Sale of Elizabeth property leaves small businesses scrambling

In 15 years, Tecle Gebemussie has seen the area around his Red Sea restaurant on Charlottetowne Avenue surge with development, complete with the recently finished streetcar line and 550 new apartments coming up the street.

But just as the area takes off, Gebemussie is one of the eight small-business owners left scrambling for a new location because Central Piedmont Community College is buying the property on which his Ethiopian/Ereatrien restaurant sits.

He’s hoping his regular guests follow him to his new spot at 4301 Monroe Road, about 3 miles away. “I don’t want to disappoint my customers,” he says.

The phenomenon of small local businesses being pushed out to make way for new development is something that’s happening all over Charlotte. It has some worried that close-in neighborhoods such as Elizabeth could be losing their funkiness.

“You have all this development and Charlotte is expanding, but who is getting cut out? Who is suffering because of that? The small-business owners,” says Mike Dawson, who co-owns Crown Station Coffee House & Pub.

The businesses that occupy the cluster of green buildings at the corner of Elizabeth and Charlottetowne avenues received a notice in mid-February saying they had to leave their current spots by March 31 because their landlord, G&K Enterprises, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to court filings. G&K couldn’t be reached for comment.

CPCC is buying the property, the letter reads, with approval from the bankruptcy court under the threat of eminent domain, which refers to a government entity seizing private land for public use. A CPCC spokesman said the school doesn’t have any immediate plans for the property, but will eventually build an academic building there.

Managers at CP Text Books, Fortune Cookie Chinese and City Deli & Bagel either weren’t available or declined to comment this week. Shiraz Grill, Cuisine Malaya, Behdani Realty and Crown Station are still trying to decide what’s next.

The owners of Crown Station have decided the cafe/bar’s last day will be March 26, which is also its fifth anniversary. “It’s a coincidence, but it’s a shame as well,” Dawson says.

Business at Crown Station has started to really pick up from its sleepier early days, when neighborhood foot traffic was light. The bar started touting itself as an event and study space for CPCC faculty and staff, and as an official Appalachian State game watch bar since its owners went there. Now it feels like having the rug ripped out from under your feet, Dawson says.

Dawson and his business partner Billy Dail invested “way too much” into Crown Station’s bar and electrical and plumbing systems under the assumption they’d have at least nine years in the space.

“We put a lot of money into this building that we’re not going to get back,” Dail says.

The property’s landlord has the option to lease back the Crown Station and City Deli & Bagel spots from CPCC, per the agreement between the college and G&K. So Dawson and Dail are trying to work out a sublease to stay in their spots for a bit longer. CPCC declined to comment on the deal since it’s not closed.

A few doors down from Crown Station is Behdani Realty. Amir Behdani says because he often works from home, he’s going to take his time to find a new location that will be “stable” for at least three to five years so he doesn’t have to worry about this happening again.

“I feel a lot worse for everybody else, the restaurants and bars and stuff, where more than one member of the family works there. They’re being forced out without too much notice,” Behdani says.

That’s the case around the corner at Shiraz, where Greek fare such as kebobs and gyros sizzle on long grills. Manager Fernando Sosa says the restaurant is still looking for a new location after six years in its current spot, and he doesn’t know how long the process will take.

“I really feel sad about the situation,” he says.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta