A year ago, many of Timothy Griffin's favorite neighborhood businesses were on the verge of shutting down.
Though the stores and restaurants in Plaza Midwood were within walking distance of highly populated neighborhoods, the businesses were hurting because residents drove elsewhere to shop.
“I kept hearing people saying they went over to Dilworth to dinner or to NoDa or South End to buy a piece of art,” said Griffin, president of the Morningside Homeowner's Association. “I couldn't figure out why these people were leaving our neighborhood to do things when we have everything you could dream of right here.”
So Griffin created the Plaza Central Art Krawl, a quarterly event that joins stores together to promote their businesses and entertain residents.
Today, participants say, the event is the main reason business in the area has increased and the streets are busier than ever.
Supporters say they hope the business district just east of uptown will catch on as “Plaza Central” and become as visible and popular as such areas as NoDa and South End.
Gary Adams, owner of Georgetown Day Spa, said his business has attracted two or three new clients from each Krawl event.
“And the great thing is, they're repeat customers. That's pretty huge,” said Adams, who has been in business on Thomas Street for a decade. “This is the first time I've seen a collective effort from all the businesses to do something at the same time. There's a buzz and energy around it that's just great.”
The Krawl is not the first attempt to revive business in the area.
Years ago, a handful of residents formed a festival event that closed off the streets, and participants were invited to party outside.
It soon fell out of favor because, although the event was popular, participants spent more time outside than inside the stores.
Supporters say one reason the Krawl succeeds is that it doesn't block off streets.
Participants get to all the activities by walking the sidewalks, where they are encouraged to stop in and wander through the area's numerous restaurants and shops.
And, in contrast with art crawls in other parts of the city, the Krawl takes a broader view of art.
“Art is more than just visual representation,” Griffin said. “I think the way they bake bread down the street is art. The way some hairstylists do hair is art. It's all a form of creativity, and I think all aspects should be shown.”
John Nichols of The Nichols Co., a real estate development firm based in Plaza Midwood, said one challenge the district has faced is a reputation for vagrants and crime.
In the 1920s, the area was Charlotte's first suburban retail shopping district and enjoyed a reputation as the city's “miracle mile.”
But then the Great Depression hit. Later, Independence Boulevard carved a swath through the middle of the old neighborhood, choking it off from many of the vibrant neighborhoods that fed the business district.
While many of those issues have long been resolved, Nichols said many longtime Charlotte residents still have a negative reaction when they think of Plaza Central. And, because not enough has been done to market the area, many newcomers are also unaware, he said.
Nichols said some businesses have told him they've seen their receipts jump 50 percent since the Krawl events began. There also is a deeper reward.
“It really encourages neighbors to get out and meet each other,” Nichols said.
“In our society, with the Internet, TV and cable, it's easy to never have any interaction with anybody and live in a sheltered bubble. These events are making people communicate more.”