Megan Goodhand of E.K. Powe Elementary


Megan Goodhand is not a merchant, but she is certainly an integral part of our vibrant Ninth Street community. As principal of E.K. Powe Elementary, Goodhand is continuing a tradition of student involvement in this community that goes back to the school’s founding in 1912 (as West Durham Graded School). E.K. Powe children and their families have a history of frequenting Ninth Street businesses (in the 1940’s, Scarboro Grocery, housed in the building where Monuts is today, was a popular stop for school children) and E.K. Powe teachers often build the community into their lessons. In their Social Studies “Town Unit,” for example, teachers take their students on field trips to visit local Ninth Street merchants who talk to the students about running a business.

Speaking of history, Principal Goodhand has an impressive one when it comes to education. She became passionate about serving children as a teenager after working at a New York camp for children with special needs. After teaching in small ratio groups with deaf and hard-of hearing-children, she transitioned into classroom teaching. She taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade classes for twenty-five years (ten of them at Powe) before earning her leadership degree, interning at Sandy Ridge Elementary, and then returning to E.K. Powe as Assistant Principal and then Principal, a role she has been enjoying for the past three years. Goodhand is proud to be a part of the E.K. Powe community of parents, teachers, and students, a community she describes as vocal, diverse, and involved. Early in her role as principal, Goodhand implemented an Equity Team and is proud of the teachers who are working hard to make room for different perspectives and voices and to make education accessible for all children. Currently, this includes projects like providing literature for and about people of color as well as working with community leaders like Rhonda Bullock of weare (working to extend anti-racist education). Powe also has a community school coordinator who is working on creating more opportunities for parents of color to make their voices heard within the school community.


If you ask Goodhand her favorite thing about being a principal, she’ll probably answer the same way many of her teachers will: it’s the kids. Goodhand has always been very kid-centered and her staff is dedicated to teaching the whole child by focusing on each student’s emotional and social needs in addition to their intellectual ones. One of the great things about working with kids, Goodhand says, is that they teach us that we’re growing, too. “I’m growing as much as the kids, each time I step inside the building,” she says. Goodhand really believes that learning needs to be authentic, and that focus on authenticity is apparent in her character: she loves children, has compassion for families and teachers alike, and speaks highly of her staff, who she clearly admires and appreciates. Coming into a leadership role after a solid background in teaching means Goodhand knows and understands the challenges her teachers face, and she works with her teachers to meet those challenges.

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As a community school, E.K. Powe provides service-learning opportunities for the kids, including a weekly cooking club that delivers hot meals to the kitchen at Urban Ministries. The school also hosts community events like the Spring Carnival and the school community members enjoy the interaction with merchants on Ninth Street and the residents of the West End neighborhood. “We’re very lucky to be on Ninth Street,” Goodhand says. We’re glad that she feels that way, because Ninth Street is lucky to have her and the entire E.K. Powe community.

When Principal Goodhand is not in principal mode, you may find her:

  • Running for both her physical and mental health — running is a time when she likes to do a lot of problem solving.

  • Spending time with her three wonderful daughters, all of whom live right here in Durham.

  • Cozying up at The Regulator with one of her favorite books, like King & King by Linda de Haan, a beautifully illustrated children’s tale about lonely Prince Bertie who rejects five fairy-tale princesses and finally finds happiness when he marries the handsome prince.

Ninth Street Retrospective

  Emily Wexler of Cozy with a photo of the gas station once housed in Cozy’s location.

Emily Wexler of Cozy with a photo of the gas station once housed in Cozy’s location.

October 2018 marks the 20th month we’ve been celebrating our Ninth Street business owners with the Merchant of the Month feature. Even in that relatively short time, the landscape of Ninth Street has changed. We’ve said goodbye to the eclectic and creative Cozy and Ninth Street’s toy store, The Playhouse. We’ll also miss the sweet treats at The Pie Hole. But we’re happy to report that we’ve also welcomed a few amazing new vendors to the street. Janet Lee’s Zen Fish has become a lunch and dinner staple on Ninth Street, and Hometown Apparel is the city’s new go-to spot for all things Durham. We’re also thrilled to count Alpaca Chicken, Pincho Loco, Snow Factory, and Branches Community School among our new neighbors.

  McDonald’s Drug Store storefront, circa 1920. Photo credit: Open Durham

McDonald’s Drug Store storefront, circa 1920. Photo credit: Open Durham

Though the changes of the past few years have been significant, especially when you include the addition of the Harris Teeter complex (complete with the delicious Juju and Burger Bach!) and several new apartment communities, the Ninth Street community knows how to take change in stride. After all, this strip of small businesses was once a functioning mill town, with just a barber, a couple of grocers, a drugstore, and a bootmaker serving the needs of millworkers and their families. The Erwin Cotton Mill, which produced muslin tobacco bags and denim, didn’t close its doors until 1986. That means that several of Ninth Street’s longest-standing businesses can still remember the mill days, including The Regulator Bookshop, Barnes Supply, and Vaguely Reminiscent. The iconic McDonald’s drug store and soda fountain, fondly remembered by many Durhamites, was here during the mill days too, but shut its doors for good in 2005. Its closing was sad for many in the Ninth Street community and yet, the history of that old mill town is alive on Ninth Street. Wavelengths Salon, for example, was once the union hall for Erwin Mill Workers (the proof is in the original tin ceilings!). That kind of juxtaposition — old world meets new — is common on Ninth Street. The working class spirit of the mill and the vibrant community that surrounded it is still strong in this thriving Durham district. We’re eclectic but down-to-earth, rooted but not afraid to grow.

  The Durham Pride Parade

The Durham Pride Parade

The Ninth Street Merchants Association is proud to be helping guide the growth of our neighborhood. Our mission as an organization is to promote economic growth while creating an inclusive, unique, and community oriented shopping experience in our historic district. As we are largely comprised of locally owned businesses, we're working together to sustain and improve the health of our community, support fellow businesses, and provide a welcoming environment for all. Just last weekend, we were proud to host the Pride Parade, an annual Ninth Street tradition that reflects our belief in diversity, inclusivity, and building community.

  Jean Lorenzo, owner of Bernard’s Formalwear and the first merchant featured in the Merchant of the Month series.

Jean Lorenzo, owner of Bernard’s Formalwear and the first merchant featured in the Merchant of the Month series.

We welcome people of all kinds to our neighborhood and we welcome merchants of all kinds to our association. Being an official member of this community not only makes our district stronger, it comes with benefits. Those benefits include a link to your website on our Discover 9th Street page, community marketing, group social media on Facebook and Instagram, a Merchant of the Month spotlight on our website featuring you and your business, and the opportunity to be involved in street wide events and promotions.

Be on the lookout for the Ninth Street Sidewalk Sale on Saturday, October 13th and our neighborhood Trick or Treat on Halloween! And keep an eye on our Events Calendar for all future events.

Want to learn more about the Ninth Street Merchant Association? Email Ninth Street merchants Katie Westermann ( of One World Market or Daryn O’Shea ( of The Computer Cellar.

Beth Branciforte of Branches Community School

 Beth Brancifote 

Beth Brancifote 

The three beautiful playgrounds at Branches Community School on Broad Street tell you a lot about the school itself. The infant and toddler playground boasts a miniature stage, a sound garden, and digging tools in a natural sandbox. The preschool playground has stepping stones made of tires and an extensive play kitchen, and the garden playground is complete with raised beds, a walk-through trellis, and the shade of a giant oak tree. Perhaps the most special thing about these outdoor spaces is that they were imagined and hand built by the parent community at Branches. The playgrounds were a creative collaboration between parents and teachers, a process that mirrors the experiential learning philosophy that infuses all aspects of the school.

Beth Branciforte has spent years envisioning this environment for young children, and the enthusiasm she feels in making that vision a reality is palpable. Beth’s mother recently retired after thirty years as an early childhood education director, so Beth was raised with the idea that children deserve the right to high quality environments and high quality caregivers. She grew up, also, with the understanding that children have a great deal to offer their communities. Went Beth went off to college, she explored several other avenues of learning, but kept coming back to her own unique gift for working with young children. Twelve years ago, Beth came to Durham on a whim and discovered the opportunity to work in a wonderful preschool and help build it’s program. She kept searching, though, for the right building to house her own preschool, and this year, she finally found the right place, right here in the Ninth Street District.

The Branches mission is to create a space for children that feels like home, provides access to the community, and offers opportunities to learn with dedicated teachers in natural environments. This mission is based on the Reggio Emilia approach, a philosophy largely based on relationships and collaborative learning through which children gain a wealth of knowledge and resources. Reggio celebrates the individual child and his or her learning styles and needs. Each day, the thirty children at Branches will  be encouraged to follow their natural curiosities. As Beth points out, children are natural learners — all they need are environments where they can explore, create, and problem solve. The children will be outside gardening and composting; they will use open-ended materials like rocks, shells, water, sand, and clay as tools for learning; they’ll engage in process-based art, including a woodworking curriculum Beth designed especially for children; and they’ll visit places like the fire station and local bake shop to get to know their neighbors.  A key value of the Branches school is to connect to and reflect the community of Durham. The school has a diverse group of teachers and families as well as a community board interested in pursuing deeper conversations about education in the community.

 The Branches Community School Staff 

The Branches Community School Staff 

The name Branches speaks to the school’s focus on community and the way that students and teachers will branch out beyond their walls and their building to engage with their surroundings. The idea isn’t just that children benefit from community, but also that the community benefits from children.  By taking kids into adult spaces, people are able to see the unique competencies and capabilities of children. The name is also linked to the Sicilian last name Beth shares with her wife Gia Branciforte, which means “strong arms,” a wonderful image for a community that cares for and supports children.  There's a beautiful idea in Reggio that early childhood is not a preparation for life, but that early childhood is the child’s life. Branches certainly seems like a wonderful place for them to live it.

Beth and the entire Branches community welcome you for a visit any time you’re in the neighborhood. They can’t wait  to celebrate early childhood with their community.

A little more about Beth:

Tools of the trade Beth can’t live without are her drill and toolbox. In early childhood education, there’s a joke that the director is the electrician, the cleaner, the plumber, the teacher, the organizer. True to this description, Beth is real renaissance woman. She’s teaching the other educators how to use tools so that they can be a part of bringing the school to life.

When she’s not at Branches, Beth is probably with her wife camping and backpacking in the North Carolina mountains. They love to unplug and reconnect with nature. Beth also greatly values food and fellowship; she and Gia love to cook and host community dinners in their home.

Beth’s favorite books are those in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, a set of tales about a neighborhood woman who helps children solve problems using creative and surprising methods. Just like Reggio teachers, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle gives kids magic tools for dealing with problems they encounter.


Merchant Profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content 


Holly Phelan of Happymess/ARTPOST Studio

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Holly Phelan, who opened Happymess in 2011, has been in Durham for twenty years, though she has also called Japan and St. Louis home. The studio, which is in the process of changing its name to ARTPOST, offers supplies for local artists as well as paint & sip classes, private art lessons, and a host of other artistic activities for adults and children.

Not familiar with Holly and Happymess? This Merchant of the Month interview provides some great insight into Holly, her studio, and her belief in honoring the creative spirit in every person. After reading, we’re willing to bet you’ll make the time to swing by her Iredell Street space to indulge  your inner artist!

What is the mission of Happymess/ARTPOST?

Our goal is to provide a safe, happy environment for anyone interested in making art. We provide supplies as well as opportunities for artmaking, whether you’re just starting out in the arts or are looking to further your practice.  

Who are your clients?

In reflection of Durham’s diverse population, our clientele come from all walks of life: old, young, established artists, dabblers in the arts,  and everybody in between. We even have customers who drive from Pittsboro, Saxapahaw, Carrboro, and other surrounding towns.

Describe a typical day at Happy Mess.

Typical day? What’s that?

Why the name Happy Mess and on that note, why the new name, ARTPOST?

Though we initially loved the name Happymess, we feel that we’ve outgrown it.  We wanted a new name that could encompass who we are and all that we offer. ARTPOST is a play on Outpost. In the Wild West, the Outpost was where you would go to get anything you needed - a huge diversity of goods! So, the  new name encompasses the diverse nature of the services we offer and people that we serve. Also, we love creating words by inserting ART whenever possible. For instance, instead of teachers/instructors, we call ourselves “ARTistas.” Our classes for children are called smARTkids, and if you want to have a private event with us, we call it a pARTy. The programs that result from our partnerships with local nonprofits are called ARTreach.

What’s your personal artistic background?

I was an art history major in college, have always dabbled in artmaking, and am a self taught artist. I have always loved sharing artmaking opportunities with my family and friends, and now I get to do it with strangers as well. I have found that we are all artists in our own way, and finding a way to express our creativity is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves.

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Why did you want to open a studio?

In 2010, I read an article in Newsweek called “The Creativity Crisis.” It was all about the importance of creative thinking and problem solving. It spoke to me and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in feeling that the arts - exposure to the arts and the ability to think creatively - is imperative to our culture’s future.

What is your favorite thing about being a small business owner?

Meeting so many new people! Whether I am learning or teaching or both, I love engaging with people.

What’s your favorite thing about the Ninth Street District?

I love the family atmosphere. Durham has grown so incredibly in the past seven years since we opened, but the Ninth Street area has maintained a small town atmosphere.

What is a tool of the trade you can’t live without?

An unlined journal or sketchbook. I carry one with me at all times, whether to make lists, take notes, or sketch when I have a few extra moments.

Do you have any advice for other artists and business owners?

Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer!

When you’re not at the studio or working on your business, what might you be doing?

I feel like I live at 718 Iredell Street, but when I’m not at ARTPOST, I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I also love music, talking walks or running, working in the garden, and making art in my studio.

What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite movie is Breakfast at Tiffany’s ( I was named after Holly Golightly). I love so many books that it’s hard to name a single one, but some of the standouts are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.  Also, pretty much anything by or about the author George Sand - she was a remarkable woman.

Janet Lee of Zen Fish Poke Bar

 One of the delicious Zen Fish signature bowls

One of the delicious Zen Fish signature bowls

For a dining space of just three-hundred square feet, Zen Fish Poke Bar has a whole lot of good vibes, and when you meet the restaurant’s owner, Janet Lee, you’ll understand why. Janet is a whirlwind of energy, but in the best possible way. She welcomes her employees with hugs, asks her vendors about their day while she’s signing checks, and greets every customer with a smile. Janet, who grew up in Los Angeles and earned her MMS at Duke, first had the vision for Zen Fish in 2013. She wanted to combine her business savvy, her love for Hawaii (she travels there frequently to visit her best friend), and her love of bringing people together into a single independent business. In 2017, she opened Zen Fish on Ninth Street, a community-minded restaurant with Hawaiian poke as its muse.

Poke means “diced up” or “cubed up” in Hawaiian and it traditionally refers to a salad made of raw, marinated tuna. At Zen Fish, everything is cubed and chopped, from the raw fish to the sweet potatoes. While the restaurant is traditionally Hawaiian, Janet “really want[ed] to create a space that’s for everyone.” That’s why the restaurant offers all kinds of options: vegan and vegetarian, gluten-free, and for people who don’t want raw fish, there are cooked options, too.

 Janet and some of her Zen Fish crew. 

Janet and some of her Zen Fish crew. 

Currently, Janet’s favorite menu item is the vegan bowl because so many of its veggies come straight straight from local farms. This month, the restaurant is serving radishes, beet greens, zucchini, and sweet potatoes from Funny Girl Farm and pea shoots from Mama Springs. From Eastern Carolina Organics, she receives produce from a variety of NC producers, including zucchini from Hendersonville and jalapeños from Bailey Farms. The Zen Fish tuna comes from the Carolina Coast whenever possible, and the salmon comes from a supplier that uses aqua culturing on Faroe Island. There’s a good deal of ambiguity when it comes to sustainable fishing practices, but Janet makes every effort to make sustainable choices as often as she can. No matter what, she makes sure that all of her fish is certified sustainable. Janet is also proud that everything used at Zen Fish is compostable, from the forks to the bowls her customers eat out of. Zen Fish composts with locally owned Food FWD and is also a participating restaurant with Durham Green to Go. Janet personally volunteers with the Club Boulevard Elementary School’s composting program, where students are learning to compost their leftover breakfast and lunch food.

 Janet visiting local farm, Mama Springs

Janet visiting local farm, Mama Springs

Janet’s own roots in Durham go back to graduate school at Duke, and her husband was born and raised here. When she first met him, he lived right up the street from the Zen Fish Durham location! Janet’s husband is a financial advisor by day but helps out at the restaurant by night. Janet says that his incredible support and awesome work ethic have played a huge part in making the restaurant successful. It’s also his longtime roots in Durham that have inspired Janet to give back to this community in tangible ways by supporting local farms, local artists, and other local small businesses. Local artist Alcrist Moretta created the restaurant's beautiful wall mural and Zen Succulent, a local plant and home goods shop, supplies the plants that liven the walls. Zen Fish is hoping to expand by franchising, and Janet is very clear on her franchising goals: she is looking to work with like-minded people who are on board with supporting the community. Her franchise locations will be required to have at least four items on their menus from local growers and at least one item that comes directly from Durham. She’d also like those franchises, like her current locations, to run initiatives that support the larger community. Last year, Zen Fish donated one-hundred percent of the profits from their candied gingers to Duke Children’s Hospital (they also matched the amount earned). Other recipients have included NC Equality, the National Park System, and the Jane Goodall Institute.

So, why the name Zen Fish? The fish part is obvious, but Zen comes from Janet’s love for yoga, a practice that has helped her to manage and even shed some of the anxiety she has struggled with for years. Part of the mission of Zen Fish is to create a place where everyone feels welcome and included, a place where positivity abounds, and eventually, a place where people can come to find resources that enrich their lives. She is currently looking for an inspirational speaker to talk about mental health issues in her Morrisville location and she hopes to host even more events that speak to the power of positivity and the power of community.

Throughout Zen Fish, there are  signs meant to encourage patrons: “Just keep swimming,” “Do all things with love.” There’s also the Grateful Wall, a place for employees and patrons to write down what they are grateful for. The comments change every day, and whether the notes left there are serious or silly, they always help Janet remember to keep smiling, even when things are busy and intense. “Grateful” is also the name of one of the Zen Fish signature bowls, along with “Kindness,” “Compassion,” and “Courageous.” As it turns out, these are not just fun names for poke bowls - they are also the words Janet lives by.  


When she’s not at one of the two Zen Fish locations, you might find Janet:

Doing yoga or travelling with 109 World, a humanitarian organization that incorporates yoga and giving back, because you have to feed yourself before you can help others.

Watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Bourdain was one of Janet’s big role models.

Engaging in a meaningful conversation. Janet believes that Zen Fish is thriving because of its focus on human connection. Honesty, authenticity, and a good support system are the tools of the trade she can’t live without.


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Dain Phelan of Dain's Place

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If you asked a school-age Dain Phelan what he wanted to be when he grew up, the dream he described would have sounded a lot like Dain’s Place. That’s because he always knew he’d open a restaurant, one with “the best food and dancing around.” He dropped the dancing part when he opened Dain’s in January of 2007, but great food is still a big part of the vision, as are great decorations, some of which Dain made all the way back in elementary school. Dain’s father has also helped to create some of the bar’s quirky appeal, creating a huge pinwheel made of matchbox cars and a Fisher Price boat decked out with action figures, including Lisa Simpson and ET. The ceiling is graced with a row of palm frond fans and the beer coolers sport sayings by such legendary historical figures as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Homer J. Simpson, both touting the virtues of beer.

Dain, who grew up watching Cheers with his parents, went to college for restaurant management at Purdue. He knew pretty early on that a desk job wouldn’t make him happy. Instead, he wanted a job like his hero Sam Malone’s - a job that kept him on his feet while also allowing for plenty of social interaction. In fact, regulars at Dain’s wouldn’t hesitate to compare it to that legendary bar - it’s a place where locals come to relax and see friends and also a comfortable place where people from all walks of life feel welcome. Before opening Dain’s and putting his degree to proper use, though, Dain learned the business on the job - working in every restaurant position he could find, from management to dish washing. His first real restaurant job was at Kelly’s Restaurant and Tavern in the Outer Banks, where he lived during his college summers. At Kelly’s, Dain started out bussing tables, then worked as a bar back and finally as a waiter. Learning all aspects of the restaurant business has been instrumental in helping Dain to run a successful establishment, one where customers and employees alike feel appreciated.

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Most of Dain’s employees - there are about fifteen - have worked with him for years and he has great things to say about all of them. “It feels like a family,” he says of his staff. Chef Gloria in the kitchen has been with Dain since the bar’s opening and he worked with her at a restaurant even before Dain’s opened. The other thing Dain loves about running his bar is the clientele. Last year, on the tenth anniversary of the bar’s opening, Dain designated three “Customers of the Decade,”  regulars who have been coming to Dain’s for each of its ten years. These lucky customers each received a handmade wooden box (crafted of wood taken from the floors at Dain’s) which holds a personalized beer mug. Other Dain’s customers include locals from the Old West Durham and Trinity Park areas, graduate students, and a solid group of Philadelphia Eagles fans who just about lost their minds at Dain’s last year when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Dain’s is also pretty popular with families. With its laid back atmosphere and kid-pleasing desserts (Oreos and milk, anyone?), that’s no surprise! The handmade mozzarella cheese triangles are also a hit with the kiddos. Dain has enjoyed personalizing his menu over the years. As a Pennsylvania native, he grew up eating a lot of perogies. His favorites were at a Yocco’s in Allentown. Now, he special orders those exact same perogies so that he can have them on the menu at Dain’s.

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The motto at Dain’s Place is “Make Dain’s Place Your Place,” and many of the bar’s regulars do just that. This is a place where people feel at home. Remember when you were in high school and you threw a party in your basement while your parents were out of town for the weekend? That’s the feel of Dain’s place - fun, full of friendly people, and not-too-fancy. And if you never had the chance to throw a party in your basement while your folks were out of town, head on over to Dain’s to finally experience what that might have been like. Bring your friends!


When Dain’s not at the restaurant working as “an overqualified busboy” (his words!), he’s probably…

Traveling to the Outer Banks or the North Carolina mountains with his wife and their two young sons, Walter and Arthur.

Gardening on the couple of acres in Hillsborough where he lives with his family, a few goats, and some chickens.  

Rooting for his Philly teams, the Eagles or the 76ers.


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Bepi Pinner of Ninth Street Dance


Bepi Pinner never set out to own a dance studio, nor did she imagine herself someone who would fall in love with ballet. But at the age of thirty, Bepi found herself wanting to set the example of healthy, regular exercise for her young son. She spent years trying to find something she felt she could really stick with, but workouts like running and yoga just didn’t inspire her to keep moving. Then she discovered ballet, a practice that kept her interest while also keeping her strong in both body and mind.

Though Bepi took her first ballet class at the Ballet School of Chapel Hill, she soon migrated to a studio in Durham where adult beginners were welcomed and encouraged. She loved the studio, but after taking classes there for just a month, she learned that the owner, who had been in a bad car accident, was no longer able to teach or run the studio. At the time, Bepi was offering childcare in her own home as well as running the afterschool program at Carolina Friends School. When she found that the dance studio couldn't find a buyer, a lightbulb went off for her. Maybe this could be her own studio - allowing her to combine a new career path with her newfound love for ballet. She decided to purchase the studio and signed a one-year lease with the landlord of the building. Though she was excited about the new opportunity, she kept her gig at Friends School, just in case the dance studio venture didn’t work out. Twenty-five years later, Bepi is still the sole owner of Ninth Street Dance, and she is still taking ballet at the studio three times each week.

Ninth Street Dance is far more than just a ballet studio, though. In fact, Bepi and her administrative partner (and daughter-in-law) Abby Williamson pride themselves on offering a diverse array of dance techniques from various parts of the world. That list includes modern, lyrical, contemporary, hip-hop, belly dance, Afro-Carribean, Bollywood, and flamenco, as well as exercise classes like Pilates and cardio funk.

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The Ninth Street Dance community is made up of Bepi, Abby, about thirty dance teachers, and approximately 600-700 participants each session. While many dance studios cater to children, the Ninth Street Dance clientele ranges from six-month-olds to eighty-year-olds, and many of the dancers have been coming to the studio for years. While there are many focused and serious dancers at Ninth Street Dance, the mission of the studio is more about creating a community of people who are interested in dance as a fun and fulfilling form of exercise and stress relief. Most importantly, Ninth Street Dance considers itself a safe, non judgemental place, rich with both body and age positivity.

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While the face of Ninth Street has changed over the years, Bepi’s little corner of it has maintained much of the original character it had when she first discovered the studio. The upstairs space is friendly and unassuming, with colorful art, exposed brick walls, and plenty of sunlight. The Perry Street mural gracing the outside wall of Ninth Street Dance is the result of a City of Durham grant that Bepi encouraged her landlord, Larry Wood of Ninth Street Flowers, to apply for. This popular selfie spot for neighborhood locals is a beautiful reflection of Ninth Street’s vibrant and diverse culture. Bepi loves her Ninth Street neighborhood and feels very at home in it. And as a fixture of the Ninth Street business community, Ninth Street Dance is a place where movers of all kinds can feel at home, too.

When Bepi’s not at the studio, you may find her …

Making pottery. She loves to make things that are both beautiful and useful - things that people can use every day. Though she has a pottery wheel at home, she takes classes at Durham’s Claymakers and fires her pieces in the kiln there.

Listening to the music of the sixties: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Carol King, to name a few. She’s also looking forward to the upcoming Joan Baez show at Durham Performing Arts Center.

Traveling with her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren (ages six and nine). Last year they went to Ecuador and this year they are planning an excursion to Columbia!


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Wander Lorentz De Haas and Elliot Berger of The Regulator Bookshop

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Here’s some great news for readers, writers, and book lovers everywhere: book stores in America are making a comeback. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of independent book sellers rose by 35%, and in 2018 many of those book sellers are thriving, despite competition from big name sellers like Amazon. The reason for that, according to one Harvard researcher, is that people still value what he calls the three C’s of independence bookselling: community, curation, and convening. Lucky for Durham, The Regulator Bookshop has all of these things in spades.

Since 1976, when original owners Tom Campbell and John Valentine opened the store, The Regulator has been all about fostering and contributing to its community. Named after a group of North Carolinians who led a rebellion against colonial officials in the late 1760’s, The Regulator Bookshop has always welcomed subversive attitudes, progressive leaning views, and most importantly, a healthy exchange of ideas. When the time came for Tom and John to give up the reins to the business, they didn’t like the idea of selling the shop to strangers. They wanted the store to remain rooted in the tradition they began over forty years ago. That’s where Elliot and Wander come in.


Wander has been with the store for twenty-eight years, Elliot for nearly twenty. The store has been a huge part of Elliot’s life since childhood - he worked at the store right after college, biking to work every day, and recalls loving those years and The Regulator’s role in them. Wander, too, has a deep investment in the store. He has long loved bookselling because it is such a unique kind of business, one that deals with intellectual property and ideas, and even more exciting, one that involves daily conversations about those ideas. Tom and John felt that selling the store to two long-time employees who understand its role in the community would make it possible to keep The Regulator, The Regulator. Better yet, Elliott and Wander have had a great working chemistry since the beginning. From those early years at The Regulator, they remember a lot of laughter and a lot of musing about what they’d do if the store was their own. Fast forward twenty years (give or take) and this pair is positioning itself to not only maintain and nurture the legacy of Durham’s favorite bookshop, but also to build upon that legacy.

In the short month that they’ve been owners, Elliot and Wander have already reinvigorated the shop by rearranging the flow of the space and adding a mural in the children’s section. Elliot’s wife Gina played a huge role in curating the children’s book selection, focusing in particular on providing a better representation of diversity. She also plans to create a “Wall of Readers” on the wall next  to the comfy children’s section couches, an idea inspired by their one-time neighbor McDonald’s Drugstore, whose owners once posted local children’s photos near their beloved soda fountain. As Wander’s wife Lauren has also played a big role in designing the shop, the renovation has indeed been a family affair. Looking forward, Elliot and Wander hope to bring more diversity into the store, both in terms of the book selection and the clientele. And, because The Regulator was a community space before there were a lot of community spaces in Durham, they are redesigning the downstairs portion of the store to really serve that community, making it a welcoming area for readings, book groups, and gatherings. One thing that won’t change at The Regulator, except perhaps that it will be even more carefully carried out, is the curation of indie reads and offbeat books from small presses like Open Letter Books, Deep Vellum Publishing, and the New York Review of Books. You can also still expect to find magazines and periodicals with a progressive edge, like Mother Jones and N+1. The Regulator certainly carries all the most recent bestsellers, but they are most interested in supporting small presses and serving the eclectic community of Durham readers.

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If you’re on Ninth Street, stop by The Regulator, say hello, and get to know its new owners. In the meantime, here are the Cliffnotes:

On Elliot’s bedside table right now is the galley copy of Michael Ondaatje's most recent novel,  Warlight, as well as a never-before-soon-to-be-published book by Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon, in which Hurston tells the tale of the last known person to survive the transatlantic slave trade, a man named Cudjo Lewis. Wander is enjoying Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair, a novel spanning three generations and seven decades in the lives of one family.  

Wander and Elliot expect to spend much of their next six months at The Regulator, hoping to settle in to a more relaxed rhythm by August or September. In the moments when they’re not at the shop, though, Wander might be spending time on his translation work (English to Dutch), and Elliot is likely playing with his two young boys, ages three and five.

Tools of the trade they can’t live without (besides books)? Coffee, wine, and the American Booksellers Association.


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Sherry Clayton of Wavelengths Salon



Sherry Clayton, owner of Wavelengths salon and a stylist herself, now owns the 1920’s Ninth Street building in which Wavelengths is located. From its original tin ceilings (now painted an elegant silver) to its exposed brick walls to its history as a grocery store and union hall for Erwin Mill workers, the building tells quite a story. The building has likely heard a lot of stories, too, since the salon opened in 1994. Stylists will often tell you that their work is part talk therapy, part hair design. While that may or may not be true (depending on the stylist!), Sherry can confirm that she has heard her share of stories in her time at Wavelengths (not that she’d divulge any of them here!).

Sherry loves doing hair and makeup for client weddings. And, while she loves seeing the bride’s transformation, she is especially fond of working with mothers and grandmothers of the bride or groom. In addition to weddings, Sherry has done hair and makeup for the funerals of special, long term clients.  After one client’s funeral, the client’s husband started coming into the salon every so often as a way of feeling closer to his late wife, and he would always tell Sherry how much she’d loved it there. It is, in fact, the clients - the stories they tell and the relationships that she fosters with them -  that Sherry loves most about her work. She has had some clients for as long as twenty-five years, guiding them as they graduated from perms to balayage and from covering their grays to growing them out.

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Another thing Sherry loves about her job is her talented and diverse staff. Some of the stylists - including Amira and Donna - have been with the salon for over twenty years. And while many barbershops and hair salons are still segregated spaces, Wavelengths is proud to have a diverse team - with stylists from both Morocco and Kenya - that brings in a diverse clientele. While these stylists provide a huge host of services, the salon specializes in color and curly hair. Their color services include highlights, balayage, and dimensional color, all done with high quality brands like L’oreal and Aveda. And anyone who has curly locks will tell you that they won’t trust their hair to just anyone - proper cutting techniques and curl-specific products (like the Ouidad line, which Wavelengths carries) are essential to keeping curly hair tamed and beautiful.

The business side of Wavelengths is not something Sherry was formally trained for. She attended beauty school right here on Ninth Street at the Atlantic Beauty College (now Elmo’s Diner!), but she never went to business school. Instead, Sherry learned on the job. Happily, she discovered that she was very good with money and resources. As a result, her business has thrived. The secret to running a great business, she says, is to show up and give the client more than they expect. Though she says it’s not quite true that salons are recession-proof, Wavelengths has enjoyed the steady support of the Ninth Street community even during tough economic times. These days, Sherry is delighted to see the new business brought in by the growth in the Ninth Street district. As someone who grew up in this area, Sherry says it’s wonderful to see Ninth Street come alive again.

When Sherry’s not at the salon, you might find her …

Spending time with her husband Doug and their three dogs - a Yorkie named Scooter, a Pomeranian named Arty, and an Akita mix named Duke.

Reading great books. Most recently, she’s finished The Slight Edge, a life and business advice book by Jeff Olson, and Little Fires Everywhere, a work of fiction by Celeste Ng.

Grabbing lunch at one of her favorite Ninth Street haunts - Happy + Hale, the Whole Foods hot bar, or Elmo’s.

Chatting on the phone with her son Sean, an attorney who lives in Charlotte with his wife Sarah.

Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

The George Family of Barnes Supply

When Gary George and his wife Patricia purchased Barnes Supply Co. from Lee “Shorty” Barnes, they closed the deal over a pitcher of lemonade on the Barnes’ front porch. It was September of 1991. Shorty had opened the store in 1946, and the George family has brought it into the present, making it the oldest standing business in the Ninth Street District.

 Gary George and his son, Jonathan, at Barnes Supply Co. 

Gary George and his son, Jonathan, at Barnes Supply Co. 

Gary George started his working life at the American Tobacco Company, as did his father and grandfather before him. Starting in 1973, just after his high school graduation, George worked in the prefabrication section of the plant, cutting and and sorting tobacco into different blends. In 1986, the American Tobacco Company closed and George decided to try his hand in other professions - including a course in radiology at Durham Regional Hospital - before deciding to purchase Barnes Supply Co. and try his hand at running a business. When George and Patricia bought the store, their sons Jason and Jonathan were both under the age of six. Jason was just an infant.

Now, the George sons are readying themselves to take the reins from Gary, and have already been integral to the store’s management for years. Jason and Jonathan remember being at the store on weekends and holidays when they were children, helping out at the register and interacting with customers. At the age of fifteen, the boys started working in the store officially, work that became full time after graduating from high school. Gary and Patricia have always saved college money for the boys, but until now, it’s gone unused - both sons have built Barnes into their futures. “I’m a very lucky man,” says Gary George of his wife and two sons. The family works together and lives close together, he says, and “all without much friction.”

Gary, too, has memories of coming to Barnes as a child with his own father. He recalls walking around the store, which back then was primarily hardware and lawn and garden supplies. After his father got what he needed at Barnes, they’d walk up to the middle of the block, across from the still-functioning Erwin Mill, and have a milkshake at McDonald’s drugstore. On the way, they’d pass the service station which is now Cozy.

Though it initially took Gary George many long nights of troubleshooting and self-instruction to learn the ropes of a new business, Barnes has never had a year without growth. The key to that growth? According to Jonathan, it’s a willingness to change. The George family has seen a good deal of change in this West Durham neighborhood. Their next door neighbor, the popular Elmo’s Diner, used to be Ninth Street Bakery (which is now downtown) and before that, was the Atlantic Beauty College. Now, Elmo’s and Barnes share the block with brand new condominiums (many of which are pet-friendly - which is lucky for both Barnes Supply and the pet owners!). Barnes Supply has wisely adapted to all this change in Durham, rather than resisting it. Though they still carry a great deal of garden supplies, including the rows of flower and vegetable seedlings that brighten the Ninth Street sidewalk in the spring, they have evolved to meet the needs of Durham’s growing community of pet owners. Local pets love the store just as much as their owners do; in fact, many neighborhood dogs insist their owners bring them in for a treat each time they walk past the front doors. The folks at Barnes love this kind of visit because, while they’ve learned to adapt to changing times, the one thing that hasn’t changed at Barnes is their commitment to customer service. They are on a first-name basis with many of their customers (and their customers’ dogs) and are always welcoming to new faces. To the Georges, Barnes is more than just a store - it’s a community of family, friends, and of course, their pets.

The George family spends a good deal of their time at the store. But when they’re not at Barnes Supply, here’s what they might be up to:

 Seeds for sale at Barnes Supply Co. 

Seeds for sale at Barnes Supply Co. 

Spending time with their rescue dog, a pit-lab mix named Lizzie. She’s a bit spoiled and naturally, they only feed her the very best dog food, Taste of the Wild.

Offshore fishing. The Georges are outdoor activists and love to spend time on the ocean, fishing for dolphin fish (mahi-mahi), tuna, and marlin.

Enjoying the city of Durham. Gary says that he finds the revitalization of his hometown exciting. “It makes me feel proud to be from this city,” he says.


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content


Alice Cheung of Bull City Escape

 Alice Cheung at Bull City Escape 

Alice Cheung at Bull City Escape 

It’s rare, as adults, to recapture the mysterious lure of sleuthing and the joy of epiphany that came with childhood games. But Bull City Escape might offer just that opportunity. In its “A Study in Murder” room, for example, you and your team of detectives (aka, friends, family members, colleagues, or just cool people who signed up for the same time slot) will crack the mystery of an eccentric billionaire’s murder. You’ll have just sixty minutes to discover the identity of the killer and get yourselves out of that room. Owner Alice Cheung designs each escape room to be just that - an exhilarating escape from the ho-hum evening out or at-home game night.  

Alice has always loved puzzles, and the ones she created for her “A Study in Murder” room at Bull City Escape are her toughest yet. This Stanford graduate went to college in California and grew up in New York, but she has visited more than 125 escape rooms between those two coasts (and beyond them). In fact, Alice loves escape rooms so much that she left her job at Duke to open Bull City Escape, Durham’s first escape room experience.

 Combination locks used in escape rooms at Bull City Escape

Combination locks used in escape rooms at Bull City Escape

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Alice’s career had been singularly focused on undergraduate admissions and higher education. Her parents ran a small Chinese takeout restaurant on Long Island during Alice’s childhood. It was hard work; so hard, in fact, that her parents often discouraged the entrepreneurial life. So, Alice had always shied away from starting a business of her own. Still, the call of escape rooms and puzzles continued in her personal life. Alice found herself seeking out escape rooms while on vacation, and she has notebooks full of ideas for riddles and rooms. Also, Alice knew that Durham had just the right energy for escape rooms - quirky, fun, creative, and smart. So, Alice took the leap and started Bull City Escape in 2105 while she was still working full time at Duke. For a while, she was working seven days a week, including evenings - the true entrepreneur life. But happily for Alice and for Durham, news of Bull City Escape spread quickly and the rooms started filling up. Alice agreed to finish the academic year at Duke and then committed to Bull City Escape full time.

 Map at Bull City Escape showing where clients travel from 

Map at Bull City Escape showing where clients travel from 

Escape games started as point and click computer games and apps and then matured into real life versions. The first real life escape game occurred in Japan and spread quickly in Asia, appearing in US cities like San Francisco and New York in 2012. At Bull City Escape, you can make a reservation for any of the three rooms (in addition to “A Study in Murder,” there are “Lunar Lockdown” and “Enchanted Kingdom”). Alice reports that Bull City Escape gets a lot of groups - families looking to bond, colleagues looking for team building opportunities, and university groups who are trying to get to know each other better. Still, it’s a lot of fun to go with just one friend and meet some new folks while you’re there. In fact, Alice says that groups made up of strangers are often the most successful. Whatever your group, you’ll be locked in a room with them for one hour. During that time, you’ll navigate a series of clues, riddles, puzzles, and combination locks in your attempts to escape.

If you’re tired of the same old dinner-and-a-movie date, this is a great opportunity to get outside the box and do something that is fun, immersive, and challenging, the three key missions that Bull City Escape keeps in mind for its clients. Alice loves creating puzzles that reach across the disciplines, incorporating numbers, colors, spatial reasoning, and word riddles - which means you don’t have to be a “puzzle person” or a “numbers person” to enjoy an escape room. This is an experience that can work for anyone. It’s also worth mentioning that claustrophobic people need not worry. The rooms are sizable enough that you won’t feel squashed, and there’s always an emergency key next to the door, just in case. Besides, once they start playing, people usually have so much fun they forget they were nervous in the first place!

Here are a few more things that make this entrepreneur tick:

Alice loves all things puzzles. When she’s not at Bull City Escape, she indulges that passion by playing board games like Ticket to Ride or Code Names, or by listening to NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

Though she misses Durham when she’s away, Alice loves to travel - she has family all over the country and enjoys visiting them frequently.

Her New Year’s Resolution? She is going to take things “one hurdle at a time.”

Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Katie Westermann and Brandy Fleming of One World Market

 The One World Market Crew, clockwise from top left: Amy, Cara, Diana, Katie, Brandy, and Renee 

The One World Market Crew, clockwise from top left: Amy, Cara, Diana, Katie, Brandy, and Renee 

Just two months ago, Ninth Street’s One World Market celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary as an independent, non-profit, fair trade store. It has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the basement of Watts Street Baptist Church, and Executive Director Katie Westermann is proud of what the store has accomplished. Katie took the reigns in 2016, but she’s been on board since May of 2012. Brandy Fleming, her partner and the store’s Community Program Manager, has also been with the store since 2012, making this year the sixth holiday season for this dynamic duo. Katie and Brandy, along with twenty-five volunteers, four part-time employees, and ten board members, are humming right along through their favorite – and most hectic – season.

There are so many special things about this store, it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, two of the most active volunteers, Hanne Rogers and Gail McKinnis, have been with the store for its entire 25 years. For another, this is not a for-profit shop. The bottom line here is more about improving people’s lives. All of the goods for sale in the store are purchased to empower artisans from 70 countries across the globe. All the proceeds go towards operating the store and, of course, paying those artisans fairly. You’ve likely heard the term “Fair Trade,” but like many people, you may not be exactly sure what it means. Here’s the short version: Fair Trade means always paying a fair and living wage to workers; it means striving to give equal opportunities to women and to provide safe working conditions; it means prohibiting child labor; and it means engaging in environmentally sustainable practices. Through Fair Trade, artisans are truly afforded the opportunity to change their lives for the better. How do Katie and other merchants guarantee that their products meet these standards? The Fair Trade Certification program helps, but it’s also crucial that merchants build relationships with the artisans. This practice ensures that people are not being exploited in the making or selling of goods. Here’s one thing that Katie is adamant about: Fair Trade is not charity. Instead, it is an empowering business relationship that helps to alleviate poverty and create income through sustainable jobs. Amazing, right?

 Hand woven basket from The Mighty River Project 

Hand woven basket from The Mighty River Project 

So what are some of the wonderful artisan-made products that One World Market carries? From The Women of the Cloud Forest in Nicaragua come Balsa wood ornaments hand- carved by tiny machetes and beautiful, shiny crosses made from recycled car parts.  From Good Paper come gorgeous greeting cards handmade in the Philippines by women rescued from sex trafficking and in Rwanda by young people who lost parents due to conflict. From the Mighty River Project come gorgeous baskets in bold colors made by Uganadan artisans. There are even custom Bull City ceramic magnets handmade in Mexico.

The stories of these artisans and their beautiful goods are inspiring, and a big part of Katie and Brandy’s job is to educate customers about those artisans. They frequently explain the meaning of Fair Trade to shoppers and they even host school field trips. Recently, a consumer math class from a local high school visited the shop to learn about ethical consumerism.

When talking with Katie and Brandy, it is clear that they love their jobs at One World Market and are deeply appreciative of their volunteers and staff, without whom the store just couldn’t function. According to Brandy, the customers, who "are dedicated to making the world a better place," are pretty great, too. This little shop certainly has a big heart. Like Katie said, “It’s a retail store, but it feels like a family motivated by something bigger than that.”

Here are a few other things that Katie and Brandy love:

Great Books: Katie’s current go-to baby gift is A is for Activist! by Innosanto Nagara – perfect for inspiring a new generation of change makers. Brandy loves Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders, which beautifully illustrates words that we don't have in English but exist in other languages.

 Children's books on display at One World Market    

Children's books on display at One World Market 


Wind-Down Time: For Katie, it’s watching all the sports. For Brandy, it’s walking dogs for her side hustle, Zen for your Zoo (or, playing with her own five pets!).

Tools of the Trade: Katie and Brandy agree that running the store without their talented volunteers and staff (Amy, Cara, Diana, and Renee) would be impossible. They make the store an amazing place to work. And because they know the value of a living wage, One World Market is Durham Living Wage Certified.


Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Nick Wisner and Ashley Greenleaf of Triangle Cellular Repair

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Nick Wisner, owner of TCR: Triangle Cellular Repair, and Ashley Greenleaf, the company’s Director of Operations, manage staff at six different locations throughout the Triangle. Still, they particularly love their cozy location on Ninth Street. For one thing, they’re right next door to a great cup of coffee at Triangle Coffee House and for another, these two are true Durham originals – born and raised in Durham and graduates of Durham Academy. Ashley attended Duke University while Nick attended Jacksonville University, where he earned a degree in Investment Finance. 

It was during Nick’s college years that the idea for his business started to gain momentum. While kayaking on Florida’s intracoastal waterway, Nick’s kayak was hit by a wave that soaked both him and his Blackberry. AT&T was able to replace his phone, but by then his friends had convinced him to get an iPhone instead. He sold the new Blackberry online for enough money to buy the new iPhone model (and then some). This kayaking mishap turned out to be the catalyst for a business model that would eventually become Triangle Cellular Repair.

Nick started buying damaged phones from local retailers and selling them online. Eventually, he met wholesalers in Florida and started expanding into a business that provided contract refurbishing for insurance companies. He found himself fixing thousands of phones, but was doing it all out of a small apartment in Florida. His bedroom was filled with cell phones and cell phone repair equipment – not exactly an ideal warehouse! Soon, he moved back to North Carolina and started looking for a space to do his refurbishing. Though he only needed the space to function as a warehouse, the space he found in Olde Raleigh Village was zoned for retail, which meant that he needed a real sign in the window and regular business hours. Only after people started coming in with broken phones did the business become retail-oriented. The repair business grew quickly through word of mouth. Nick brought Ashley on in 2013 and the two of them worked seven days a week for several months until they could open their warehouse and hire more people to help them. Now, TCR employs thirty people.

In a sense, Nick’s childhood prepared him well for his business success. Prior to buying and selling phones, Nick bought and sold stamps, a practice inspired by his grandfather, who gave eleven-year-old Nick his first stamp collection.  A childhood steeped in model airplanes and model trains also gave Nick a tinkering talent that helped him learn to fix phones himself, rather than pay other people to do it for him. 

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And it’s not just the tinkering side of the repairs that Nick enjoys. Extracting important voicemails or vacation photos from a broken phone can be quite rewarding, both for clients and for the staff at Triangle Cellular Repair. They’ve seen phones damaged by all manner of liquids: wine, coffee, tea, even potpourri wax.  They’ve seen phones chewed up by dogs and phones bent in to the shape of it’s owner’s palm (yes, really). One client cut his phone in half while leaning over a table saw. His phone was ruined, but Triangle Cellular Repair was able to retrieve all of his data.  According to Nick and Ashley, the very best part of the business is the customer interaction – getting to know the people who walk in to their stores. In that spirit, Triangle Cellular Repair partners with local organizations like Durham Public Schools, Ronald McDonald House, or Activate Good, a non-profit that organizes community service opportunities throughout the area. Whether they’re donating a device for an auction, providing a free charging station, or giving discounts to employees, Triangle Cellular Repair loves giving back to the communities that support them.

Nick and Ashley love running TCR and they love Ninth Street. Here are a few other things they think are great:

Nick loves fine dining at Nana’s, but for everyday grub, he’s a die-hard Cosmic Cantina fan.

Ashley has two favorite movies, Fight Club and Finding Nemo. Who doesn’t love a complicated woman?

Tools of the trade they can’t live without?

For Nick, it’s a trio of screwdrivers (tri-wing, Phillips, and pentalobe, to be exact) and the Protein Bowl at Happy + Hale.

For Ashley, it’s her laptop and, of course, her hardworking team.







Larry and Lea Wood of Ninth Street Flowers

Bells of Ireland, Protea, Silver Dollar Eucalyptus, Autumn Hibiscus, Orchids, and American Beauty Berries. Sounds like a poem, doesn’t it? It’s actually a list of flowers artfully displayed in a centerpiece created by Ninth Street Flowers for Piedmont Restaurant. And it is every bit as beautiful as it sounds.

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Ninth Street Flowers has been in the same location on Ninth Street since the 1970’s, but Lea and Larry Wood made it their own in 2003. In fact, they own the entire building that houses their shop and two other iconic Ninth Street business, Ninth Street Dance and The Playhouse Toy Store.  Along with a matching grant from the City of Durham, they commissioned the colorful mural that graces the brick wall at the corner of Ninth and Perry.


What do Lea and Larry love most about running a flower shop? The independence, for one thing. Initially, Larry landed on the idea of a retail florist shop through a national franchise, but ultimately decided that owning his own shop without all the encumbrances of a franchise was more appealing. Together Lea and Larry came to Durham with the desire to have their own business. Fourteen years later, their journey continues to evolve with the Ninth Street neighborhood. Being part of a lifestyle business has given them a sense of belonging and they appreciate how the shop has brought the Durham/Ninth Street community into their lives.

If you ask them about their favorite flowers, they’ll point you towards the lilies produced by Sarah & Michael’s Farm, just one of the local vendors with whom they partner. These lilies are huge and fragrant and come in an abundance of colors – bright white, rich magenta, and sunny yellow, to name a few. As big supporters of the farm-to-table movement that has enriched Durham’s food scene (though in this case it might be referred to as a “farm-to-vase” movement), the Woods are intentional in using local growers like Sarah & Michael’s whenever possible. They also buy from Spring Forth Farm of North Carolina and the Durham-based Flowers by the Bucket.


Ninth Street Flowers feels fortunate in their employees – they have five, not counting themselves – and in their clientele, which includes some noteworthy names as far as Durham circles go. Some of these partners include Vin Rouge, Piedmont, and Parazade, as well as Hall Wynne Funeral Home, First Presbyterian Church, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. They are proud to be the Official Florist for Duke Athletics, and they work extensively with other departments at Duke University as well, including the Fuqua School of Business and Duke Chapel. And of course, when Durham folks need flowers for weddings, bar mitzvahs, memorials, graduations, and all of life’s grand celebrations and transitions, they invite Ninth Street Flowers to help make these celebrations unforgettable.  In short, the Durham community has been good to Ninth Street Flowers, and, accordingly, the Woods make it a point to be good to the community.


Whether it’s providing substantial discounts to local churches, donating to elementary school PTAs, or contributing to the Duke Durham Campaign, Ninth Street Flowers always makes an effort to give back. The support and loyalty of their Durham community has also allowed the Woods’ work to extend beyond Durham to places as far away as Bolivia, where they financially support the Centro Medico Internacional HOPE Clinic in La Paz. This clinic, which serves mainly international residents of Bolivia, uses its profits to fund a multitude of projects that help meet the basic needs of Bolivia’s poorest residents. Lea and Larry are hoping that they will have more opportunities in the future to build on the kind of work they have been doing in Bolivia.

While Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are big events in any flower shop, Ninth Street is proud to say that its own flower shop caters to its clients all year. This is a little flower shop with a big heart, deeply rooted in the Durham spirit of giving back as you grow.

Carol Anderson of Vaguely Reminiscent


The items you’ll find inside Carol Anderson’s shop on Ninth Street are as unique as the name of the shop itself, a reference to a song by singer songwriter Charlie King. Like many activists in the 1970’s, King was tired of political demonstrations and marches being delegitimized in the media as “vaguely reminiscent of the 60’s,” as if the 1970’s didn’t have real problems of its own that needed to be addressed. So, he wrote a song – “Vaguely Reminiscent of the 60’s” – to voice his resistance. As it turns out, Vaguely Reminiscent has much in common with its namesake song.



Though the song is written about a serious topic, it’s actually quite funny. Anyone who has ever walked into Vaguely Reminiscent will tell you the same – this is a store with a sense of humor. Along with beautiful shoes, eclectic jewelry, and unique clothing, you’ll find packs of stick-on mustaches for the days of the week, baby onesies that read, “silently judging you,” and irreverent greeting cards that will make you laugh out loud.

Like its namesake song, the store also has a political history. In 1986, it served as a staging ground for the anti-recall effort of then mayor Wib Gulley’s anti-discrimination policy. Just last month, Anderson was traveling in New York when a rumored KKK rally led thousands to march in resistance in downtown Durham. She called Durham and told her employees to close the shop if they wanted to attend the protest. If they decided to go, she told them, it’d be paid time.


Both this song from the 1970’s and Anderson’s shop, which opened on Ninth Street in 1982, are throwbacks to another time. When Vaguely Reminiscent opened, Erwin Mill was still in operation and the iconic McDonald’s Drug Store and soda fountain was still in business. Steadfastly remaining in its cozy spot in the middle of Ninth Street’s busiest block, Vaguely Reminiscent is one of this neighborhood’s links to the past.


Finally, King’s song references dozens of political issues and demonstrations, making it the kind of song that people in the audience nod their heads to in appreciation and recognition. Vaguely Reminiscent is also this kind of crowd pleaser. Echoing the Ninth Street motto “something for everyone,” there are truly a staggering amount of distinctive items packed into this tiny space. Among them: hand dyed, block-printed skirts made by Jude Steuker in Asheville; Jafa shoes from Israel; and screenprinted canvas bags that read simply, “Durham I love you.”  

The 1960’s didn’t just disappear in 1970. They went on to influence the next decade and every generation after. Vaguely Reminiscent, which has certainly influenced Durham, isn’t going to die out either. When Anderson retires (at some point down the road!), she’ll be selling the shop to long time store manager Karen Merowcheck who plans to continue the Vaguely tradition on Ninth. That’s great news for Durhamites.

Without Carol’s seven employees, including Karen, the shop simply couldn’t be what it is today. Now that Carol has dependable folks to make things run smoothly while she’s away, she has more free time than she used to. So, when she’s not at Vaguely Reminiscent helping customers find exactly the right thing, Carol might be:

Planting trees with Durham Tree Advocates or volunteering with People’s Alliance.

Reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (this is the book she’s currently reading, and one she highly recommends).

Enjoying a meal at her favorite lunch spot, Toast, or taking in the summer concert series at Durham Central Park.

Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content

Cammie Brantley of Elmo's Diner

The iconic Elmo the duck – a coloring page that has been scribbled on by many Durham children – is emblematic of this local diner and its community spirit. Kids love coming here. Your kids will tell you this themselves, but if you don’t believe them, there’s proof: Elmo’s has won the Indy Award for Best Kid Friendly restaurant in Durham for several years in a row.

 Cammie Brantley and Amy Testa, at Elmo's 

Cammie Brantley and Amy Testa, at Elmo's 

In fact, co-owner Cammie Brantley was a fifth grade teacher before she came on board full time at Elmo’s, and she always knew she wanted the restaurant to be a place that was linked in with the Durham community. Wayne Hodges, Brantley’s husband and Elmo’s co-owner, feels the same way, as does Amy Testa, a long time Elmo’s manager who became an owner in 2014.  Many years ago, the trio decided to nix their marketing budget and replace it with their First Tuesday Program. Each first Tuesday of the month, a Durham school PTA gets 10% of total sales. Brantley and her crew love being in a position to make an impact on Durham schools. And they also love what they do, a fact that is evident every time you walk into Elmo’s. The place feels warm, inviting, and homey – a feeling that can only be created when people feel, well … at home.

Part of the homey feel of Elmo’s can be attributed to its name, which people often ask about.  While brainstorming names for the new restaurant, Cammie happened to watch a movie with a sympathetic main character by the name of Elmo. He was a bit of an underdog. “But he was a character you wanted to root for,” Brantley says. The name also seemed “friendly and unpretentious” – two qualities they wanted to emphasize for the diner.

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Some local Durhamites might remember that Ninth Street in 1997, when Elmo’s opened, was a very different place than it is today. For one thing, the Elmo’s building itself has had many lives – first as a taxi cab company in the 1930’s, then as a beauty college, and then as Ninth Street Bakery (which has since moved downtown).  Cammie remembers hanging out on the building’s front porch in the months before Elmo’s opened and the inside was under construction. “It was so quiet back then,” Cammie remembers. But Elmo’s, along with Barnes Supply Co., The Regulator, and a few other fixtures on Durham’s Ninth Street, have been steadfast in their dedication to this district, bringing in business and helping the street to become the thriving dining and shopping area it is today. Running a diner is a lot of work, but Brantley and the Elmo’s crew love watching the children grow up as they come in for pancakes and waffles year after year.

And it’s not just kids who feel comfortable in the booths, soda counter stools, and vintage-style tables at Elmo’s. One regular customer, Mr. Horace Dunn, visits the restaurant almost daily. When his brother died last year, he received a bouquet of flowers from “the Elmo’s family.” “And that’s what this is,” he says gesturing to the busy dining floor and full booths, “Elmo’s is a family.”

Here’s what Cammie is up to when she’s not busy at Elmo’s:

Kids’ Sports: Amy runs the Elmo’s show on weekends so that Cammie and Wayne can keep up with their ten-year-old son Matthew’s busy sports schedule, which includes soccer and basketball.

Books: The whole family loves to read. Matthew is particularly fond of historical graphic novels and Big Nate.

Cycling: Cammie and Wayne love recreational cycling. You might see them riding around the Durham/Chapel Hill area. Share the road!


Danielle Martini-Rios of Blue Corn Cafe

Danielle Martini-Rios and her husband Antonio Rios throw the kind of dinner party you want to be invited to. In one evening, this pair will whip up as many as 150 empanadas, and they’ll invite all of their friends to sample the fare. It’s no wonder they have thrived through twenty years of the restaurant business and nearly twenty years of marriage. Danielle and Antonio love food and all the accompanying festivity. These days, they love making their restaurant a family affair with sons Matteo and Sebastian, both of whom help out in the restaurant.

Danielle split her childhood between Italy and New Jersey and Antonio grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, where he attended culinary school. Though Danielle started out pre-med, she was deeply influenced by her hard-working immigrant father, who traveled every day from New Jersey to Manhattan to run his own small business. With Antonio’s culinary passion and Danielle’s entrepreneurial spirit, they opened Blue Corn Café in June of 1997. Danielle must have had as much confidence in the relationship as she did in their business endeavor, because she told Antonio that if they could survive a full year of running a restaurant, she’d marry him. They wed in May of 1998. As it turns out, the restaurant business is a good litmus test for marriage, and Danielle and Antonio both have the work ethic and the energy to make what they do a joy instead of a chore.

Authentic may be an overused word in the restaurant industry, but there’s really no better way to describe the Blue Corn menu. They make all of their corn tortillas, salsas, and sauces (including the enchilada sauce) in-house. Their mission has always been to create quality Latin food with locally sourced ingredients. In fact, Blue Corn has been a pioneer in Durham’s farm-to-table movement, locally sourcing their pork and sweet potatoes as early as 1997. In the beginning, it was tough to source their entire menu locally. But the Blue Corn menu has evolved with the North Carolina food and farm scene. Today, Blue Corn demonstrates a tremendous commitment to the local, sustainable food culture. All their tap beers are local (not an option in 1997!), and their shrimp is domestic and chemical-free. Their feta and goat cheese come from Hillsborough Cheese Company, their produce from local organic food distributors such as First Hand Foods, Ward’s Produce, and Eastern Carolina Organics. They still stop at local farm stands to get the seasonal produce that influences their menu (Funny Girl Farm is a favorite!). The result of all this local foraging is amazing specials like octopus tacos or North Carolina watermelon-infused lemonade. Blue Corn has found other ways to commit to sustainability, as well. They donate their deep fryer oil for bio diesel and send 900 – 1000 pounds of compost per month to local farms!

In the same way that Blue Corn has a symbiotic relationship with its food suppliers, they also have a deep partnership with the Ninth Street community. As Danielle puts it, the Ninth Street businesses “rely on each other.” The whole vibe of Blue Corn Cafe – one that puts diners at ease and says, “Come on in and eat with family!” – is a product of the Ninth Street energy, which is open, welcoming, and all about community. 

In the twenty years since Blue Corn opened its doors, Danielle and Antonio have seen quite a bit of change. They’ve doubled the number of people they employ. They have expanded, adding a bar in the next-door space that used to be Books on Ninth. And the menu evolves regularly. But Danielle and Antonio’s love for their work is more like one of their menu’s staples – the black bean and sweet potato stew, for example, or the Roma tomato and eggplant quesadilla. Some things are just too good to change. 

Here’s what Danielle, Antonio, and the boys are up to when they’re not busy at Blue Corn:

Music: Antonio and Danielle love Pink Floyd, The Doobie Brothers, and Steve Miller Band. The family has also been known to rock out to a little Guns n’ Roses.

Down Time: The Martini-Rios’ love to garden and take long bike rides on the American Tobacco Trail. They also like to chill at home – the boys especially love pizza and movie night.

Travel: This family always makes time to travel. They still have family in Italy and Mexico, and Matteo and Danielle are going to Ireland together this month.

Sidney Cruze of Zola Craft Gallery

Can a love for trees be the guiding force behind a new career path as a gallery owner? For Sidney Cruze, that may just be the case. Before purchasing Zola Craft Gallery in August of 2014, Sidney worked as a freelance writer researching environmental topics. Among her favorite topics to research? Beech trees. Many of the books she reads in her free time are about trees as well – The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees, to name a couple. And during a tour of her gallery – which carries work from more than 55 North Carolina artists – she just might gravitate towards something like the gorgeous tree tiles from Po Co Paper. Sidney smiles as she picks up her favorite of the tiles and tilts it towards the light. The tiles – made from 100% post consumer fiber and framed in rough-cut lumber – are portraits of living trees – real trees the makers see in their everyday lives. This kind of eco-conscious, earthy vibe is a common theme in the gorgeous art displayed throughout the Zola Gallery, all of which is curated by Sidney herself.

Of course, it isn’t just a love of trees that led Sidney to her work as gallery owner and curator. She also loves art and the process by which it is created. As someone who studied ceramics herself at Claymakers in Durham, she understands and appreciates the process of making pottery. Sidney knows that even a simple piece can be challenging to make well.  There are many aspects of the artistic process that you can’t see in the final product, though the evidence of fine craftsmanship is there in the details. Knowing the artistic process helps people to understand and appreciate those details even more.  In the same way that she once did research for her freelance writing gigs, Sidney loves researching this artistic process. She shows off a vase made by potter Liz Paley and describes how Paley created it using a pottery wheel, a pastry crimper, and a heat gun.  Sidney also shares that the earrings she is wearing – gorgeous pearl-like stones in a simple cascade effect – are actually cast metal. Sarah Richardson, the California artist who makes them, heats up the metal to get the effervescent, shimmery finish that is reminiscent of pearls or oyster shells. 

So, the real reason Sidney rarely takes a day off isn’t because she can’t, but because she doesn’t want to. The stories she hears from makers and her connections with the Durham community are what make her job so rewarding. Even when she is traveling for leisure – say to Asheville or Virginia – she is checking out new galleries and craft shows and meeting makers. She is always on the lookout for that perfect piece that will fit right in to the shop. What does she look for? Textures, for one thing – silky wood or hammered metal. Excellent craftsmanship, for another – evidence that the piece is well made and thoughtfully constructed. Sidney also loves to buy art that is functional – things you can use in your home every day, like cutting boards, serving dishes, vases, and jewelry. On top of all that, Sidney asks herself a few questions when choosing what to keep in the shop: Is it beautiful? Will her customers fall in love with it? Does it tell a story?

Stop in to Zola and Sidney will likely be there with a story to tell about one of the beautiful items she has selected for the gallery. And because she loves making connections with customers, she may also want to strike up a conversation about a few of her other favorite things:   

 Favorite Travel Destination: Sidney and her family make an annual trek to the Virginia Creeper Trail where they spend the weekend biking and camping.

Favorite Music: Like her Ninth Street pals Emily Wexler and Deb Nickell at Cozy, Sidney is a big fan of Eva Cassidy. She also loves Tift Merritt, Van Morrison, Mandolin Orange, and Dire Straits.

Favorite Stress-Reliever: Swimming. If she’s not at the gallery or seeking out new art to display there, you might find Sidney swimming laps at one of Durham’s local pools.

Deb Nickell and Emily Wexler of Cozy

Cozy is nestled comfortably on the corner of Ninth and Markham in what was once a gas station and then a disreputable pool hall. Lise Ebel, Cozy employee and clothing manager, is responsible for its first major renovation into a retail space. Lise’s store (which she opened with Ann Alexander) was called FiberSpace, Durham’s first yarn and bead shop. In September of 2001, after FiberSpace closed, Deb Nickell created Cozy. Her longtime friend, Emily Wexler, became the store manager and then, in 2012, an official co-owner.

Though the geography of Cozy has changed over the years, the focus has stayed primarily on women’s clothing, shoes (oh, the shoes!), jewelry, and accessories with a niche market in high-quality, specialty yarns. This is essentially a neighborhood department store stocked with creative, inspired, and well-made goods produced by local makers and reputable national brands (Dansko, Hobo Bags, and Carol Turner Collection, to name a few).

And yet, if you spend any time shopping at Cozy, you’ll find that it’s also a community gathering space.  On the March 8th A Day Without a Woman, Emily and Deb did open the shop. But it wasn’t business as usual. They offered baked goods, a comfortable space for women to come in and chat, and even hosted a representative from Planned Parenthood; a portion of the proceeds from that day went to Planned Parenthood and North Carolina Central University. They’ve also raised funds for Pennies for Change, Dress for Success, and Crayons2Calculators. Local residents also gather at Cozy to learn – they offer knit and crochet classes for experience levels ranging from “I’ve never touched yarn!” to “I’m making my first sweater.” Past classes have taught participants to make fingerless mitts, ear warmers, and Flax pattern sweaters.

The all-women crew at Cozy has been together for many years, and they charmingly call themselves the Cozettes. At heart, the Cozettes are artists, and this artistry shines through every aspect of the shop. Knitting creations and the artistic work of local makers line the walls. One of those items on display is a scrumble shawl by yarn manager Lisa Doherty, whose patterns have been published in national knitting magazines. And on the first Tuesday and first Thursday of each month, Cozy hosts an open knitting circle (dubbed “Knit Night”) where locals share their work and learn from others.

Though Deb and Emily are business partners, their partnership extends well beyond the walls of Cozy. They have a lot in common, including their love of shoes and their dislike of having their photos taken. Here are a few other favorites they share:  

Favorite Books: Emily and Deb each have a favorite classic they love to reread every year. Emily’s is Little Women – the copy she got at a Scholastic Book Fair in the fourth grade. Deb’s is an autographed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favorite Music: Female singer songwriters like Eve Cassidy and Bonnie Raitt (with some crooners like Lyle Lovett and Frank Sinatra in the mix).

Three Things They Can’t Work Without: Music, good light, and mechanical pencils for the handwritten tickets they still create for every purchase (like we said, these folks are artists!).

Daryn O'Shea of Computer Cellar

Remember floppy disks and CD-ROMs? Or the colorful Apple desktop monitors that looked like space aliens? If you want a trip down computer technology’s memory lane, check out the museum wall at Computer Cellar, owned by Durham local Daryn O’Shea. The display of fantastically outdated computers and computer accessories will remind you how far we’ve come in the world of computing, and also how great it is to have local experts who can help you stay ahead of the technology curve (or at least keep up with it).

 The Crew at the Computer Cellar

The Crew at the Computer Cellar

In 2010, O’Shea opened the Computer Cellar on Ninth Street in the basement of the Couch Building. Its current location is in the basement of the Regulator Bookshop. Though he started his career in the Navy and then moved to IT management and Mechanical Engineering, O’Shea found his niche in the computer world through Computer Cellar. Personal computer repairs and small business IT support allow him to both problem-solve – satisfying his engineer’s brain – and work closely with clients in the community.

Computer Cellar certainly feels like a community-focused store. The team members are professional and highly competent, but they don’t let that keep them from being friendly and welcoming to first-time walk-ins or long-time clients. They’re also not afraid to have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their infamous “Book of Shame,” a running log of tragic computer accidents. The most extreme entry? A computer that survived a car accident but came out of it wrapped up like a burrito. O’Shea and his team are happy to report that they were able to recover most of the data from that laptop! Most Computer Cellar clients need repairs that are much less dramatic, but still, dealing with software malfunctions or spinning wheels of death can be anxiety producing for anyone who’s not an IT expert. That’s why a big part of O’Shea’s role in computer repair – beyond working through computer and internet-related issues – is helping people stay calm.  Good thing his crew is made up of friendly folks who really dig computers and are pretty good at staying calm themselves.

A few more things about Daryn O'Shea:

O’Shea’s advice for laptop owners?  Keep your workspace beverage-free! The most common accident he sees is liquid spilled on computers.

If O’Shea is on a computer outside of work, he’s probably watching Netflix (just like the rest of us).

If he’s not on a computer, he’s likely hiking the Eno with his family or singing with Vox Virorum Men’s Choir.

Three things O’Shea can’t work without? Coffee, an internet connection, and his crew.