Living Here Guide

SouthPark has a soul

Rain is not enough to dampen the spirits of conductor Albert-George Schram and the Charlotte Symphony during their Summer Pops concerts at Symphony Park. The shows run Sundays in June and culminate with Fourth of July fireworks.
Rain is not enough to dampen the spirits of conductor Albert-George Schram and the Charlotte Symphony during their Summer Pops concerts at Symphony Park. The shows run Sundays in June and culminate with Fourth of July fireworks. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

While the always-under-construction SouthPark area has a surprisingly pastoral past, there’s no hint of that during rush hour.

Or inside our imposing and impressive mall. Forgive the boast, but Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany and Design Within Reach are all, well, within our reach.

We’re a regional shopping destination, and we’re proud of that – in part because high-end malls don’t automatically remain high-end malls. Look at what became of Eastland, which – at one point – was the Charlotte mall with élan.

How important is SouthPark (the mall) to SouthPark (the community)? The mall gave the neighborhood its name – not the other way around, as you’d expect. It’s as if the neighborhood that stands on the late N.C. Gov. Cameron Morrison’s 3,000-acre farm didn’t have an identity until the mall came along. Belk (still here), Ivey’s (gone) and Sears (also gone) were the original anchors in 1970.

Oh, and our ’hood is the second largest employment hub in town. Around 40,000 people work here. And unlike the largest employment center in town, none of them has to pay to park. Boom.

Shopping for shoes, clothes and home and garden isn’t the only kind of shopping you can do here. SouthPark’s grocery shopping options include Earth Fare, Whole Foods, the Taj Mateeter (Harris Teeter), The Fresh Market. There’s almost too much choice.

As for our restaurants? Well, they rival our shopping. Great burgers (Arthur’s), inventive sushi (Yama, Sushi Guru, AZN) and Barrington’s, which consistently ranks as one of the top restaurants in town – and with good reason. You’ll need a reservation at the 45-seat restaurant. But once ensconced there, Bruce Moffett and team will pamper you as if you’re a celebrity.

Speaking of, we see plenty around here. Ric “Nature Boy” Flair is a regular at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, the restaurant that created the crazy but addictive concept of “burgushi.”

And you don’t hear much about the seedy underbelly of SouthPark, but we (almost, sort of) have one. When former Mayor Patrick Cannon was accepting bribes from undercover agents, guess where he was? Right here. Years ago, we also had a now-infamous call-girl ring operating in the area. A high-priced one, of course.

We’re also known for our homes – and not just the Foxcroft mansions NASCAR drivers inhabit. There are mid-century modern beauties, suddenly stylish again, in Mountainbrook, Barclay Downs and Town and Country.

One of the most famous homes in Charlotte is the 14,000-square-foot Tudor Revival home that once belonged to Cameron Morrison. The Morrocroft Mansion, built in 1927, is on Richardson Drive – and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Even our library (Morrison Regional) is grand. But there’s a sweet, hand-hewn little library in Beverly Woods East – on the Warewhip Lane cul-de-sac – where you can take a book and leave a book. A wooden bench beside the tiny library invites you to linger.

In Mountainbrook, one family has installed a make-your-own-poetry pole in their front yard. Choose your words from those on wooden plaques piled into a wire bicycle basket, and post a four-or five-word poem. A recent one: “Enjoy/summer/break/weather.” There’s even a colorful, painted bench with the hand-lettered words, “Sit a spell,” beside the poetry display.

Little pockets of homemade whimsy are sprinkled throughout our sophisticated environs.

SouthPark is never more sublime than when the Charlotte Symphony is playing a Pops concert at Symphony Park. With a blanket spread out on the lawn and a picnic supper – gourmet sandwiches and a bottle of chilled wine (from one of our upscale grocers, maybe?) – you can almost imagine this bustling retail mecca was once bucolic.

Page, a freelance writer, grew up in SouthPark and still lives there today.

The essentials

Get a deal: Sure, there are plenty of spots where you can pay a lot for a bottle of wine. But you could also just go to WineStore, a tiny shop tucked away in The Shops at Morrison, and get the guaranteed lowest prices in the entire state (there are also locations in the Blakeney area and Cornelius). A small, well-edited selection; friendly service; and wine-tasting machines (!) make WineStore fun. The fact that most wines are under $25 means you can buy more.

Pause to reflect: Settlers Cemetery uptown gets all the buzz, but SouthPark has a historic cemetery, too. The Sharon Presbyterian Church chapel dates back to 1891, but the idea for the church goes all the way back to 1830. More than 100 souls are buried here in a peaceful, well-tended graveyard hidden in plain sight, at 5201 Sharon Road.

Learn to cook: Williams-Sonoma offers Saturday cooking classes, and occasionally they’re even free. Kids classes have included a grilling lesson for 9- to 13-year-olds and – hold on to your aprons! – a baking class held in conjunction with American Girl that taught tween girls to make French madeleines.

Make grocery shopping more fun: You need to wind down after a long day, and you need to pick up milk, bread and juice. Do both! At the same time! Head to the bar at Whole Foods, have them pour you a glass of wine (or a beer on tap) – and stroll the aisles with beverage in hand. Suddenly, shopping is less of a chore.

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