Latest Posts

Grata Café, built on gratitude, filling void left by Elmo’s

By Monica Chen

CARRBORO – Inside Carr Mill Mall on Tuesday, Jay Radford was busy getting his new restaurant ready.

Full of energy and optimism, Radford walked here and there in the former Elmo’s Diner space, gathering materials, telling construction workers what he wants done, enlisting the help of one of his sons. Other business owners in Carr Mill and employees stop by to chat with him.

Grata Café can open as soon as in the next couple of weeks, Radford said, as soon as the permits are approved.

Would he like to sit down for this interview? “Oh, no. If I sit down, I’ll fall asleep,” Radford said.

Radford is a man who likes to keep moving. Over the course of his life so far, the 52-year-old has built a multitude of experiences and skills. They are all informing his approach to Grata Café.

His work style is rooted in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A native of Washington, D.C., he worked as a page at the Capitol Building when he was young. (“When I saw what happened at the Capitol [on Jan. 6], I just couldn’t believe it. I mean that building is sacred.”) From 1995 to 2000, he worked at Planet Hollywood in D.C., working his way up from dishwasher to becoming the general manager. After that, “like everyone else, I went into a dot-com,” he said.

At Grata Café, Radford is putting his capacity for work, to work. “We leap, then we look,” Radford said.

First, the Elmo’s Diner kitchen equipment was overhauled. The equipment was old and the walk-in freezer was leaking, he said. He added a station for making pasta. Second, his message to employees is: “I’m not here to tell you how to do your job. I hired you to do it, and I trust you can do it. You can figure it out yourself, or we can figure it out together.”

Third, inclusion is in every part of Grata. Being good to the LGBTQ community is important to Radford. “Grata” is Italian for “gratitude.” And the restaurant’s motto is “Eat with gratitude.”

“I came out of the pandemic with a lot of gratitude, with the idea that there is a need for the community to come together again,” he said.

Radford is frank about his philosophy. “I don’t care who you are. This is a safe space no matter who you are,” he said, “unless you are a racist or a bigot.”

“I picture all the colors and creeds and genders to come together. We have a community table,” he added. “I think if all the businesses have the same attitude, we’d all heal a little faster as a country.”  

Inclusion also extends to his workers. The staff is paid $18 an hour wage. Any tips left on tables will go into a bucket, with the total going to a nonprofit of the staff’s choice at the end of every month.

“I’ve hired an amazing team – at their core, kind and helpful,” Radford said.

His staff also will have a say in the menu. Everyone will get a turn at producing a recipe for a weekly special.

Not surprisingly, all of Grata’s positions already have been filled.

A staff meeting took place later on Tuesday morning. The new hires gathered around the community table, excitedly chatting.

Janaris Camarillo said she found the job opening on “We pitched in a lot of ideas building the menu. It’s going to have a little personality from each of us. So it’s going to be very special,” she said.

The restaurant is also generating buzz elsewhere in Carr Mill Mall. Joseph Keasler, who works at the Oasis at Carr Mill Coffee Shop, said he is glad Grata Café will be opening soon. Elmo’s closing was a blow to the entire mall.

“We lost traffic,” he said. “There was a lot of waiting traffic on the weekends.” Keasler was also glad Grata will be serving breakfast in addition to lunch. He used to get breakfast at Elmo’s.

Grata’s breakfast, in addition to Italian fare, will also feature pancakes, waffles, omelets and biscuits and gravy. The 86-seat restaurant will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday to Sunday.

This is also a homecoming of sorts for Radford. His grandmother was Italian.

In the past year, Radford became – well, obsessed – with Italian food, falling down a hole of watching food shows on Netflix, such as “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” and testing recipes, and researching parts of Italy like Liguria. When he was young, he would cook for hundreds of classmates.

Grata’s menu will be on a chalk board. “The menu will never be final,” Radford said.

“We make everything fresh. Our pasta, our menu, everything,” he added.

Price points are under $20, with most items at $12 and under. There is a “build your own pasta” part of the menu, as well as Chicken Piccata, Chicken Parmigiana – all $12. The menu will feature Radford’s own recipe for vegan meatballs. He has planted an herb garden in the outdoor patio space. Basil and mint will line the windowsills.

From Radford’s tastes and interests, the menu also has a sizable charcuterie section, with a traditional charcuterie, a vegan option, and a “build your own” from a multitude of ingredients. Grata will also have a beer and wine menu, and a summer sangria, Radford said, his eyes lighting up. He’s also teaming up with locally owned Takeout Central, to offer a delivery of ready to heat meals weekly.

Carrboro residents have been anxiously awaiting for a new business to take the Elmo’s space after the diner closed in March 2020 during COVID-19. At first, residents wondered when the restaurant would reopen. But lockdown orders came and went, and still the restaurant remained closed.  

In September, Elmo’s ownership announced they were closing on Facebook. However, they seemed to leave the possibility open that they would return. “We have not sold to anyone, so we do not know the future of the space,” they wrote. But earlier this year, it was apparent they were gone.

Elmo’s had been open for 29 years when it closed. Word around the mall is that Carrboro residents were so desperate for Elmo’s to reopen that during lockdown, notes were being left on the doors, asking if they needed help with fundraising, with starting a GoFundMe, anything they needed.

The owners left everything behind: Plates, forks, everything in the kitchen.

Townsend Bertram & Co. at Carr Mill also closed last year. Ceremony Salon in Carrboro, owned by Radford’s wife, Rachel, will be moving into the space.

Radford moved to Carrboro from D.C. in 2005, right to Broad Street. Since then, he has become a complete Chapel Hill-Carrboroan. He started the “Not So Normal 5K” races in Carrboro, that raised money for a variety of nonprofits. For years, he was known as the dad behind the “Moms in the Chapel Hill NC” blog. Radford had taken over from the original blogger in 2013. He has since left it and passed it on to another blogger.

Radford is very familiar with Carrboro’s personality by now. When he ordered heavy equipment for the kitchen, it was left behind the building and someone stole it within two days. Radford was mostly amused.

“I was impressed. I mean that takes ingenuity!” he said.

Trump makes rousing comeback speech at NCGOP Convention

By Monica Chen

GREENVILLE – Former President Donald Trump returned to North Carolina on Saturday and gave a rousing speech at the N.C. Republican Party Convention, where he blasted President Joe Biden, said critical race theory should be banned, slammed China on COVID-19, spoke on election fraud and his team’s continued legal efforts, and touted his accomplishments in office.

Trump also endorsed Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., for Richard Burr’s senate seat.
Daughter-in-law Lara Trump announced she will not run this year.

It was the former president’s first major appearance since leaving office,
and he delivered the speech in a more low-key manner than at his campaign
rallies. However, Trump did not hold back in criticizing Democrats and in
particular the Far Left.

“It’s great to be back in Greenville with so many proud North Carolina
patriots who love our country, support our military, respect our police, honor
our flag and always put America first. We don’t put America second,” Trump said in kicking off his speech.

And Trump immediately criticized the Left. “They stick together. They don’t
have some of the people like we have where they go on their own and they do
what they have to,” he said. “They stick together, and that’s the one thing
they have.”

“Joe Biden and the socialist Democrats are the most radical left-wing
administration in history. Even Bernie Sanders can’t believe it,” he added,
drawing laughter from the audience. “The survival of America depends upon our ability to elect Republicans at every level, starting with the mid-terms next year. We have to get it done.”

The event, held at the Greenville Convention Center, also featured other big names on the political stage, in North Carolina and nationally. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem spoke in the morning. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., and former Gov. Pat McCrory spoke in smaller sessions. Foxx, Noem and Trump’s speeches were open to the press.

The event drew an estimated 1,250 attendees, according to the NCGOP. The energy was high at the convention center and around Greenville as delegates, organizations, political hopefuls, and vendors decked out with Trump signs and T-shirts all flocked to the event. Vendors and demonstrators carrying signs and flags also gathered outside, staying for most of the hot and humid day.

“We weren’t able to get tickets, but maybe we will get to see Trump in the motorcade,” said Ashley Heath, who held up a flag with her family across from the convention center. Heath had traveled from Pikeville.

Heath said she liked that Trump supports the military. On President Joe Biden, she said, “You have to keep your word with me. And he hasn’t kept his word in really anything.”

Other attendees and demonstrators held similar views on Biden.

Dale Woodlief, carrying a flag for 2nd Amendment rights, said of Trump, “He made America great again.” When asked if he liked any of Biden’s policies, Woodlief said, “Zero. Nothing.”

“We want the truth to come out. The election and everything, COVID, controlling the population,” he added.

Saturday was Trump’s third trip to Greenville in as many years. In July 2019, his rally made headlines worldwide when the crowd chanted, “Send her back!” about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

In 2020, Trump held a campaign rally in Greenville in October and the event was decidedly less controversial, drawing an audience that wanted to hear more about his ideas in the run-up to the election.

On Saturday, Trump made headlines again by endorsing Ted Budd, who had announced in April that he will run for the Senate. The Congressman represents North Carolina’s 13th district, which includes Randolph, Alamance, Davidson counties and part of Chatham County.

The endorsement boosts Budd in a crowded field with McCrory and Democrat Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, having already announced they are running.

Budd thanked Trump and Lara Trump. “In 2016, I was in a 17-way race. I was the business guy that never ran for office. … Lara, your father-in-law and you, you fought for me in 2018,” he said. “We got a lot of hard work ahead.”


Highlights from Trump’s speech

Trump said 2022 and 2024 will be banner years for Republicans in North Carolina.

Touting his administration’s accomplishments, he said, “Before the pandemic came into our shores, we were doing numbers that, in history, there’s never been anything like it. Unemployment for every group was the best it’s ever been.”

“The Biden administration seems to be putting America last,” Trump said. “48,000 jobs were lost by President Biden’s day one rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Why?”

“They’re going back more rapidly than anyone ever thought possible. Nobody ever thought that they could do this kind of destruction to our country so quickly. Some of those executive orders that are signed are absolutely insane,” Trump said.

Trump did not hold back on his thoughts on Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president. “Not a great doctor, but a great promoter,” Trump said. “He likes television.” At this, the audience laughed.

Trump called the Paris Climate Accord “a terrible deal that is pro-China, pro-Russia, and anti-American.” “It will cost America trillions of dollars over the years,” he said.

One of the biggest applauses Trump received on Saturday was when he spoke about China. “The time has come for America and the world to demand reparations and accountability from the Communist Party of China,” he said. “We should all declare within one unified voice that China must pay. The United States should immediately take steps to phase in a firm 100 percent tariff on all goods made in China.”

At this, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Trump also laid into Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Zuckerberg broke the law spending millions of dollars. Don’t you think he broke the law?” he said. “They say they may allow me back in two years. I’m not too interested in that.”

On fraud during the 2020 elections and Trump’s team’s continued legal battles, he said, “Between the impeachment hoax number one, impeachment hoax number two, they said, ‘Ah sh–, we failed. Let’s send it to the radical left prosecutors in New York, maybe they can have more luck’,” Trump said. “They’ll never stop until November of 2024. There’s no better example of the Democrat and media corruption than the 2020 election hoax.”

“I’m not the one trying to undermine Democracy,” Trump said. “I’m the one trying to save it, please remember that.”

“Our movement is far from over. In fact, it is just getting started,” Trump said toward the end of his speech.


Noem: “We need you to say, ‘Yes’”

The NCGOP Convention kicked off with speeches by Foxx and Noem.

“We’re not going to let the Far Left take this country from us,” Foxx said. “We’ve got to double down in 2022.”

Noem spoke about keeping South Dakota free from lockdowns amid COVID-19, praised the state’s high gross domestic product, and of her experiences rising from being a farmer to governor.

Some of the biggest cheers she received were she sniped at Gov. Roy Cooper. “You send amazing people to Washington in your delegation. Not governors,” she said, to applause and laughter.

“I’m going to help you get a new governor,” she added.

Noem described her disappointment at reactions to lockdown orders and media bans. “The media used fear to control people. And the Left used fear to promote their agenda,” she said. “I watched people across this country just roll over and give up their freedom of assembly. Government tells me I can’t be with people? OK.”

As she ended her speech, Noem urged the audience to get more involved, support candidates and talk about their own experiences. “We need you to say, ‘Yes,’” she said. “You may find you have a gift or a talent that you didn’t know you had.”

Gallery: Scenes from the NCGOP Convention

Delegates, vendors and demonstrators flocked to the NCGOP Convention in Greenville on Saturday.

Selling their wares, holding up pro-Trump signs and chatting with other attendees, the crowd was energized by the prospect of catching a glimpse of the former President Donald Trump. “Maybe I’ll see him pass by, in the motorcade,” one demonstrator said.

A man who wanted to be called “Cosmos A Clown” waved flags to passing motorists and danced. Some of them jeered, but he took it in stride.

“Clowns, we don’t get the respect we deserve, so I’m here to support our President Donald Trump.”

Check out our photo gallery of the day below:

Live blog: The NCGOP convention in Greenville

The NCGOP Convention on Saturday is drawing some high profile speakers to Greenville, including the former President Donald Trump.

The event is being held at the Greenville Convention Center. We are live-blogging the event.

One of the first speakers is Rep. Virginia Foxx, representing North Carolina’s 5th District.

12:25 p.m.: Virginia Foxx is speaking. “Most people in Washington will tell you that the North Carolina delegation punches its weight. We work very hard together, and we’re all working for the entire state. We are all very optimistic about taking back the House.”

“We’re not going to let the Far Left take this country from us.”

“We’ve got to double down in 2022.”

12:30 p.m.: Kristi Noem speaking. The room standing up for applause.

“You send amazing people to Washington in your delegation. Not governors…,” and the crowd laughed.

“There’s no women’s issues in this country. What there is is a woman’s perspective on every issue.”

“I’m going to help you get a new governor.” The room explodes in applause.

Another moment of applause. “I believe that when leaders overstep their powers, that’s when we break this country.”

“That’s right,” an audience member said in agreement.

“American people are hungry for hope, she said just now. “And what they’re hungry for is the Republican Party.”

“The media used fear to control people. And the Left used their agenda. I watched people across this country just roll over.”

Noem is urging more political involvement and also more open communication between people who have different views.

Noem just finished her remarks. “God bless you. God bless North Carolina and the state of South Dakota. Thank you.”

BREAK: Legislators, candidates, delegates and organizations are mingling while media is off campus. We will be back for Trump’s speech at 7 p.m.

Crowd slowly filling the convention hall for Trump’s speech, scheduled for 7 p.m.

6:15 p.m.: Press are back in the convention center. The crowd is mingling. The music is starting to kick in to some of Trump’s campaign playlist, which liked Michael Jackson. “Billie Jean” playing right now.

7:07 p.m.: Trump isn’t here yet. Choice quote from the pastor earlier: “Ladies and gentlemen, Judas was a Democrat.”

North Carolina has been one of Trump’s most visited states. In the run-up to Election 2020, he came to the Tar Heel state five times after the rally in Greenville in October, making it a total of 13 campaign visits to the state.

North Carolina was also the first place Trump visited within the 100-day mark leading up to Election Day. That was to tour Fujifilm’s COVID-19 biotech facility in Morrisville.

8 p.m.: NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley speaking now.

Touting Trump’s initiatives during his presidency.

“Promises made, promises kept,” Whatley. “He stemmed the tide of illegal immigration that Biden has unleashed now.”

“We’ve never seen a president that did more to put America first than our 45th president, Donald J. Trump.”

Trump arrives and all the mobile phones come out.

“Remember, stick together,” Trump says. “They play very tough, very dirty,” he said of Democrats.

Lara Trump takes the stage and says she won’t run for Senate seat.

Ted Budd: “We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead and let’s get back to making America great again.”

Trump speaking, touting his work on COVID-19 vaccine, then on job creation: “The Biden administration seems to be putting America last. The day one rejection of the Keystone pipeline. Why would you do that? It’s great and they ended that. On day one.”

“We cracked down on sanctuary cities, deported criminals and dealt a crippling blow to MS-13.”

Trump says Democrats have systematically dismantled the sovereign borders of the southern U.S.

“Everybody was taking advantage of us. We had an agreement (with Mexico.) Stay in Mexico, not come to the United States.”

“The border is just the beginning of the Biden disasters.” Trump spoke of the economy and energy independence. “All Joe Biden had to do was sit back and do nothing. Instead, the economy is going to hell and the inflation is going to cause a catastrophe.”

On Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill: “That’s not infrastructure. That’s a lot of things you don’t want.”

“The radical left movement in New York, there’s no place where it’s worst or more corrupt.” Trump talks of the Left weaponizing the law to go after good people in order to get to Trump.

“It’s a disgrace to our country.”

“I’m not the one trying to undermine Democracy. I’m trying to save it.”

Trump ends his speech with a rousing summary of goals. The crowd cheers, and “YMCA” starts playing.

Blog post: New restaurant for Elmo’s space in Carrboro

When Elmo’s Diner closed during COVID-19 last March, Carrboro residents wondered when the restaurant would reopen. The months passed, lockdown orders came and went, and still the restaurant remained closed.  

Then came word in September that they had decided to close permanently, although Elmo’s ownership seemed to leave the possibility open that they would return. “We have not sold to anyone, so we do not know the future of the space,” the last post on their Facebook page said.

But since then, that prime spot in Carr Mill Mall has changed hands. There is definitely a new tenant now. Grata Café, which will focus on Italian cuisine, is currently sprucing it up and getting ready to open.

“Eat with gratitude,” is the slogan displayed on its web site (, which also states that “grata” is Italian for “gratitude.”

The owner is Jay Radford, founder of the Not So Normal 5K races in Carrboro some years back that raised money for a variety of causes. Radford is also the man who is behind the “Mom in the Chapel Hill NC” blog, having taken over from its founder in 2013. Radford’s wife, Rachel, is owner of Ceremony Salon in Carrboro.

“As I look back over the extraordinary events of the past year, I find myself steeped in a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the health of my family, the incredible community that Carrboro has been and continues to be, and for all the day dreams that are becoming a reality before our eyes. The totality of my life experiences to date have brought me to the beginning of a closely held dream of owning an Italian-themed eatery,” Grata Café’s web site states.  

The restaurant did not respond to a request for comment. No details are provided on its menu or concept. But its social media provides some clues about what’s in store.

Elmo’s had been in Carr Mill for 29 years when it closed.

Word around the mall is people were so anxious for Elmo’s to reopen that notes were being left on the doors, asking if they needed help with fundraising.

What is Chapter 160D?

A new state law passed in 2019 will change local government planning processes statewide.

In May 2019, the N.C. General Assembly passed Senate Bill 355 to combine city and county development statutes and “modernize” local ordinances. It was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper in July 2019.

Local governments have to change ordinances to comply with the law by July 1 this year. By July 2022, cities and counties statewide also are required to have comprehensive plans or else zoning ordinances cannot be enforced, as required in 160D.

The state legislature proposed similar legislation in April 2015 and March 2017. But it was in 2019 that it finally passed. The UNC School of Government states the bill was proposed by the N.C. Bar Association, and that the final version passed was a combination of that bill and another proposed by the N.C. Home Builders Association.

Chapter 160D replaces the former 160A that applied to cities and towns and 153A for counties. They were much more detailed, the original writing for which date to 1905 and were largely unchanged over the years, with additions made instead of revisions.

160D in full can be read here:

The UNC School of Government microsite is here:!#resourcesTraining

An article in The National Law Review is here:


-Development approvals run with the land.

-Third-party down zonings are prohibited and must have the approval of the owner of the property.  

-Vested rights: Amendments in land development regulations are not applicable or enforceable without the written consent of the owner if a development permit application has been submitted and issued.

The National Law Review article notes the change in conditional use zoning: “Conditional Use Zoning” is replaced with “Conditional Zoning” – a minor grammatical but major procedural change.” That is, it’s now a legislative decision, taking it out of quasi-judicial hearings.

“Conditional Use Zoning” is when a rezoning (legislative decision) and conditional use permit (quasi-judicial decision) were required in conjunction with one another to allow for zoning amendments with site-specific conditions.

A rezoning with conditions is now “Conditional Zoning”, a solely legislative decision. Any property with a prior “Conditional Use Zoning” approval is now converted to a “Conditional Zoning”.

-The National Law Review article also states 160D authorizes minor modifications to development approvals to be administratively approved, with local guidelines on what such modifications are.

-Makes it easier for governments to demolish old buildings that have been abandoned – two years for nonresidential buildings. Amazingly, the law orders demolition both whether it costs less to repair the building or costs more.

1. If the cost to repair the nonresidential building or structure to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards is less than or equal to fifty percent (50%) of its then current value, the ordinance shall require that the owner either repair or demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days.

2. If the cost to repair the nonresidential building or structure to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards exceeds fifty percent (50%) of its then current value, the ordinance shall require the owner to demolish and remove the building or structure within 90 days.

– 160D overall is much less detailed than the old laws, 160A and 153A. Compare the language of 160D with the old law on vested rights:

The General Assembly recognizes that local government approval of development typically follows significant investment in site evaluation, planning, development costs, consultant fees, and related expenses. The General Assembly finds that it is necessary and desirable to provide for the establishment of certain vested rights in order to ensure reasonable certainty, stability, and fairness in the development regulation process, to secure the reasonable expectations of landowners, and to foster cooperation between the public and private sectors in land-use planning and development regulation. The provisions of this section and G.S. 160D-108.1 strike an appropriate balance between private expectations and the public interest.


The General Assembly finds and declares that it is necessary and desirable, as a matter of public policy, to provide for the establishment of certain vested rights in order to ensure reasonable certainty, stability, and fairness in the land-use planning process, secure the reasonable expectations of landowners, and foster cooperation between the public and private sectors in the area of land-use planning. Furthermore, the General Assembly recognizes that city approval of land-use development typically follows significant landowner investment in site evaluation, planning, development costs, consultant fees, and related expenses.

The ability of a landowner to obtain a vested right after city approval of a site specific development plan or a phased development plan will preserve the prerogatives and authority of local elected officials with respect to land-use matters. There will be ample opportunities for public participation and the public interest will be served. These provisions will strike an appropriate balance between private expectations and the public interest, while scrupulously protecting the public health, safety, and welfare.


Reporting on this massive overhaul is just starting to percolate in local newspapers, and so far, the articles show the changes being made differ widely from place to place.

In Dare County, The Coastland Times has a thorough report with the county planning director noting changes like minimum square footage for structures cannot be set under the new law, bona fide farms must be included in the new regulations whereas they are exempt under local law, and changes to the Board of Adjustment in that the hearings must be evidentiary.

In Franklin County, The Franklin Times reports that county planning is set to “update” zoning, that is, rezone 16,000 county properties in part to comply with 160D.

The Charlotte Business Journal reports confusion from the city council on the deadlines in 160D and calls for delaying adoption on a new comprehensive plan.

Overall, 160D is a gutting of previous planning processes that were working, and has the makings of a statewide disaster.  

Perfume 101 with Jenny Mann

Jenny Mann, the manager and “nose” of The Fragrance Shop, gives The Spring Magazine a rundown on perfume basics.

From “The H&R Book of Perfume,” published in 1984, there are three classic fragrance categories for women’s perfumes: Floral, Oriental, Chypre.

Floral: Compound of flower scents. “Miss Dior” by Christian Dior is a floral perfume, with two kinds of rose, sandalwood and patchouli.  

Oriental: Base of musk and typically using vanilla as an ingredient. Rich and seductive. “Shalimar,” 1925, by Guerlain is the classic Oriental perfume and includes musk, vanilla, incense, jasmine, mandarin orange, iris, rose, among other ingredients.

Chypre: Chypre is French for Cyprus and this fragrance family draws inspiration from the Mediterranean island. Built on bergamot, oakmoss and labdanum and meant to evoke the goddess, this category was started in 1917 with the perfume “Chypre” by Coty.

For men, the fragrance categories are: Fougere, Oriental, Chypre, and Citrus. Fougere is the French word for “fern,” and perfumes in this family have a woody, mossy scent with sweet top notes. “Boss” by Hugo Boss is a prime example.

What the nose detects from five perfumes:

Jicky: This iconic perfume was created by Guerlain in 1889, the year the Eiffel Tower was completed. It is one of the first perfumes made with synthetic ingredients. “A classic by Guerlain that has been discontinued. A woody powdery fragrance in the Oriental-amber family,” said Mann.

Jo Malone Oud & Bergamot: Launched in 2010 by Estee Lauder in the Jo Malone brand. “Oud is a heavier base note, I think,” Mann said. Oud is a dark and sweet scent that has become pervasive in the perfume industry. It is made from the agarwood of Southeast Asian trees — that is, heartwood a tree grows to fight off an infected wound. Mann said Jo Malone’s take is a good oud fragrance. “The bergamot softens. It’s a Chypre. It’s a good summer fragrance.”

Dolce & Gabbana Feminine: A still popular perfume that was launched in 1999. “I think D&G has been one of the more successful designers that have gone into perfumes. This is softer, lighter than the classic D&G perfume.”

White Tea: The most popular special blend oil in the store by far. Soft, sweet, light. “White Tea is a good neutralizer if you’re trying to make a scent.”

Relaxing by Shiseido: A 1997 creation that has become surprisingly popular in the store in recent years. Trends among customers come in waves, and Relaxing has been in demand. “It’s our biggest seller internationally,” Mann said.

The Fragrance Shop, a family journey of timeless scents

Among the thousands of perfumes lining the shelves at The Fragrance Shop in Carrboro are a perfume that is more than 200 years old, a perfume worn by the empress of France, and an oil that smells exactly like a well-loved lotion of a popular brand.

That first perfume, which smells of citrus with a cool, medicinal undertone – or is it overtone, intended to mask body odor in the 18th Century — is called “4711.” The perfume worn by the empress of France in 1860 is called, fittingly, “Imperiale.” It was created by the perfume house Guerlain to soothe her migraines.

“Burt’s Bees, we have a scent,” says long-time manager Jenny Mann during a recent visit to the store. And Mann pulls out, as she does, a bottle from tucked behind other bottles that only she remembers. “Someone told me they used to work at Burt’s Bees, right here in Carr Mill Mall,” she says. The bottle smells exactly like Burt’s Bees’ milk and honey lotion.

Mann is The Fragrance Shop’s expert “nose,” the olfactory powers of whom decides the perfumes available, crafts personalized perfumes for customers, and maintains quality control.

The Fragrance Shop is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and it has grown from many helping hands in a big family. The business originally was started by Penny Kay, Mann’s mother, in 1996 in Provincetown, Mass. The first major store opened in Miami Beach. By the late ‘90s, the family moved to New Orleans and opened a store there, and only left after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. There were also stores in Philadelphia, Baltimore, then Charlotte. Finally, in early 2017, they came to Carrboro.

The family has moved all over for the stores, a journey that left a trail of delightful scents.

Penny and Neal Kay are the heads of the family. Neal Kay is a retired marketing executive, and they have nine children, five of whom were adopted. Mann manages the store. Sister Amy handles the web site. Another sister, Sue, creates the essential oil formulas. And a brother, Joshua, helps with buying.

As a result, the store has a touch of well-worn, well-loved, thoughtful considerations. Different members of the family pay attention to different details that others might not immediately pick up on.

The business buys oils from the major perfumeries in Grasse, France, the “perfume capital of the world.” Kay makes trips there, and the warmth and light of the South of France is carried in the store.

“We went to France and met some perfumers. And they wanted to make us perfumes without fillers,” Kay said.

The selling point of the business is the perfumes are without alcohol or fillers. When perfumes degrade, connoisseurs note, the alcohol evaporates and the top notes go first. The Fragrance Shop carries only the oil.

Upon walking in the store, customers are invited to try the perfumes with a few drops of oil on the wrist. Whether a perfume smells dazzling or awful depends on both the perfume and the wearer’s body chemistry. A multi-dimensional artform, evoking memory, nostalgia and triggering immediate senses – Does it smell like lavender and bergamot? Does it smell like a forest rain? Does it smell like a powdery mess you can’t wait to wash off?

“You don’t know until you put it on,” Mann said.

Customers are greeted first by the counter, lined with the glass bottles, called “flacons,” that store special blends, with names like “English Pear and Wildflower,” “Seashore,” and “Forest Rain.”

“Single note” perfumes are found in the corner. Behind the counter is a surprising selection of essential oils that customers don’t get to touch on their own, well-sourced from various parts of the world. There are several different kinds of lavender, rose, and chamomile, to start, making even a simple essential oil formula involve a multitude of choices.

When asked what her favorite perfume is, Mann finds it hard to say. “I go home every day and I smell, my clothes smell,” she said. “There is just so much.”

The business originally started with 600 Estée Lauder classics, and by now, it has grown into more than 2,000 bottles. New perfumes like “Mon Paris” by Yves Saint Laurent share shelf space with the iconic “Shalimar” and long-discontinued scents like “Krazy Kritzia,” known only by those who love perfumes.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have longevity and customer loyalty,” Mann said. “We have people who’ve been ordering from us for 18 years. It’s the relationship with people that’s very important.”

That loyal customer base, with some regulars ordering perfumes from as far as Dubai, helped buffer the business from the financial fallout of COVID-19.

According to Mann, in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, the store was posting $30,000 a month in sales in store, which it never recovered after the disaster. “If Katrina had not hit New Orleans, we would still be in business,” Mann said. “We still have NOLA customers ordering from us.”

In Carrboro, during its first year, it had $1 million in sales, that’s including online orders and a side business of CBD oil.

“We took a drastic hit during COVID on retail and phone sales,” Mann said, “but we were lucky enough to maintain our online business thanks to our international and domestic customers who ordered during the whole pandemic.”

Elka Maxwell, who lives in Los Angeles, has ordered from The Fragrance Shop for 20 years, sending her favorite perfumes to family members around the world.

“I actually send oils to Ireland, to London and to Australia,” Maxwell said. “Because I have extended family bonds and so it helps me maintain a rapport at a distance but with love and with a personal touch.”

“I’ve been to the New Orleans store. They have beautiful stores and I find the customer service is beyond reproach,” she said. “I feel like a family friend in that we can talk about fragrances and our personal lives, and it’s just a very valuable part of my life.”

“People like to wear their perfumes when they choose to and it’s something that gives them confidence and they think of the person that sent them the perfume… . So I like to think that someone is thinking of me when they’re wearing their perfume and they’re feeling a little extra confident,” she added.

In 2015, Kay also started the store’s CBD business. She was experiencing pains in her body. “I started taking CBD, and my pain went away,” she said.

Ever since then, Kay has become practically a CBD ambassador. With her characteristic maternal enthusiasm and well-honed sales skills, Kay recommends to customers – and even strangers – to take CBD if she hears they have pains, spasms, and other ailments. Or if they just want to relax.

“I met this lady at Macy’s, and she had Parkinson’s,” Kay said. “I asked her, quietly, ‘Do you have Parkinson’s?’ And she nodded. So I called Jenny and told her to give her a free bottle.”

The brand is Colorado CBD, and Kay on her own also includes an independent lab test with every batch to ensure their quality.

It’s now a thriving part of the main perfume business.

A sense for scents

Because perfumes tell the emotional history of a culture, and most especially that of women, perfumes are evocative and trigger emotional memories, the cataloging of them simply cannot be too formulaic. At The Fragrance Shop, the selection is done on instinct, on the verve of the day-in and day-out work, and simply what “the nose” is ready to take in.

Mann studied fashion design and merchandising, and among her difficult jobs is staying on top of the perfume trends, which can be overwhelming. In recent years, after the release of “Mon Guerlain” in 2017 by Guerlain, with an ad campaign fronted by Angelina Jolie directed by Terrence Malick, the perfume world has lost some of its bearings. In 2018, Christian Dior released “Joy,” a floral citrus perfume fronted by Jennifer Lawrence, one of many perfumes that have become, well, too “on the nose.”

Mann has the knowledge to quickly point out: There is already a perfume named “Joy,” by Jean Patou, a classic and much more complex perfume from 1930.

“This girl, she knows everything,” Kay beamed during a sit-down interview alongside Mann. 

Manager Jenny Mann checks online orders while employees fill and label bottles. Photo by Monica Chen

Mann is also the main crafter of perfumes for those who walk in, looking for a personalized creation.

What do you like? What does your wife wear? Mann would ask.

Then she starts with a base of musk, amber or some other grounding ingredient, and layers it with a variety of scents. Pipette upon pipette go on the wrist, then a rub with the back of the glass to warm the oil. Then maybe a few drops to top off and give an extra zing of citrus.

Customers ask for discontinued perfumes they used to wear, bring in nearly empty perfume bottles.

All around the store are historic reminders of this work that has been done for centuries.

The Fragrance Shop is carrying on that tradition.

At Miami Beach, right after the family opened a store there, The Miami Herald did a write up.

The family had renovated the store and discovered a terrazzo floor underneath, which they buffed to shine. In that more open and prosperous late ‘90s time, the store employees also would stand out on Lincoln Road and dab shoppers.

“We are finding our clients, drop by drop,” Kay was quoted as saying.

Like perfumes, the story of The Fragrance Shop seems to be a multi-dimensional one expressed over time.

Start with a no-nonsense New England outlook, layer upon that the luxuriousness of Grasse, add the depth and sensuality of New Orleans, and finally, top with a few drops of hippie Carrboro.

A perfect blend.

Durham Fire Department to build $8M new station in South Durham

Durham Fire Department wants to build a new fire and EMS station to the tune of $8 million in South Durham by the city-county line.

Instead of renovating the existing fire station in the Parkwood subdivision, the department has staked out a new site at 6919 Herndon Road two miles away, along a rural and residential stretch. On Tuesday morning, the department got the go-ahead from the Board of Adjustment for the project.

It was a decision that neighbors in the area seem to have expected.

“They drive by here all the time. We see them several times a week,” said Enrique Galvan on Monday as he stood on his front porch, lined with pots of bright red Christ thorn bushes.  

Tracey Price, who also lives on Herndon Road, echoed Galvan’s observations. “They come this way anyway,” she said.

Durham City bought the land in 2017, paying $700,000 for the 2.2-acre lot, which is assessed for $182,280. The new station is projected to cost $8.02 million. Durham County will be paying for 24.8 percent of the total cost for the EMS.

According to site plans, the new station on Herndon Road will be 14,162 square feet. It will have 11 dorms, three offices, and a fitness room.

The new station’s entrance will be directly across from Galvan’s house. It will be next door to another house, and be located behind the cul-de-sacs of two neighborhoods, on Pondfield Way and Landreth Court.

“I see the surveying people once in a while. I guess they’re going to build,” Galvan said on Monday.

Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said in an e-mail that the department will abandon the station at Parkwood, which was a volunteer unit that was absorbed into the fire department in 2018 when the city and county consolidated. Fire Chief Robert Zoldos did not respond to a request for comment.  

“The current station (in Parkwood) was built as a volunteer fire station and is not configured well for the current type of fire station use it receives,” Iannuzzi said. “Additionally, because the district has grown significantly over the years, the station is no longer in a good location to serve its entire district.”

However, the existing fire station in Parkwood is across from a neighborhood shopping center straight up from N.C. 54 on the well-traveled Revere Road. Meanwhile, the site on Herndon Road is not only residential but also rural. Fire trucks will be speeding past fields of cows and rounding a traffic circle before reaching N.C. 54.

The new station at Herndon Road also will be right at the city-county line.

And when compared with other fire stations in Durham, the new station on Herndon Road will be one of the most residential – if not the most residential — in all of Durham. Most other stations are located in commercial or industrial areas, at intersections, and at least not directly facing homes.

There are also three other stations in South Durham, on Hope Valley Road, on South Miami Boulevard in a commercial area, and on Farrington Road, where it is located on a site big enough to provide natural buffers from residences. 

When asked why the fire department located the new station on a site in a residential area, Iannucci replied, “The existing site on Seaton Road is not as good a location for reaching all parts of the district in a timely manner. The site on Herndon Road was the best available location to provide efficient coverage to that part of the city and county.”

The fire department also wants to build another new station at the corner of N.C. 54 and Davis Drive, slated for 2023-2024.

Board of Adjustment gives go-ahead

The Board of Adjustment questioned on Tuesday the project’s location, noise and runoff issues, and why the project still has not received approval from other Durham City and County departments – Public Works’ Engineering and Stormwater, County Sedimentation and Erosion, and the Planning Department.

The Herndon Road site is zoned residential and needed a special use permit from the board for a government facility. It also lies in the Falls of Neuse and Jordan Lake Protected Area, which means the project is limited to 24 percent of impervious surface. But the new station will have 50.2 percent impervious surface.

Cheryl Summers, who lives on nearby Grandale Trace, attended the meeting to voice her concerns. Durham City and the Fire Department had four representatives speaking for the new station.   

“I’m curious as to why we would close that (Parkwood station) as opposed to renovating it, to build something new in a residential area, when we already have something existing which is close by,” she said. “We hear those trucks going by all the time.”

“Additionally, we’ve had some problems with water coming in off Herndon Road as the result of some previous construction,” Summers added. “So we have some concerns as a community, as to when construction begins on this new fire station and EMS station too, that that might exacerbate that.”

Summers also asked about the noise and lighting of the new station.

“The city has complied with the UDO requirements,” said City Attorney Don O’Toole. “I believe the only party at this hearing today that has put on expert testimony is the city, and we’ve put on four experts that testify about how the city meets those requirements.”

“Whether a neighborhood meeting might’ve been a good idea? Potentially,” he added. “But that’s not required by the UDO. … And I think you’ve heard from our civil engineer, our architect and the assistant fire chief about the level of sensitivity that the city has demonstrated towards its neighbors and that it will demonstrate once this fire and EMS station is open to the public.”

“We’re hearing from two individuals. There are other people that live in this area. It’s just two people speaking about their fears. My guess is that those fears won’t be realized. At the end of the day, this is a quasi-judicial proceeding. If the applicant puts on evidence showing that it meets the requirements, this board should grant the minor special use permit. And that’s what I expect the board to do today,” O’Toole said.

Board member Chad Meadows asked about noise concerns and comments from planning staff that have not been addressed. Board member Ian Kipp asked why there is a rush for the Board of Adjustment to approve the project when Public Works-Stormwater has not signed off.

Despite questions about the project’s suitability for the area, the Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to approve the new station.

“It will be safer. So that’s good for us, I guess,” Galvan said.

Government watch: Durham Board of Adjustment, April 27

Stone Bros. & Byrd planning some moves

A new mixed-use development appears to be in the works at the long-time downtown garden store Stone Bros. & Byrd.

According to an application with the Board of Adjustment, what’s planned for the site at 512 W. Geer St. are tenant spaces at the front of what is currently the store, a residential lobby and structured parking.

The Board of Adjustment will hear this matter and others at its monthly meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

When The Spring Magazine reached Stone Bros.’ long-time owner George Davis this week, Davis referred questions to Beacon Street Development of Raleigh.

Beacon Street recently built “620 Wade,” a five-story condominiums development located at 620 Wade Ave. in Raleigh. The swanky condos, the web site for which boasts of their 10-foot ceilings and white oak floors, and amenities such as a fitness center and a rooftop terrace, are near the corner with St. Mary Street. The luxury development is located next to the Raleigh Rehabilitation Center, at 616 Wade Ave.

A fire station where?

Durham Fire Department wants to build a new fire and EMS station in a residential area in South Durham.

The new station, proposed for 6919 Herndon Road, would be just two miles from the existing station in the Parkwood subdivision, and is proposed to be facing two homes and tucked behind the cul-de-sacs of two neighborhoods.

Of the department’s 19 locations, the new station’s site would be the most residential in all of Durham. Most other stations are on sites that are far from other buildings, or in commercial or industrial areas.

The fire station in the Parkwood subdivision, located at 1409 Seaton Road, is across from a neighborhood shopping center. There are also three other stations in South Durham on Hope Valley Road, on South Miami Boulevard in a commercial area, and on Farrington Road, where it is located on a site big enough to offer natural buffers from residences. 

Fire Chief Robert Zoldos did not respond to a request for comment. Deputy Chief Chris Iannuzzi replied over e-mail that the new station will replace the Parkwood station, which was a volunteer station with Durham County Fire Rescue that was absorbed into the Durham Fire Department in 2018.

Th fire department also wants to build a new station at the corner of N.C. 54 and Davis Drive, slated for 2023-2024.

Kress Building variance

The developer of the new condos proposed for behind the historic Kress Building in downtown Durham wants a variance for the structured parking ground floor design standards.

The downtown district requires a minimum interior depth of 20 feet and ceiling height of 14 feet, and the developer seeks a variance for about 12 feet depth of interior space.

CityPlat and White Oak Properties, both of Raleigh, announced earlier this year plans for a six-story, 26-condo mixed-use development at 0.15 acres at 162 Ramseur St., at the site of what’s currently parking behind the Kress Building.

According to the application with the Board of Adjustment, the developer wants the change in the design requirements to fit in an HVAC chiller, parking space and loading aisle, among other things, and the 12-foot interior, instead of 20 feet, is all that would remain to fit into the small lot.