] eventually got out, pulled her aside and charged her with impeding traffic.”

So what was her explanation for such behavior?

Here’s Mecimore:

“The officer did report that she repeatedly replied that she was ‘twerking it.’”

Apparently, “I’m twerkin’ it” is not enough to talk your way out of a ticket in Chapel Hill these days.

Green was cited for impeding traffic, and released. Police believe alcohol was involved.

She’s due in court next month.

UNC, MSU, “Celebrations,” “Riots,” And Media Framing

Let’s talk about framing.

“Framing” refers to the choices we make about how to tell a story. The words we use, the tone we take, the people we quote and the people we don’t quote—all those little things affect the way people hear a story and the impressions they take away.

This is awfully postmodern of me, but there’s really no such thing as an unvarnished, unfiltered, truly “neutral” way of telling a story. When you read a news article in the paper or hear one on the radio, what you’re getting is a picture in a frame—and that frame has a very real impact on how you interpret the information you’re receiving.

Nothing inherently wrong with this, so long as we’re all aware of it. The frame is invisible—it’s often hard to spot—but as long as we all pay attention, we’re good.

But when we forget to be aware—when we start taking the frame for granted—when reporters mindlessly perpetuate the same frames over and over and when the consumers of media begin to see those frames as gospel truth—well, that’s when people start getting hurt.

Case in point: UNC versus Michigan State.

I’m not talking about basketball.

I’m talking about “riots.”

On Saturday night, the Michigan State Spartans upset Ohio State to win the Big 10 title and make the Rose Bowl for the first time in 26 years. Afterwards, about 3,000 students gathered for a postgame celebration at Cedar Village, an apartment complex at the edge of campus. There were a number of bonfires—students setting their old couches ablaze, mostly—and that was about it. Cedar Village reported about $10,000 in external property damage, but that was the worst of it. There were no injuries.

East Lansing police went ballistic.

So did Michigan State University officials.

And the media.

Here are some of the choicer bits.

From Fox Sports: “East Lansing police say at least 15 people were arrested during a rowdy celebration of Michigan State’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game…Police are offering up to $20,000 for tips that lead to convictions…Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo says he’s disgusted and disappointed by what happened.”

From WILX, a local TV station: “The victory party may be over, but the consequences for the people celebrating in the streets may just be beginning…the city and the University are cracking down, vowing to prosecute as many people as possible involved in a post-game celebration that featured furniture fires…MSU has also vowed disciplinary action, after President Lou Anna K. Simon called the post-game behavior ‘disappointing.’”

Also from WILX, this quote from University spokesperson Kent Casella: “Any student identified as taking part in setting or fueling fires will be subject to the MSU student judicial process, regardless of any criminal charges being filed…If a student is found in violation, he or she faces sanctions ranging from warning to dismissal.”

And from the State News, the MSU student paper, this headline in all caps: “RIOTERS DESCEND ON CEDAR VILLAGE; FIRES, CHAOS ENSUE.”

This is standard practice in East Lansing, Michigan. It’s been this way for fifteen years. Back in 1999 there was a legitimate riot that caused a quarter of a million dollars in damage, and ever since then we’ve had it in our heads that every student celebration is a “riot” or an “emergency situation” that requires tear gas and riot police and mass arrests and fines and jail time and threats of expulsion. Sometimes actual expulsion.

This is how these student gatherings are framed at MSU. And everyone’s complicit in it. East Lansing police assume it’s their job to stop the party altogether, so they’re in hostile-situation mode from the get-go; that provokes the students, who respond by provoking the police, everything escalates and out comes the tear gas. Reporters invariably call them “riots” and focus all their attention on the cost, the damage, the arrests, the tut-tutting over drunken students gone wild. University officials shift into damage-control mode—denouncing the students who take part, disassociating them from the University as much as possible, and seizing every opportunity to insist that MSU as a whole is comprised of good, decent students who would never participate in such rowdy, drunken shenanigans.

And residents in the area go along with it. “Way to spoil a wonderful night,” writes one commenter on the State News story. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves.” Words like “embarrassing” keep cropping up. Words like “garbage.” Somebody else wrote on Facebook: “The players and coaches must be thrilled to know their victory gets overshadowed by the antics of drunken vandals.”

There’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to “Michigan State University student riots.”

People in the Lansing area take all of this for granted. Most folks there can’t imagine these “riots” being interpreted any other way.

Folks in Chapel Hill know better.

Don’t we?

In 2009, you see…

Well. You can watch the video for yourself. The staff at the Daily Tar Heel put it together, to commemorate the glorious post-game “celebration” of UNC’s national championship (over Michigan State, ironically enough).

Check out that video. It’s all there, plain as day. After the game, 45,000 people, most of them students, many of them drunk as hell, massed on Franklin Street. Fires were set, multiple fires, up and down the road, and folks jumped in and out of them all night long. Students climbed on town-owned streetlights and shook them until they nearly toppled. The “Columbia Street” sign was forcibly yanked down; people later used it to crowd-surf.

I could go on. Sexual assaults got reported. There were injuries. Chapel Hill’s chief of police said he saw someone climb a light pole and try to saw through a power line with a pocket knife. Tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. All told it cost the Town of Chapel Hill $200,000.

Did it make the national news as a “riot”? Was there hand-wringing? Mass arrests? Tear gas? Cops in riot gear? Threats of expulsion? Is UNC forever tainted as a result?

Nope. Exactly the opposite. It’s a watershed moment in Chapel Hill’s recent history. Everybody remembers it fondly.

In fact UNC sells glossy portraits of the celebration online, on the University’s official website, for anyone who wants to relive the moment. Glossy portraits!

Prices start at $44.99.

Oh, sure, there was talk afterward of how the town could have better handled the situation. No doubt.

Three guesses how that played out.

From WRAL: “(Then-student body president Jasmin) Jones suggests getting a screen so the best game moments can be replayed. She would also like to have a sidewalk deejay…Jones also would like several beach balls to take the place of partiers who normally bounce on top of the large crowd.”

From the Daily Tar Heel: “Former Student Body President J.J. Raynor suggested giving out free food to keep people from drinking as much.”

The town did hold one forum on the matter. At the forum, town officials said it was worth discussing how to improve safety in the future, but unanimously insisted the “celebrations” were “central to UNC’s heritage.”

And what got done? Quoth the DTH: “Attendees were encouraged to remain involved with continued safety efforts by writing down their names and e-mail addresses to receive more information. No other concrete plans were made for moving forward.”


That’s framing for you. Right there.

Seriously, read all those stories I linked to up there, first about MSU, then about UNC. Tell me the difference isn’t jawdropping.

Oh, you think there was some sort of difference between the two gatherings? It couldn’t have just been media framing?

Cool. Below are ten pictures. Four are from the MSU “riot” after the Ohio State game, screencapped from the WILX report. Six are from the UNC “celebration” on Franklin Street in 2009, screencapped from the DTH’s YouTube video.

Can you tell them apart? No cheating!

riot1 riot2 riot3 riot4 riot5 riot6 riot7 riot8

riot9 riot10

Answer: the first two and the last two are from Michigan State; the six in the middle are from UNC. Some of those are gimmes: the Columbia Street sign is obviously in Chapel Hill, and the riot police are obviously East Lansing. Can you imagine if the CHPD had broken out the riot gear and the assault weapons in 2009? Seriously, can you imagine?

Now, what do we make of all this? What galls me, personally, is the inconsistency. MSU students have been expelled, arrested, harshly punished by the law—they’ve had their lives ruined, in other words. If they’d been UNC students doing the exact same thing, they’d practically have carrels named after them at the library.

This is not to say that we’re doing it wrong in Chapel Hill.

In fact, looking at the two situations side by side, it’s pretty obvious that Chapel Hill’s the one that’s gotten it right. In Chapel Hill, town/gown relations are not toxic, so police don’t automatically assume that students are the enemy. Town officials see it as their job to manage and facilitate the celebration, not to put a stop to it at all costs—and so the situation gets managed. It’s not antagonistic. People don’t get vilified in the national media. They don’t have their lives ruined. It’s better here.

But let’s be clear about this: it is NOT better here because the students are better behaved. UNC students and MSU students behave exactly the same way, just like Tennessee students and Baylor students and Cal Tech students and students everywhere else that students gather. If it is better here, it is better because of the way we’ve framed it—as a “celebration” instead of a “riot,” as “excited” rather than “drunken,” as “rambunctious” rather than “violent.”

I’m watching the framing happen all over again at Michigan State this week. It wasn’t as big a “riot” as in years past, so there’s not as much hand-wringing—but still, all the talk has been “you ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” “we’re so disappointed in this behavior,” “we’re going to prosecute these people to the fullest extent of the law.” It makes me sick.

It could be worse, I guess. Michigan State students get the short end of the stick here, but they’re hardly the only ones. African-Americans after Hurricane Katrina, for instance, were invariably depicted as “looting” food by the national media, while their white counterparts were depicted as “finding” or “salvaging” food from the same stores. And let’s also save some sympathy for Woodstock ’99, that supposed anarchic chaotic violence-fest. Did you know three times as many people died at the original Woodstock back in ’69? Peace and love, pshaw.

But if you find yourself reading about the “riots” at MSU—or anything else, for that matter—do yourself a favor and stop to reflect on how the story’s being framed. What’s being assumed? What are the words that keep getting used? How else could the story be told, and why isn’t the story being told that way? It’s vital for consumers of media to ask these questions, and it’s vital for reporters to ask them too—otherwise we’ll find ourselves caught in the framing loop, and we’ll start forgetting how to see the world any other way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go frame this portrait of a bonfire at Cedar Village.

Rose Bowl, baby! Rose Bowl!

Franklin Street From Estes Dr to Elliott Rd Closed – Natural Gas Leak

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Police Sgt. Bryan Walker confirmed Wednesday at 10:35 a.m. that Franklin Street was closed in both directions between Estes Dr and Elliott Rd for a natural gas leak.

Sgt. Walker said he was unaware of any evacuations in the area. EMS and gas crews were on the scene managing the incident.