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Today we launched The 9th, a newsletter that will showcase the great stories and photos in The 9th Street Journal.

Compiled by Duke senior Dryden Quigley, The 9th is a sharp-looking digest of the week’s news in Durham. Every week it will provide convenient summaries and links to articles written by 9th Street Journal reporters.

We hope you’ll click through to see the stories and photographs by our student journalists. (Every edition will have a Photo of the Week that does not appear on our website.) But if you’re in a hurry, The 9th is a convenient way to get a quick overview of what’s happening in Bull City.

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Pandemic litter? It’s here

If you’ve walked down almost any well-traveled street in Durham during the last four months, you’ve likely seen wadded up masks or disposable gloves along with typical roadside litter like candy wrappers and soda bottles. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought environmental benefits such as reductions in air pollution, carbon emissions and environmental degradation. But littering, with pandemic-linked waste in the mix, has increased.

Across the country, cities have reported higher rates of discarded personal protective equipment like gloves and masks, or PPE, along roads, in parking lots, by bus stops and in waterways. 

“We’re really trying to discourage people from doing that because it’s not fair to whoever needs to come along and pick it up afterwards,” said Tania Dautlick, executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful.

In addition to PPE litter, Durham has seen an uptick in all types of trash tossed where it should not go. The city collected 30 tons of litter a month since the pandemic started — four tons more than average, said Phillip Powell Sr., assistant director for Durham’s Department of Public Works Operations and Street Maintenance Division. 

People concerned about litter have observed an increase in illegal dumping of household goods and other trash too, according to Dautlick, whose nonprofit group has organized volunteer cleanups of public and private land across the City of Durham and Durham County for decades. 

In March, the city’s Waste Disposal and Recycling Center closed to the public, restricting trash and recycling services to curbside pick-up. Residents have been disposing of more items, sometimes leaving trash along roadsides or in the woods. 

“People have likely had some extra time to clean up their homes and clean out, and they’ve been looking for a way to get rid of things,” Powell said. 

Keeping up with this has proven difficult. In the earlier months of the pandemic, Powell said. That is because operations were scaled back. Employees only cleaned up bus stops, city streets, curbsides and sidewalks along the over 3,000 streets that Public Works maintains when essential. 

Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers took a break, too. The nonprofit, which helped mobilize 3,290 cleanup volunteers last year, only recently started handing out its pickup kits again, which contain protective gloves, neon vests and trash bags. 

“We had stopped for a little while because we just wanted to support everybody staying home,” said Dautlick. “We also weren’t sure what sort of exposure people could have from litter because we were still learning more about how long the virus lasts on surfaces.”

Keep Durham Beautiful is encouraging residents via social media, bi-weekly newsletters, and their website to get out and collect litter on their own.

For the environmentally conscious, cleaning up litter on roads or trails is a habit. But uncertainties about the new coronavirus pandemic brought a degree of fear to that practice. 

Today guidance from public health organizations, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says SARS-CoV-2 spreads most easily from person to person rather than from contaminated surfaces. But the true risks that objects and surfaces pose were not clear at the start of the pandemic.

Luckily research suggests that the virus does not last long in direct sunlight, a fact that quelled some of Keep Durham Beautiful’s members’ fears around picking up roadside litter, Dautlick said.

Still, Dautlick encourages volunteers picking up other people’s trash to “handle it as little as possible, to wear gloves and put it straight into a trash bag, and then don’t sort through it.” 

Her organization also urges social distancing and volunteer outings close to home. “We are having a lot of family groups or small friend groups or neighbors going out, up and down their street, but staying socially distant,” she said. 

Powell and Dautlick are hopeful that the amount of litter, PPE and illegal dumping will decrease again as more Durham businesses open back up. As people return to work, they will spend less time at home cleaning. And as recycling and trash services get back to normal, litter hauls should return to pre-COVID-19 numbers, they said.

“My hope, certainly, is that people continue to become more aware of the negative impacts of littering and begin to reduce,” Dautlick said.

9th Street reporter Cameron Oglesby can be reached at cameron.oglesby@duke.edu

At top: A discarded mask on the ground not far from Duke Health’s coronavirus drive-up testing site off Erwin Road. Photo by Henry Haggart

COVID-19 by the numbers in Durham

Reporting by Chris Kuo, graphics by Henry Haggart

COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation, including in North Carolina. As of July 11, 83,793 cases and 1,499 deaths have been confirmed in this state. Drawing on Durham County and North Carolina data, The 9th Street Journal created a snapshot of the outbreak in Durham today.

Durham is the sixth most populated county in North Carolina, but it has the highest number of cases per 10,000 people among counties with the most residents. A large COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison complex in Butner, part of which sits in northern Durham County, contributes to Durham’s rate. Graphic by Henry Haggart

The impact of the coronavirus on racial and ethnic groups is evolving but has hit three groups hardest in Durham. When Mayor Steve Schewel first instituted a stay-at-home order in March, white residents made up the largest percentage of coronavirus cases. In April, it was Black residents. By June, the percentage of white and Black residents had fallen, while the percentages of new cases among Latinx residents had skyrocketed. Graphic by Henry Haggart

Nursing homes and other residential care facilities are linked to a small fraction of COVID-19 cases in Durham County and across the state. But they account for the majority of COVID-19 related deaths. In Durham, the contrast is even more striking: over 73% of COVID-19 deaths in Durham are linked to nursing homes and residential care facilities such as adult care homes. Graphic by Henry Haggart

Age disparity: In Durham and statewide, people younger than 50 make up the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yet 95.5% of people who have died so far were age 50 or older. Graphics by Henry Haggart

9th Street Journal reporter Chris Kuo can be reached at christopher.kuo@duke.edu 

Lacking fans and players, Durham Bulls could not play ball

During a normal Fourth of July week in Durham, thousands of locals and out-of-town guests would stream to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch a ballgame and a fireworks show.

This holiday, there will be no game, no sparkles in the sky.

Minor League Baseball on Tuesday cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was widely expected, but the official news was unprecedented in the league’s history.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without minor-league baseball played,” MiLB President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in the press release. 

There were many factors that played a role in this decision, a big one being that Major League Baseball announced that big-league teams would not send players to affiliated minor league teams this summer, making play impossible.

The clincher was the fact that minor league teams across the country cannot welcome crowds into their stadiums in the midst of a pandemic. And teams can’t stay afloat without the money fans bring. 

Back on May 19, the Durham Bulls — the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays —  held a town hall meeting for its season ticket holders, 919 Club members. Team Vice President Mike Birling made it clear then that to have a season, fans were required. 

The MLB makes money from television revenue, but O’Conner estimated that 85 to 90% of revenue for minor league teams depends on what fans spend, from ticket sales to concession sales and parking.

The DBAP holds up to 10,000 fans, but North Carolina — still in Phase 2 of reopening until at least July 17 — does not allow for outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. 

Last year, the Bulls broke the record for their three-game home series attendance, welcoming 35,052 fans over the June 14-16 weekend. 

The cancellation of the Durham Bulls’ season is a huge loss for many, including local vendors that sell popsicles to hotdogs and beer at the ballpark, and the 400 seasonal workers on the Bulls’ payroll.

This week it was the fans who were loudest in their mourning. “Heartbroken that for the first time in more than two decades, I won’t be spending summer nights in this magical place. See you in 2021, @DurhamBulls,” fan Mike Sundheim posted on Twitter.

Fans took to Twitter Tuesday to voice their sadness that the Durham Bulls, like other Minor League Baseball teams, won’t play this summer.

“It doesn’t even seem like summer if you do not get to sit in the heat and humidity in July for Bulls’ baseball. Better safe than sorry,” Ron Martin tweeted. 

The organization had furloughed 55% of its staff back in April, hoping to bring them back in September or early October. Birling said Wednesday morning that he does not anticipate having to furlough any more employees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the cancellation of the minor league season has also put more than 5,000 players officially out of work for the season. But at least some Bulls’ players will be on baseball teams this summer because MLB teams were allowed to increase their rosters this summer. 

The MLB is set to start training today, July 1, with games resuming later this month. The Rays’ 60-man roster had 31 former Bulls players, including 23 who were on the 2019 teams here in Durham.  

Players who didn’t make a big-league roster will continue to get paid, said Birling. As of right now, seven teams are committed to paying players through Labor Day, what would have been the end of the minor league season. Birling stated that the Rays are committed to paying through July 31.

“I can’t make decisions for the Rays but I would be surprised if they didn’t continue the trend that some of the other teams are doing,” said Birling, on paying MiLB players through the season. 

The last time the Durham Bulls cancelled play was in 1934-35 due to the Great Depression. Now the team enters a new era in history, with high hopes to be back on the mound as soon as next year.

But during an interview Wednesday, Biring made clear that he doesn’t expect next year’s season will be normal either.

“Do I anticipate having 10,000 people in the ballpark next April? No,” Birling said on a phone call Wednesday morning. “I think the virus will still limit us to some sort of percentage of capacity.”

9th Street Journal reporter Daniela Schneider can be reached at daniela.schneider@duke.edu

At top: Photos of Durham Bulls players will stand in for the real thing at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer. Photo by Henry Haggart 

Lacking fans and players, Durham Bulls could not play ball

During a normal Fourth of July week in Durham, thousands of locals and out-of-town guests would stream to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch a ballgame and a fireworks show.

This holiday, there will be no game, no sparkles in the sky.

Minor League Baseball on Tuesday cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was widely expected, but the official news was unprecedented in the league’s history.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without minor-league baseball played,” MiLB President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in the press release. 

There were many factors that played a role in this decision, a big one being that Major League Baseball announced that big-league teams would not send players to affiliated minor league teams this summer, making play impossible.

The clincher was the fact that minor league teams across the country cannot welcome crowds into their stadiums in the midst of a pandemic. And teams can’t stay afloat without the money fans bring. 

Back on May 19, the Durham Bulls — the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays —  held a town hall meeting for its season ticket holders, 919 Club members. Team Vice President Mike Birling made it clear then that to have a season, fans were required. 

The MLB makes money from television revenue, but O’Conner estimated that 85 to 90% of revenue for minor league teams depends on what fans spend, from ticket sales to concession sales and parking.

The DBAP holds up to 10,000 fans, but North Carolina — still in Phase 2 of reopening until at least July 17 — does not allow for outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. 

Last year, the Bulls broke the record for their three-game home series attendance, welcoming 35,052 fans over the June 14-16 weekend. 

The cancellation of the Durham Bulls’ season is a huge loss for many, including local vendors that sell popsicles to hotdogs and beer at the ballpark, and the 400 seasonal workers on the Bulls’ payroll.

This week it was the fans who were loudest in their mourning. “Heartbroken that for the first time in more than two decades, I won’t be spending summer nights in this magical place. See you in 2021, @DurhamBulls,” fan Mike Sundheim posted on Twitter.

Fans took to Twitter Tuesday to voice their sadness that the Durham Bulls, like other Minor League Baseball teams, won’t play this summer.

“It doesn’t even seem like summer if you do not get to sit in the heat and humidity in July for Bulls’ baseball. Better safe than sorry,” Ron Martin tweeted. 

The organization had furloughed 55% of its staff back in April, hoping to bring them back in September or early October. Birling said Wednesday morning that he does not anticipate having to furlough any more employees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the cancellation of the minor league season has also put more than 5,000 players officially out of work for the season. But at least some Bulls’ players will be on baseball teams this summer because MLB teams were allowed to increase their rosters this summer. 

The MLB is set to start training today, July 1, with games resuming later this month. The Rays’ 60-man roster had 31 former Bulls players, including 23 who were on the 2019 teams here in Durham.  

Players who didn’t make a big-league roster will continue to get paid, said Birling. As of right now, seven teams are committed to paying players through Labor Day, what would have been the end of the minor league season. Birling stated that the Rays are committed to paying through July 31.

“I can’t make decisions for the Rays but I would be surprised if they didn’t continue the trend that some of the other teams are doing,” said Birling, on paying MiLB players through the season. 

The last time the Durham Bulls cancelled play was in 1934-35 due to the Great Depression. Now the team enters a new era in history, with high hopes to be back on the mound as soon as next year.

But during an interview Wednesday, Biring made clear that he doesn’t expect next year’s season will be normal either.

“Do I anticipate having 10,000 people in the ballpark next April? No,” Birling said on a phone call Wednesday morning. “I think the virus will still limit us to some sort of percentage of capacity.”

9th Street Journal reporter Daniela Schneider can be reached at daniela.schneider@duke.edu

At top: Photos of Durham Bulls players will stand in for the real thing at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer. Photo by Henry Haggart 

Drive is on to get more of Durham counted in 2020 census

Durham County ranks last in the Triangle for its response to the 2020 census, with 56.4% of residents having submitted census forms as of June 28.

During a typical census-taking year, the U.S. Census Bureau would have sent door knockers to find those who have not responded on their own. But with the coronavirus’ unexpected arrival, efforts to count everyone have shifted. 

How many Durham County residents are tallied will dictate many important things in the next 10 years. Public school funding, congressional representation, and millions of federal dollars are some of what is at stake.

For every person uncounted in Durham, the county loses more than $1,600 a year. This amounts to more than $16,000 per person missed over a decade, according to Kate Fellman, co-chair of the Durham Complete Count Committee. 

“It’s really important that we get this right,” said Aidil Ortiz, an East Durham resident and volunteer member of the Durham Complete Count Committee. 

Aidil Ortiz, an East Durham resident and member of the Durham Complete Count Committee, at the recent Juneteenth celebration. 9th Street Journal file photo by Henry Haggart

Census enumerators, better known as census takers, will begin a soft launch next month in six yet-to-be-announced regions, according to the Census Bureau. Each will be trained on social distancing protocol and provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Enumerators start by interviewing people in households that haven’t yet responded to the census. The effort to count people experiencing homelessness will begin in September. 

Some communities are harder to count than others during a census. Immigrants, especially those without legal immigration status, Latinx and Black people, non-English speakers, people with low incomes, and people who are homeless tend to be less likely to respond to the census unless someone reaches out, according to Ortiz. 

Ortiz emphasized the need for institutions to leave the four walls of their office and do more than just electronic outreach. With Durham’s ever-growing population, accounting for everyone living here is a top priority.

“Doing distribution of anything is very hard work and taxing, and it carries risk,” Ortiz said. “You have to do the work with more than one mission in mind, to try to be as efficient as possible.” 

Creativity has shaped a lot of the ground effort for getting the word out on the census here, especially with social distancing requirements in effect. 

A Juneteenth car parade in East Durham on June 20 combined a celebration of African American freedom, handouts on coronavirus safety information and masks, voter registration information, and census information.

Local organizers supporting a full count in Durham sent out 1,000 flyers last Friday to food pantries and organizations that provide meals to people in need. These flyers explained how to vote in upcoming elections and how to fill out the census.

Ortiz and other organizers plan to work with grocery stores like Compare Foods and Los Primos to get census flyers in grocery bags and park outreach vans outside the stores.

Local and state groups are publishing messaging in Spanish about the need to answer the census. Source: NC Counts Coalition

Ortiz says that these groups, which include SpiritHouse NC, El Centro Hispano, and My Black Counts NC, are considering replicating the Juneteenth parade in another location if response to the census along the original parade route increases within the next few weeks. 

Outreach at places like neighborhood parades and grocery stores allow people who are local and known in the community to apply their expertise, Ortiz said. Part of this work is myth-busting, especially among people who are suspicious that any information they share could be used against them. 

“People want to know what is going to happen with their information and how it is tracked,” said Ortiz. That includes whether social security numbers or citizenship status are required when answering the census. (They are not.)

The census “is a way of putting in a vote for resources if [you] can’t actually vote,” referring not only to undocumented immigrants, but to young residents and other non-citizens as well, says Ortiz said. 

Due to the new coronavirus outbreak, the deadline to respond to the census has been extended to Oct. 31, 2020. For more information, visit https://census.nc.gov/.  

9th Street Journal Reporter Veronica Niamba can be reached at veronica.niamba@duke.edu

At top: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, participants in the Juneteenth parade encouraging people to fill out the census drove rather than walked the East Durham route. 9th Street Journal file photo by Henry Haggart

Duke germ doctor putting a microscope on COVID-19

When the NFL needed help to stop the spread of the MRSA bacteria in 2013, the league called Dr. Deverick Anderson, a Duke infectious disease specialist, who established new locker room protocols and disinfection routines. Now, Anderson is tackling a bigger problem, helping health care workers combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Anderson, the director of the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Prevention Program, said his primary concern is making sure that health workers who work with patients who have the virus don’t end up sick themselves. 

Deverick Anderson (Duke University photo)

Anderson received his undergraduate degree from University of North Carolina and later “stumbled down the path” of infection prevention while at the Duke School of Medicine, where he knew he wanted a specialty that focused on the body as a whole, rather than a single organ. He liked focusing on infections because they typically have a cure. He liked the idea of identifying and then eliminating a problem, which led him to infection prevention. 

His research on infection prevention has earned him grants to study infection control in community hospitals, multi-drug resistant organisms, and device-related infections. He led a study that compared four types of hospital cleaning protocols and found those that utilize ultraviolet machines are the most effective. In April, he studied the role of chest imaging in patients with the coronavirus. 

Doctors who have worked with him describe him as unflappable and a great mentor. 

“He’s got a remarkable ability not to show stress and to be fun to be around and work with, regardless of how the day or week is going,” said Dr. Arthur Baker, a Duke assistant professor of medicine who worked with Anderson on the early detection of infection outbreaks in surgical sites. “I think that combination of things has really made him a fantastic mentor for me.” 

Duke Assistant Professor of Medicine Dr. Sonali Advani, who recently published an article with Dr. Anderson titled “Universal masking in hospitals in the COVID19 era,” said, “I left a very good position at Yale to come here just to be mentored by him.” She spoke of how caring he is, setting aside 10 minutes at the end of each mentor session to discuss families, house remodeling, and other things outside of work.

He is nationally known and has been quoted by National Public Radio, The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

So what does the germ doctor advise about the coronavirus? 

He says the prevention measures you’ve heard about are still a good recipe: wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, and frequent hand washing. “I think it’s safe to say that all those together are certainly going to be much more effective than one of them individually,” he said. 

Along with that trifecta of things to protect yourself, Anderson also has a simple mindset for society’s overall approach for the virus: “It is all for one and one for all,” he said. “You’re not just wearing a mask for yourself. You’re wearing a mask for others in your community as well.”

He says you’re more likely to get the virus from another person than from picking it up from a surface. “It’s not a 50 one way and 50 the other. It’s probably much more weighted towards person-to-person.” So should we still be wiping everything down? He says that’s a good precaution, but in-person contact is the most likely way to get the virus.

As a consultant for the NFL, he feels the league has a good foundation for preventing the spread of infection. But the league needs to continue to build on that approach in this new age of the coronavirus. 

He says professional sports teams need to be asking themselves the same question as other businesses: “How can you be innovative about keeping people apart? How can you make sure that people wash their hands routinely or make it easy to do what’s right? And how can you get them to wear a mask? All of those same interventions are going to be useful in athletic training facilities as well.”

As lockdown regulations are loosened, it can be difficult to decide which situations are safe and which are not. Although Anderson can’t tell you which situations are worth the risk, he says, “In the end all of this is about risk-benefit. There is no such thing as a zero risk scenario in our society right now until there is an effective vaccine. . .It is a personal decision about what is considered to be an acceptable risk or the potential benefit that might be reaped.” 

Durham book lovers find no place to browse

Suddenly book browsing has become a hazardous pastime. Durham’s libraries and bookstores have closed their doors, so book lovers have no place to wander through the stacks or pluck an interesting-looking tome off a shelf. 

The Regulator Bookshop, Letters Bookshop and Golden Fig Books have closed their doors. The libraries are open for takeout only. These are challenging times if you want to read the first page of a novel before you buy or check it out. 

The Regulator’s website explains the hesitation: “Rather than setting any date and possibly raising false expectations we will withhold any announcement until we have a firm date.” 

It’s the same for the other stores, which haven’t set a date to reopen. Until they do, the book browsing experience will, like so many things we have come to know, be done through a screen. For now, the smell of freshly printed pages and the satisfying sensation of flipping through a paperback won’t occur until the box arrives by UPS – or you pick it up curbside. 

Golden Fig owner David Bradley, says they’ve been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we’ve seen from the community” as they ship books throughout Durham and operate a curbside pick-up service. 

Durham libraries closed their indoor spaces to the public in response to county stay-at-home ordinance, but residents now have two ways to get new books. They can get ebooks through a newly expanded online program, or actual books through a new pick-up service.

Last week the libraries launched a “Take-Out!” book station at every location, a curbside pick-up service much like a restaurant. Book lovers can just order ahead and swing by when the books are ready. 

This virtual inventory has been well received by parents adapting to home schooling, with an increase in kids ebooks and e-audio of 88% from February to March and 55% from March to April . 

For physical materials that had been in limbo since the stay-at-home order, the library system opened up an automatic book return system June 1 outside the newly renovated Main Library at 300 N. Roxboro Street. 

Bradley said that, as the national conversation has shifted, so has the demand for new books. 

The New Jim Crow’, ‘How to Be an Antiracist’, ‘Me and White Supremacy’, and ‘White Fragility’ are so popular they’re now on backorder with publishers,  Bradley said. 

Likewise, Stephanie Bonestell, a spokeswoman for the Durham County libraries, said they also have seen a similar increase in interest with titles related to Black Lives Matter, civil rights, and racism in America.

The interest in books by Black authors has prompted important discussions in Durham.  

“It’s been our story,” said Victoria Scott-Miller, the owner of Liberation Station, a Durham based “Pop-Up” bookstore. Their website says their mission is centered on “making representation accessible and amplifying Black voices.”

As conversation around systemic racism continues throughout the city, many are asking Scott-Miller and her staff how to educate themselves on the Black experience. Liberation Station has updated its website with resources, but Scott-Miller said this is still a time of grieving for many in the Black community.

“This is a moment for you to learn, for you to gather, for you to do the research and understand the impact,” Scott-Miller says to like-minded community members. She says that provides them time “so we can have the conversation but we’re not having to show up both grieving and teaching at the same time.”

Throughout the pandemic, the store has transitioned from hosting pop-up events (which were like a new take on the Scholastic book fairs) to an almost entirely virtual platform that even includes online storytimes. Still, Scott-Miller and her husband, who co-own the business, insist on hand delivering all orders within the city (they wear a mask and gloves). 

Victoria Scott-Miller, owner of the Liberation Station Bookstore, carries a full load of books to deliver in Durham. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

The couple feels that the personal delivery is a way to connect with customers and provide a special experience.  

“There are a lot of children of color that are seeing themselves in these books for the first time,” she said, “we want them to know that they are of value.” 

Their packages are wrapped in chalkboard paper, tied in red twine, and accented with a green notecard — and a handwritten note.

Photo above: Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham remains closed to the public, but the owners have online ordering. Photo by Henry Haggart, The 9th Street Journal

A stroll through Southpoint

The smell of Auntie Anne’s, once unavoidable, is canceled out by the scent of a lemony floor cleaner. Masked shoppers exchange gentle, knowing looks. In the stores and at the kiosks, cashiers attempt to look approachable behind clear plastic register shields. Customers in line to check out are instructed where to stand by stickers marking 6-foot distances. This is Southpoint mall as Durham begins to reopen

In the past two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, beer-loving Durhamites have been enjoying their brews on their front porch, rather than with a game of cornhole at Ponysaurus or Stand-up Comedy at Durty Bull. As the city, along with many parts of the country, move through the phases of reopening, the hiss of a beer can be heard further and further from home — on the East Campus lawn or at Old North Durham Park. But these familiar outings look different, transformed by the social distance dance we all must do as we adapt to the World with the Virus. 

A stroll through the Streets at Southpoint offers a concentrated look at the choreography of this emerging reality. The parking lot, usually buzzing with shoppers hoping to capitalize on Memorial Day sales, has the feel one might expect during a midday visit on a Tuesday. In the quiet lot the dance begins: Is it alright to park right next to another car? Is that violating social distance etiquette? And walking in: Is it still polite to hold the door open for the person behind you? 

To amble around Southpoint is to do this awkward dance, a once-ordinary walk transformed into navigating a minefield that might hide an invisible disease. A pair of teens joke about crossing the tape line of the boarded-up massage chairs outside Macy’s, but they respectfully step to their right as another shopper comes into their radius. This is the dance. Couples share nervous glances when strangers get too close, but everyone works together to pretend at normalcy, making nonchalant conversation with their gloved cashiers as we shift into our new roles as mask-wearers and social distancers. 

A smattering of the stores have made the decision to open up and the new summer collections are the least of their changes. Hollister now requires masks to enter; Aerie gives them away; Macy’s has hand sanitizer stations at the entrances. Urban Outfitters has gone so far as to tape arrows on the floor to provide shoppers with a suggested path, taking you from room decor to hair accessories, to promote social distancing. 

The open retailers skew younger: Forever 21 and H&M. Pink, marketed toward young adults, is still closed, but Talbots, popular with middle-aged women, is in business. 

There’s no skew to the shoppers.  People of all ages wander the mall. Almost everyone travels in pairs; masks muffle the conversation, which makes the place quieter than usual. 

“This area is for sitting, not eating,” reads a paper sign taped to the Streets’ patio furniture. “This too, shall pass,” it adds. 

The sign hints at a return to normalcy, but that day is probably a long way in the future. Restaurants have shifted primarily to pick-up options. Food court favorites like Built (Custom Burgers) and Pholicious are open, but there’s not really any place to sit.

The fountains have gone dry as sculptures of children wait out an invisible storm for the mall to return to normal. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

The dark storefronts have paper signs with vague explanations and a little hope. The AMC Theatre says it is closed “today,” apologizing for the “inconvenience.” Bath & Body Works stresses the safety of their employees in the decision. 

What’s next for these stores? Will they open their doors again soon? Or fold like so many seemingly impenetrable companies taken down by the virus (JCPenney has filed for bankruptcy, while Pier 1 is closing all of its 540 stores)? Are they really holding back out of safety concerns? Financial difficulties? How are their workers holding up without the income? It seems these answers will not be available until “further notice.”

The mall, like Durham, is in a state of transition. The tables at the food court are cordoned off and the fountain outside the movie theatre is drained, like a lake after a drought.  But even so, people are puttering about — attempting to make sense of it all. There is an eeriness to this new world and a guilt to participating in it. How essential is this trip? Who am I putting at risk by making it? These questions lead to the bigger one hanging above Durham, palpable in public spaces like this: Are we ready for Phase 2?

In photo above, seating in the food court has been moved to discourage seating. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

At Bull City Magic, ‘the soul goal’ and a vision of a brighter future

“We’re not like a regular store,” Lynn Swain says, holding a smoking bundle of sage over the flame of one of her shop’s locally sourced vegan candles. 

Tom Swain, her husband and business partner, nods. “We want everyone to feel better when they walk through that door.” 

The door he is referring to opens into the mystical expanse of MagikCraft: Bull City Magic, a metaphysical shop and spiritual safe space just off of 9th Street. The store is owned and operated by the Swains, and its mission is what they call “the soul goal.” 

In what has come to be known as “this uncertain time,” they provide insight, positivity, and a bit of magic to Durham. 

The store is her headquarters as a clairvoyant, a service more pertinent than ever. With our routines and physical lives so starkly interrupted, today is on hold, making questions of tomorrow more pressing. It’s a perfect time to ponder the future. Lynn, a healer, psychic, and medium who also goes by the name MagikCraft, says she has a powerful relationship with energy and the (supposedly) unknown. She reads people and receives messages from the universe, often using crystals or cards as guiding tools. 

These days she is talking with clients over the phone or other virtual platforms, and it’s not just the mode of communication that has changed. She says that many of the inquiries she has received lately have related more to clients’ personal journey and reflection than ever before. That’s an encouraging trend, she believes. Working parents are spending more time with their children, relationships are being reassessed, and careers and passions are being critically evaluated. The shutdown has “put the brakes on, stop and look and listen.” she says. 

In a politically polarized time, the store is focused on offering a safe space to any and all who need it. “We don’t talk about politics here,” Tom says. “It’s not about what you are politically, it’s about your soul,” Lynn adds.

Eye-catching merchandise lines the walls and fills the glass display cases: crystals from every corner of the world—including one from the highest elevation of Tibet—countless tarot decks, lavender soaps, books on destiny or tarot reading, and cast-iron cauldrons. She says 80% of the mystical merchandise is by customer request, from over 40 local vendors. 

Even during a time of social distance, everyone receives a warm (but safe) welcome. This comes in many forms; sometimes it’s Lynn walking a customer around the store on FaceTime to put in a virtual order, other times it’s Tom, who was not “blessed with gifts” of psychic and medium knowledge like his wife and co-operator, but is known for pulling out a book that offers a look at a customer’s destiny based on their birthday and sharing a page or two with them. 

Bull City Magic hosts a range of 32 workshops – from monthly Full Moon Gatherings to Crystal Grid training. Stay-at-home restrictions have moved many of these events to the store’s new YouTube page, but the storefront remains very much in business; after a call to City Hall describing the value of their apothecary inventory and soaps, Lynn said Durham has said they could stay open. 

“We don’t want to just sell stuff,” says Tom, “we want to educate.” 

The couple has been in this space for almost three years, underneath Cosmic Cantina (the enchanted names of the two businesses bear no relation, but there is certainly a bit of Bull City magic in Cosmic’s bean burritos). Before moving to this location, the Swains worked out of a nearby office space to build clientele. 

“You don’t just open a metaphysical shop in the belt of Christianity without testing the waters, ” says Lynn. She has discovered that “Durham is a very mystic space,” but people like to keep that  “on the D.L.” 

Given the name MagikCraft by the universe, Lynn is a seventh generation medium and psychic; the store’s website boasts that by 2019, she had read over 30,000 people. Her many skills are are listed there:

Tarot , Oracle, Crystals, Ruins, Tea Leaves, Palm Reading, Scrying, Channeling, Mediumship, Akashic Records, Bone Throwing, Roots, Herbs, Shamanism, Reiki Master, Candlewax Reading, Fire Magic, Smoke Reading, Multi-Verse Dimensional Messages, God, Goddesses, Angels, Spirit Guides, Ancestor, Aura, Soul Energy, Dream Interpretation, Past Life Regression, Astral Projection along with visions through prophecy, Telekinesis, Psychokinesis, Aerokinesis, Afterlife Communication, AKD- After Death Communication, Healer, Clergy, Teacher, and Practitioner of the Craft.

She became a medium at age 4 and began reading people at age 13.

Besides being a guru of the metaphysical, she is a savvy businesswoman. At the age of 57, her resume includes a degree in mathematics from the University of Delaware and more than 30 years in corporate finance. 

Even in her years in the corporate world, Lynn worked internationally as a reader and healer. It finally became her full time profession when the newlyweds decided to open the shop in 2017. At the start, Tom, who worked previously as an electrician, manned the store during the week while Lynn continued her corporate work. She would then spend time in the store at night and on weekends, working more than 100 hours some weeks. Soon, though, she came to an important conclusion. 

“I realized everything I was saying to my clients I wasn’t doing,” she says.

This was a part of her process of “walking through the portal of fear,” advice she gives clients struggling to commit to their passions or confront the things holding them back spiritually. 

She is now fulfilled — though never finished. “I was blessed by being an insomniac,” she laughs. During the coronavirus slowdown, she and Tom are working on an herb wall, making more services available online, and they are collaborating with a Duke alum on a podcast. 

They opened a second location to host magical meet-ups: a Kava, espresso, crystal, and sage cafe between Durham and Hillsborough called Magic on 70. The cafe boasts coffee flavors with mystical namesakes, such as “Thoth: God of the Written Word.” Just as one might expect, this carries notes of “Vanilla, Dark Chocolate and Cranberries.” 

But alas, the website informs customers that for “the health and safety of our magical tribe,” the new shop is closed temporarily, although spiritual sessions are still available through virtual appointment with Lynn. 

Like all of us, they are learning to adapt. 

Lynn wears a purple mask around the store, and it nicely accents the lavender walls and the 700 pounds of amethyst crystal near the tarot cards. The store sells masks like hers in a variety of colors.  

“Mother Earth has put us in timeout and we need to self reflect,” Lynn says. She doesn’t expect things to ever return to “normal,” but feels this forced re-evaluation has some positive and powerful elements. She is hopeful for the future, a reassuring thing to hear from a psychic. 

People are taking this time to explore their  spiritual realm, whatever that realm maybe, which she says is “a human reset on a core level.” 

She smiles. “Positive energy is contagious.” 

Above, Tom and Lynn outside of Bull City Magic. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal