In business, branding can often be the difference between success and failure. The same can be said of entire business districts.
Take uptown Charlotte, for example, or Historic South End, or North Davidson (NoDa), or University City. Each offers its own combination of sights, textures and tastes, a creative mix that drives the customer experience.
After decades of watching others thrive, merchants in Historic West End have taken up the branding cause. In shops and local businesses, they meet to brainstorm ideas they hope will spur economic growth.
The effort is part of a broader initiative sponsored by Historic West End Partners, a nonprofit formed in 2010 to promote the areas culture and development while honoring its history and heritage.
JTanya Adams, who chairs Historic West End Partners, is a blur of activity as she meets daily with residents, business leaders or anyone else interested in promoting the district, which runs along the Beatties Ford Road corridor from West Trade Street to Sunset Road.
I wake up with a to-do list, she said. I think I dream about the corridor, all its vastness, its greatness and its potential stories that have never been told, wonderful people who have never been met.
At Rudeans Restaurant last week, Adams and a small group of business leaders met over a shared meal to brainstorm an idea thats been dubbed West End Wednesdays, a promotion that would see merchants offer discounts and promotions on that day. The group also has discussed a proposed food event called West End Taste.
We have a lot of motorists who go through the Beatties Ford Road corridor because its a gateway to the city, Adams said. We want them to stop and partake and enjoy all the services, the food and the West End experiences because it is an experience.
If the branding effort is to work, Adams said, public perception must change. To some outsiders, she said, the area has become associated with crime and loitering an image she says is undeserved.
We know that its safe, but theres a misperception that it isnt, she said. The inappropriate behavior that is depicted is not the norm, but those are the stories that are told.
Adams said she envisions a vibrant community and business district that is welcoming to others but still steeped in its history a history that dates back to urban renewal, when African-American neighborhoods in uptown Charlotte were leveled to make way for highways and new construction.
Many of those displaced residents and businesses found new beginnings in the open spaces that once stretched along Beatties Ford Road.
So far, Adams said, Historic West End Partners has gotten all its seed money from board members and from Johnson C. Smith University, which helped launch the Historic West End Market in 2009.
Adams said the goal is to build a signature community that attracts people from all over Charlotte who want to shop there, dine there and even take up residence.
I dont think the corridor has to forget its roots or any of its cultural norms to become an inclusive environment, she said. When you go to any other city ... you go and experience Little Italy, you go and experience Chinatown. You dont go into Chinatown and try to make it Little Italy.
She hopes to eventually see new entertainment options and infill development in West End.
Theres something about a down-home experience, she said. Once youve had it, you dont forget it sharing meals, sharing music, being warm, open and embracing; you know, part of the Southern charm.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlottes African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.
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