Two Neighborhoods


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.


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.







6 responses to “Two Neighborhoods”

  1. Anli Avatar

    The N&O had also:

    Two of … [Panera’s] employees were bound with duct tape and robbed at gunpoint in the restaurant late last month.

    The statistics for downtown showed 300 occurrences of (Rape, Robbery, Aggravated assault, Burglary, Larceny, Motor vehicle theft) for the year. Perceptions aside those are facts.

  2. Administrator Avatar

    The Panera incident is pretty bad. I believe late night patrols have been increased in the area. It might be a terrible aberration, like the McDonalds murder in ’94, or it might signal a new trend.

    The crime rate downtown has fallen incrementally (0.3%) each year since 2000. Rapes appear to be up, but there’s also been a greater emphasis on reporting and a stepped-up program of outreach to victims.

    Aveda, as you know, is a daytime operation. If you think about your experience downtown, what additional steps could be taken to reduce the Aveda folks fear?

    Do we add four more police personnel downtown to show a greater presence? Will they be effective? The Chief thinks they’ll help but we need to find the monies for them.

    Here’s what is also being done to help by the DEDC (from the N&O):

    The partnership board approved a plan Monday to address the concerns. The plan calls for offering downtown workers self-defense and personal safety clinics, holding security seminars for downtown business owners, lobbying for more police downtown and increasing lighting.

  3. Anita Badrock Avatar
    Anita Badrock

    Will, I am glad to see that you are open to the idea that your experience downtown may be different from others. I think there is also a gender gap on this issue. Every single woman I have asked says that they are uncomfortable downtown, especially after dark. Many of us have been harrassed and followed down the sidewalk by someone (usually a man, but sometimes a woman) asking multiple times for money or our phone number or just making lewd comments. Only one of us has reported this to the police, because quite frankly, what can they really do?

    Throwing the latest released statistics at me isn’t going to change my memory of my last night visit to downtown a couple of weeks ago, when a man asked me for money, I said no, and he followed me down the street calling me every nasty name a woman can be called. I consider that assault. and no, I didn’t report it.

  4. Administrator Avatar

    Thank you for commenting Anita. Did you comment elsewhere about a similar incident? Is this the second time?

    Downtown, to me, is as comfortable as my living room. Yes, I’m a big, burly guy and I’ve spent decades enjoyably wandering its streets but I think there’s more to it. My family – my wife, my son – has had a good relationship with what should be the jewel in our crown. And we’re not the only family in Town that feels this way.

    You’re also right that statistics don’t capture the qualitative experience of Downtown.

    I have observed crass, boorish, rude, harassing, borderline illegal behavior Downtown on occasion. I’ve even intervened to stop it.

    I have also observed the best in human behaviors – kindness, courtesy, humanity, generosity, solidarity, community – on the same streets.

    As noted in my update to this post, I’ve spoken with the folk at Aveda to better understand their difficulties.

  5. Anita Badrock Avatar
    Anita Badrock

    Thanks Will. My daughter and I had a similar experience a while back. The one I mentioned to you occurred about two weeks ago.

    I love downtown. I spent many years as a downtown merchant. I still go downtown, despite my experiences, but not as much and not as spontaneously. My concern is that people who don’t already have a relationship with downtown (like you and me–the oldtimers) may never develop one because of the perception that downtown isn’t safe.

    Again, I appreciate your willingness to look at the issue through other’s eyes. Businesses don’t make snap decisions to move, and it’s important not to simply dismiss their comments.

  6. Ruby Sinreich Avatar

    Anita, I reject your downown “gender gap.” I walk around here all the time, even at night, and even one streets famous for unsavoryness. I have never felt any more personally theatened than I do any other time.

    Of course as women, we are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, but I’m sick of the internalized fear that men have drilled into us. It keeps us from having equal access, and reinforces the negative stereotypes that are used to hold us back.

    Please don’t let me hear you say “Every single woman I have asked says that they are uncomfortable downtown” again. It’s just not true. For EVERYONE’S benefit there should be more foot patrols downtown. I have been saying so for many years.

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