High Point Road at Merritt Drive, 1979 (Peaches Records and Tapes and Kroger at left)
I didn’t really grow up on High Point Road, but my childhood home was about three blocks removed, so I spent a lot of my life there shopping, eating, hanging out, and cruising (of both the high school and homo varieties).I had my first kiss, my first real sexual experience, my first job, and my first car wreck along High Point Road. I bought records at Peaches, hamburgers at Hardee’s, and beer at The Family Mart when I was in high school. Later in life, I even worked in two different queer bars there, as a DJ at Busby’s in 1985 and as a barback and door keeper at XTC in 1989. And I still occasionally get breakfast at the Biscuitville by I-40 on the way to work.
Contrary to what this article in today’s Greensboro News & Record suggests, High Point Road was never a particularly “upscale” boulevard. Through its history, it was always thoroughly middle class, at best. The higher end retail was on Battleground and at Friendly Shopping Center. Prior to the opening of Four Seasons Mall in 1974 (and even after) High Point Road was primarily home to fast food restaurants, discount department stores such as Zayre and Cook’s, and supermarkets. In fact, the mall itself always seemed just a little out of place, a bit above the neighborhood that surrounded it. Even twenty years ago, the strip was a little gritty in stretches.
Like I said, there were supermarkets. Lots of them. in the mid 1970s, High Point Road between Florida Street and Hilltop Road boasted six chain supermarkets: Colonial, Big Star, Winn-Dixie, Kroger, Food World, and Bi-Rite. They’re all gone now; the last one, a Lowes Foods that took over the former Zayre store, closed about ten years ago. The only semblance of a supermarket along that stretch today belongs to Aldi, that noteworthy bottom feeder which–apparently just by bothering to stay in the area at all–has managed to capture my mom’s loyalty.
World Market and Bed Bath and Beyond (formerly The Family Mart and later Kroger), High Point and Holden Roads.
The lack of supermarkets is, I admit, a symbol that all is not entirely well in the area. However, High Point Road is anything but bleak, despite the tone of the News & Record’s piece. There are few empty storefronts, and none of the low level of abandonment that can be seen even in some other areas of Greensboro, much less anything approaching the condition of Detroit or west Baltimore. As a somewhat experienced urbanite, I would say that High Point Road is relatively healthy. Yes, even the discount stores are gone, but the mall is still there and by no means dead (although it may be starting to slip). There’s even some significant chain retail including Borders, Bed Bath and Beyond, and World Market stores which admittedly seem a little out of place, just like the mall.
La Familia (formerly Bi-Rite supermarket, later Western Auto), High Point and Groometown Roads.
More importantly, though, High Point Road is home to dozens of new businesses, many of which were started by recent immigrants and range from small grocery stores to ethnic restaurants and more. Like South Boulevard in Charlotte and many other strips in many other cities, High Point Road is something of an incubator, which the N&R article actually mentions, to its credit. Again, there are very few vacant storefronts here. Unfortunately, too many of the “powers that be” view this as a liability rather than an asset. Apparently, only upscale chains aimed at upper middle class white folks are welcome, even in areas like southwest Greensboro, where the residents tend to be more working class and tend to come in more shades and hues than in the northwestern quadrant.
I’m not suggesting that High Point Road doesn’t need some attention. It does. The problem is the kind of attention usually given to areas like this, which tends to focus on cosmetic changes designed to attract a population that probably isn’t coming back rather than promoting the kind of development that is already starting to revive the area and that (gasp) actually serves the people who are already living there. The idea of promoting housing on High Point Road, for example, is a good one as long as it’s the sort of housing that families in the area actually need and as long as it doesn’t ignore the fact that there is already well-built and well-kept housing in the area. Ditto for retail: how about incentives for small start-ups rather than subsidies for big chains that can survive quite well on their own, thanks.
South Drive-In Theatre, High Point Road and Merritt Drive, 1978, shortly before demolition.
I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for High Point Road, and maybe that’s what makes me feel safe there. And I do feel pretty safe. We’re just not talking about some hardcore ghetto here. but I’m really worried that plans that might try to turn it into something it isn’t might instead create a hardcore ghetto.