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Charlotte’s small businesses face uncertainty as DNC approaches

CHARLOTTE, N.C. One Charlotte shop owner ordered politically themed products for the Democratic National Convention, and sales at her gift shop have been so good she had to order more.

Another spent $1,000 on additional merchandise for the convention, only to learn earlier this week that new security measures could severely limit customer access to her jewelry store.

Since the initial excitement after Charlotte learned it would host the DNC and the 35,000 visitors expected with it, uncertainty has grown among local small-business owners about how lucrative the convention will be for them.

They say issues caused by heightened security and the potential loss of regular local customers, as well as stories of lackluster sales at many businesses in Tampa, Fla., during this week’s Republican National Convention, leave them with no idea what to expect.

‘I am so devastated’

Berhan Nebioglu, owner of Berhan’s Jewelry & Gifts on North Tryon Street uptown, was excited about all the potential customers for the DNC. She spent $1,000 stocking up on extra merchandise so she’d be well prepared for the influx of people.

But Nebioglu said she found out earlier this week that security in the building where her store is located, 101 Independence Center, will be so tight during the convention that people can get in to shop only if they ask for her store by name. The senior property manager would not comment on the building’s convention security plans.

Nebioglu said it is unlikely that tourists will know about her business, which is “hidden” indoors.

“I am so devastated,” she said. “Thirty-five thousand people, and they cannot get in here to buy a simple … piece of jewelry. I mean, how sad is that?”

Nebioglu said she’d be happy now to get one or two sales during the DNC.

Other local business owners’ hopes of a big convention-driven sales boom have been dashed as well.

Ruth Faure, owner of Think Chocolate, a chocolate and gift shop in Ballantyne, thought she’d landed a big job with a woman whom she mistook as someone working for the DNC.

In anticipation of the job, Faure spent more than $2,000 on chocolate, packaging supplies and other materials. She said there were nights when she couldn’t sleep because she was so excited about the order and worried about having enough time to fill it.

But the big job never materialized – the woman did not work for the convention, and no official chocolate order was placed.

Now Faure won’t sell chocolates to anyone during the convention. She decided to shut down her store during the three-day event because of road closures and traffic restrictions planned for Ballantyne. Law enforcement officials have said the closures are needed because a dignitary will be in the area during the convention.

“I’m a small-business person,” she said. “This is my only location. We work six and seven days a week here trying to produce a quality product, and it’s just kind of a shame.”

Taking a gamble

Some local business owners are still optimistic about the convention and the potential to profit.

“We feel the excitement in the air already, and the people aren’t even here yet,” said Teresa Farson, co-owner of The Beehive, a gift and home accessories store in the Bank of America Plaza uptown.

Farson said she and her sister and co-owner, Betsy Almond, took a risk and started stocking up on politically themed merchandise before they knew whether they’d be allowed to stay open during the DNC.

“We tried to think ahead, and we, for months, have been thinking through it, preparing, buying, getting it out, re-displaying,” Farson said. “So we’ve been very busy at The Beehive.”

Farson, a native Charlottean, said she is excited to help show off her city. She plans to open her shop for extended hours during convention week.

Farther south on Tryon Street at Johnny Burrito, owner Johnny Bitter also decided to keep his store open during the DNC.

He conducted an informal poll at his restaurant, asking customers to indicate on a poster board whether they planned on coming in during the convention. Only 15 percent of customers said yes.

But the results of the poll didn’t deter Bitter.

“I’m here. I’m supporting Charlotte. I’m open,” he said. “And whether you’re protesting, or a delegate, or employee, whatever, I’m here for you.”

Bitter is doubling up on supplies, such as ingredients and foil sheets, in preparation for the DNC. He said he doesn’t understand why some business owners have decided to close up shop during the event.

The burrito shop owner said he wants to show some of Charlotte’s visitors a good time next week, and he’s holding out for the possibility that a certain well-known political family will visit his restaurant.

“Who knows? You might get Michelle and the kids, or Obama,” said Bitter. “… If you’re at home, you’re not going to get anything.”

Ross: 704-358-5170
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