UPDATE:

I spoke with some of the folk working at Aveda today and got a clearer picture of the situation. The manager was pleased that a police officer came by to ask about the problems and to clarify what the Town could do to protect our Downtown business folk.

ORIGINAL POST:

I work in downtown Chapel Hill above a company called Aveda.

I’ve worked in that location for nearly five years. I’ve wandered those downtown streets for over two decades.

You might be able to tell from my picture that I’m a big, bear-like guy. In all my years around downtown, I’ve experienced a minimum of hassling or attempted intimidation.

My neighbors don’t appear as lucky:

From the News and Observer

CHAPEL HILL — Some Franklin Street business owners warned a downtown group Monday that if safety doesn’t improve, they may take their businesses elsewhere.

Though reported crime in Chapel Hill’s downtown business district is down this fiscal year over last, those working downtown say their employees and customers don’t feel safe.

Patrick Thompson, owner of the Aveda Institute at 200 W. Franklin St., said that his students and clientele, mostly women, are frequently harassed and that one employee was assaulted downtown.

“If one of those students gets attacked, our business is done,” he told the board of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, formerly known as the Downtown Economic Development Corp.

and the HeraldSun

CHAPEL HILL — Members of a downtown booster group heard repeated charges Monday that the town needs to do a lot more to enhance public safety in the downtown business district.

Both downtown business owners and those who work in the area complained vociferously about crime in the town’s commercial center, and spoke of a “deep-seated fear” of violence against customers and employees.

Patrick Thompson, owner of the Aveda cosmetology school and retail shop on West Franklin and Church streets, said his director had been assaulted and three students harassed in the downtown since the business opened last year.

Speaking to the board of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Thompson said most of his students and customers were women, and that many had a certain “deep-seated fear” about the possibility of attacks that was real but hard to express.

“If one of these students gets attacked, our business is done,” said Thompson. “It’s that simple.

“I want to speak the truth,” he added. “I hope everyone here gets committed around putting more police on the streets. There is no police presence on the streets, at least in my experience, and I’ve been here fairly regularly.”

Though separated by mere inches in the same building and navigating the same geography, we work in two neighborhoods.

In their neighborhood, the owner tells us of his women student’s, customer’s and employee’s real “deep-seated fear” of possible attacks.

In my neighborhood, I enjoyably amble about from West End to Downtown day in, day out.

In their neighborhood, their local and out-of-town students have been harassed and an employee assaulted.

In my neighborhood, whether day or night, I walk bear-like along their dangerous avenues, recognizing the reclining regulars, rarely hassled even for change.

And though the fear is about the possibility of attacks – the perception of impending danger instead of the danger itself – the results can be equivalent. As candidate Jason Baker pointed out during tonight’s forum, if we lose a business to reality or to a misperception of reality, we’ve still lost a business.

And while the loss of a business is bad, worse is the thought that we can’t build a bridge from their dark Downtown-scape to the safe and vibrant Downtown my family and I enjoy.

I’ll see if I can walk the streets as a visiting Aveda student instead of a longtime Chapel Hillian. I’ll visit their neighborhood. Then, maybe, I’ll understand how to bring our two neighborhoods back to one.

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