Opinion

It’s a city icon. It’s my home. Soon, it will be another Charlotte memory.

Radio Center, on South Boulevard, will be bulldozed soon for a German grocery store.
Radio Center, on South Boulevard, will be bulldozed soon for a German grocery store. Image used courtesy of the James Peeler Collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives, Johnson C. Smith University

Within the coming year, Radio Center apartments, an iconic fixture of South Boulevard, will be bulldozed for a German-based grocery store. It was a shock to many who lived there. Neighbors thought this day would be some years down the road, not with a 30-day notice right before Christmas.

As more than one cable technician has said to me, you wouldn’t know there were apartments there unless someone told you. They are in the back, couched between a tattoo parlor, a bus tour company, and a mechanic’s shop.

Before the preponderance of high rises, this part of South Boulevard was known for its adult entertainment clubs, the Cupboard restaurant, antique shops, South 21 drive-in, and the always-welcome-anywhere-you-put-it Krispy Kreme.

WAYS radio started at Radio Center. Native Charlotteans reminisce over dances attended there, as well as fashion shows. Elvis and Sinatra were rumored to have once played there. A concession window is still in the corner.

Radio Center has housed those on a fixed income, as well as the handicapped, for a number of years. The building is old, having been here since 1953, and has had its share of problems; cracks in the plaster, leaks, and could have used fresh paint. But for many it was home. One of our oldest, and original, residents passed away recently at 88. “When I moved in here rent was $50 a month!” she would heartily tell you more than once. Another resident passed away in her apartment after 40 years at Radio Center. Bear, the owner’s little black Pomeranian, roamed the corridors as a noisy but eager ambassador, making friends along the two floors, not the first dog to do so.

Radio Center’s demise is not an isolated trend in Charlotte. The mixed development of Cherry has driven out some lower income residents. The city’s west side is now being looked at for further development. NODA, while now an arts district, was once a more affordable area.

Developers see a need and fill it with each wave of transplants. In the 1970s IBM relocated a number of employees here from New York. Transamerica and Goodrich followed suit, as well as big banks in the 1990s. More jobs lead to a broader tax revenue, growth and sustainability, and Charlotte has emerged not just as a national city but one with an increasingly international presence.

But while the benefits are welcome, at some point you wonder where some of our more vulnerable residents will live and how gentrified their neighborhoods will be.

Many older Charlotteans miss the downtown shopping of Belk, Ivey’s, and Sears, or summer nights at Crockett park, or Queen Park, as a drive-in or dollar movie theater. We may have our memories, but will we have a place to live?

Heather Mims is a clerk in the Charlotte Observer newsroom. Email: hmims@charlotteobserver.com

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