Expect Mika and Joe to offer their usual mix of wit, intelligence, and candor on a range of topics, not the least of which is politics.

Simply put, Fourth Ward Bread Co. is awesome. The layout is inviting, the decor charming: high ceilings, exposed brick walls, tall windows, and cool furniture (Homeland even filmed there).

I expect that Charlotte Premium Outlets will greatly transform this part of town, spurring a lot more development along I-485 Exit 4 and Steele Creek Road.

LaCa Projects is dedicated to the presentation and development of Latin American art and culture. The gallery is part of a larger planned expansion that includes artist studios and a cafe.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

When opening a new business, particularly a brick-and-mortar store, one of the most important factors that goes (or should go) into the decision-making of the entrepreneur or corporation is the location (location, location, location, as developers say). A lot of market research and data are analyzed when new locations of franchises are being considered. So it's strategic when a franchise or chain like H&M, Chuy's, Taco Mac, or Chick-fil-A, for example, is deciding when and where it is opening in Charlotte. Among other things, it usually represents an area's population growth, and depending on the business, it might represent the affluency of that population.

But what does it mean when a new Family Dollar store opens in an area? Back in December, I was making a quick drive to the bank down the street from my house when I realized that a Family Dollar was being built. I commented on Twitter:
Over the last couple of weeks, I've had conversations with various people on topics involving socioeconomics. In a few of those conversations, we began talking about companies/stores like Walmart and Family Dollar, and in the case of Family Dollar, some interesting perspectives emerge as to the type of areas and neighborhoods the company opens stores in.

This Family Dollar is opening soon on Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road in my neighborhood.

Leon Levine opened the first Family Dollar store in Charlotte in 1959. Today, it's a publicly held, Fortune 300 company, headquartered in Matthews, with more than 8,100 stores in 46 states. It's largely viewed as a fast-growing chain, so it came as a bit of a surprise when Family Dollar announced on Thursday that it would be closing 370 stores and slowing new-store growth. This is a result of sales from the most recent quarter being down 3.8 percent. Also as part of their "immediate, strategic actions," the CEO says the company has "made a significant investment to lower prices on about 1,000 basic items." So apparently, you'll be able to buy many items at the store for even cheaper; I guess as a way to drive more customers to the stores.

Furthermore, this is how Family Dollar is described in its corporate bio:
For more than 54 years, Family Dollar has been providing value and convenience to customers in easy-to-shop neighborhood locations. Family Dollar’s mix of name brands and quality, private brand merchandise appeals to shoppers in more than 8,100 stores in rural and urban settings across 46 states. Helping families save on the items they need with everyday low prices creates a strong bond with customers, who often refer to their neighborhood store as “my Family Dollar.”

Recently, a friend told me that "You won't find a Family Dollar in Ballantyne." This goes back to the perception of the type of neighborhoods in which Family Dollar opens stores. And my friend is right; I searched the store locator on Family Dollar's website and there isn't one in Ballantyne. But according to the company's history section, where it describes how and why a young Leon Levine started Family Dollar, it says he found success opening discount stores in low to middle income neighborhoods.

If that trend continues, then does it mean that if there's a new Family Dollar store opening where you live, that your neighborhood is considered low to middle income?

This isn't at all intended to be a knock on Family Dollar as a company. I've never heard anything bad about what it's like to work for them, the way, say, we often hear complaints about Walmart. And it should be noted that the company's founder and his wife do some incredible charitable giving through the Leon Levine Foundation--their impact can be seen throughout Charlotte especially, with the tens of millions of dollars they've donated.

The reality is that a business is a brand, and brands represent things. What do you think it represents if a Family Dollar store opens in your neighborhood?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I didn't realize this was National Volunteer Week (April 6-12) until I saw a couple of tweets last night on the topic. It's held annually in April, but the week ranges from year to year--sometimes it's near the beginning of April, sometimes at the end--so it tends to creep up (read the Presidential Proclamation for National Volunteer Week 2014). But now that I know--and you know--that it's underway, what are we going to do about it?

Fortunately, in Charlotte, we have Hands On Charlotte, a nonprofit volunteer service organization that makes it easy to get involved in the community throughout the year. HOC coordinates volunteers to help homeless families, guide at-risk youth, tutor disadvantaged children, feed the hungry, care for the environment, and more. The organization keeps a running calendar of volunteer events, in partnership with other local organizations, for which you can sign up.

And its own signature community service event is Hands On Charlotte Day, taking place for the 22nd year, this Saturday, April 12. On HOC Day, as many as 1,000 volunteers spend the day working on projects across the city, ranging from sorting donated clothing and landscaping Charlotte schools to clearing neighborhood debris and repairing nature trails. If you want to participate, you need to register by April 10; and the sooner you register, the more likely you are to get the service project you want. Children and teenagers are allowed to participate at many of the volunteer projects, so you can make it a philanthropic outing for the whole family (pull those brats away from the Xbox).

You'll only have to spend about three hours of your time Saturday morning volunteering, and then you can spend that afternoon at VBGB Beer Hall and Garden for the "after-party" with other HOC Day volunteers.

You'll find all the details at handsoncharlotte.org.

According to Points of Light:
National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals. National Volunteer Week is about taking action and encouraging individuals and their respective communities to be at the center of social change – discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to make a difference.

Amen to that.

Friday, April 4, 2014

My experience on Tuesday was (actually) my second time visiting Fourth Ward Bread Co.--my first time was in December when I met a friend there for coffee. I expect to now make this my go-to bakery/cafe/coffee shop when I'm in Uptown.

Simply put, Fourth Ward Bread Co. is awesome. Open since September, it's located on North Graham Street, just off the intersection of Graham and Sixth streets (across from CVS). The layout is inviting, the decor charming: high ceilings, exposed brick walls, tall windows, and cool furniture, like a table propped up by an antique bike.

Photos by Jarvis Holliday.

The food is the star, though--this is, after all, a bakery. On my first visit I had the egg and cheese croissant; on Tuesday I ate lunch there, ordering the turkey bianca (sandwich) with the soup of the day, which was clam chowder. It's hard to convey how good the food here is. It's served fresh, hot, and flavorful--everything you would want from a bakery. I can't wait to try other items on the menu, particularly the sweets like the cinnamon bun, cookies, and cannoli. The coffee is decent; I'd say there's room for improvement with it.

Because I'm someone who often finds myself needing a space to do a couple of hours of work on my laptop in between meetings or interviews for stories, I love that this spot has plenty of tables and seating. And there's free WiFi, of course. Fourth Ward Bread Co. is family-owned, so that's another reason I look forward to being a repeat customer.

Another cool fact: the cafe was used in a scene in Homeland last season. Remember when Saul's wife was having that affair?

Photo credit: Facebook

Fourth Ward Bread Co., 312 N. Graham St., fourthwardbreadco.com, facebook.com/fourthwardbreadco.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In less than three months, we'll reach the five-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. He reigned as the King of Pop for decades during his lifetime, and because of the legacy of great music and memorable performances he left behind (not to mention previously unreleased music coming soon), he will forever be immortalized. So it's only fitting that when Cirque du Soleil partnered with the Estate of Michael Jackson and in the fall of 2011 launched a tour specially built on MJ's music and iconic dance moves, they titled it Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. Already one of the top-ten grossing tours of all-time, it comes to Charlotte for two nights, April 8 and 9, at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour features nearly 50 international dancers, acrobats, and musicians, including four of the original band members who worked with Michael. It's presented in a rock concert format that "combines the excitement and innovation of Michael Jackson’s music and choreography with Cirque du Soleil’s unparalleled creativity," as the show's synopsis describes. They perform--on stage and soaring above it--to about 30 of MJ's greatest hits, including several of my favorites: "Billie Jean," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Man In the Mirror," "P.Y.T.," "Rock With You," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," and many more. I almost want to bust out some of his dance moves just typing the names of those songs... shamone!

Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

The tour first came to the Queen City in March 2012, during its original North American run. By the end of that summer, it had moved on overseas and proceeded to spend the next year and a half entertaining audiences all over the world. It returned to the States about a month ago, and I'm looking forward to seeing it myself when it stops in Charlotte next week.

Tickets to the Charlotte shows are on sale, ranging from $58 to $172, and can be purchased by clicking here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I stay away from blogging about ratchetness, and I don't think this is too ratchet, but I'm posting it because it involves a Charlotte woman. It also shows the perils of this everybody-wants-to-be-famous, social-media-fueled culture we're living in. The young lady who's receiving 15 minutes of fame is named Tina (whom I happen to sort of know, which is how I know she's a Charlottean). Rapper 2 Chainz was backstage at his concert in Charlotte when he discovered Tina had made her way back there among his entourage and friends. With a video camera rolling, 2 Chainz goes on a mission to find out who Tina is and who she's come to see, and he asks the question: "Is This Yo Thot?" For those of you unfamiliar, thot, or T.H.O.T., is one of the latest (disrespectful) hip hop slang terms and it stands for "that hoe over there."

2 Chainz performed in concert last Thursday at The Fillmore Charlotte, but his team just posted this footage on YouTube yesterday, and he shared it on Twitter then too. Subsequently, the #IsThisYoThot hashtag is blowing up (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). 

In the three-minute video, as 2 Chainz proceeds to ask Tina to leave, he also informs her that "while you're back here, you're in a blog territory." To which Tina replies, "Oh sh#t, this is going on a blog for real?" But rather than let that embarrass her, the young socialite and social media darling (she posts photos of herself with celebrities quite often) takes the opportunity to tell potential viewers to follow her on Instagram @iluvtinaa.

Keep your head up, Tina. Credit: Tina's Instagram

The video has also made its way onto WorldStarHipHop, where it is quickly approaching (and will surpass) one million views.

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