FreeMoreWest is the kind of location Rob Rondelez had in mind when he decided to launch his business.
His Rhino Market & Deli, at 1500 W. Morehead St., opened in November. The sit-down/take-out eatery features shelves stocked with local coffees, craft beers, made-to-order sandwiches and refrigerated deli items.
He’s part of the collection of neighborhoods and businesses near the intersection of Freedom Drive and West Morehead Street that’s attracting attention – and visitors.
“I... thought it was neat over here, the up-and-coming-ness of it,” said Rondelez, 44, on choosing a space that’s shared with other businesses, including Charlotte Fencing Academy and The Burger Co. “The fact that it’s so close to the highways and so close to uptown, downtown, and it has an industrial feel to it.”
That’s the energy supporters hope to convey through the “FreeMoreWest” identity, a 5-year-old moniker that recognizes the area’s historic industrial roots, marked by brick-front structures and manufacturing spaces. The name also conveys the region’s emerging identity “as a really cool area to do business, eat or live,” says Julianne McCollum, who lives in the area and served for four years on FreeMoreWest Partners, a business booster group.
McCollum says the region has an estimated 275 businesses – a reversal from the decades-long decline in the number of businesses along West Morehead Street extending through about 2000, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
Here’s what to know about the area’s collection of businesses:
Grants boost: FreeMoreWest Partners’ dues-paying members help the area qualify for city grants for priority business corridors. FreeMoreWest has been awarded $90,000 over three years, although the area hasn’t always maxed out its annual budget, according to the city.
Money is used to build a sense of community, from a 5K run to “Taste of FreeMore,” a festival featuring food from area restaurants.
I...thought it was neat over here, the up-and-coming-ness of it.
Rob Rondelez, Rhino Market & Deli owner
Grinnell Water Works: Made up of two buildings with two different owners, the renovated site of the historic Grinnell/General Fire Extinguisher Company now includes a collection of tech, marketing, architecture and interior design businesses.
Inside, the exposed bricks, large barn doors in hallways, high ceilings and skylights helped lure “creative-focused” businesses. That’s according to Jonathan Douglas, brokerage associate at Insite Properties LLC, which owns the second building that’s fully occupied.
Marketing manager Erin Hoffarth of Mountain Khakis, an outdoor apparel business with its operations office at Grinnell, says the setting feeds the “work hard, play harder” company attitude. There’s space for a pool table, open lounge area and a large-scale stained-glass design of the Teton Range in Wyoming.
“The beauty of us being in this area is that it’s growing … much like our business,” Hoffarth says.
Technology companies: Supporters say the list keeps growing of startups and tech firms based here. At least one is expanding big: Digital-marketing solutions firm Technekes, which moved from South End to the Grinnell site this year, announced this month that it acquired a stake in an Atlanta-based technology firm, and both companies would be located here.
Food and drink: Once known for only a few mainstays like Open Kitchen Italian restaurant, the area now boasts a creative mix of places to eat and drink.
There’s Draught (say ‘draft’), a sports and craft beer bar that opened in August, Pinky’s Westside Grill, with its distinctive Volkswagen Beetle on the roof, Savor Café and Catering and more. (See a Charlotte Observer photo slide show of the area’s restaurants here: bit.ly/1Kn2Bux)
Even the Dunkin’ Donuts, which opened in 2013 across from Pinky’s, kept details put in place by a previous bank owner, notes McCollum. The business uses the bank drive-thru and left the teller window in, even though it doesn’t use it.
“What character we have is here to stay,” says Chris Wannamaker, FreeMoreWest Partners’ immediate past president. “At least for a good long time.”
Smith: 704-358-5087; Twitter: @celestesmithobs