The Regulator Bookshop, the iconic Ninth Street store that has been shut down for the pandemic, plans to reopen its doors in early June.
Co-owner Wander Lorentz de Haas told The 9th Street Journal that employees are busy restocking and preparing for customers to return in the next two weeks.
“I think every staff member is just really excited to reopen and get back to showing people great books,” said Lorentz de Haas.
Like other bookstores, The Regulator closed in March 2020. The store was able to adapt to the pandemic by offering customers curbside pickup or delivery for books ordered online or by phone.
But while many other stores have reopened to the public, The Regulator kept its doors shut. That left many Durham bookworms puzzled. As crowds returned to Ninth Street, it seemed every other shop was open. Why not The Regulator?
“We didn’t feel in a particular rush to do it,” Lorentz de Haas said, “we just want to reopen right.”
Their top priority was to guarantee COVID safety. Elements that made the store unique suddenly posed challenges. “The veteran staff combined with the small intimate store during a pandemic became two huge problems for us” said Lorentz de Haas.
All staff are now vaccinated and the building has improved air filtration.
Shutting the store was also a wise business decision.
Their “survival strategy” was to return much of their inventory back to publishers for credit. Keeping a full inventory would be pricey, especially if only a limited number of shoppers would be permitted in the store. So they lowered their inventory, shut their doors, and focused on getting online orders to customers.
“We basically converted the store into a warehouse.”
As a result, the inside of the store had been transformed. Now, they are restocking and returning the store to its familiar layout. While they have not settled on a specific date, they expect to open in the first two weeks of June.
In a time where independent bookstores are threatened by corporate giants such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, owners of The Regulator were pleasantly surprised at the quantity of orders they have received, especially last summer and over the holidays.
“The support has been tremendous,” said Lorentz de Haas. “I did not expect that we would be doing as well as we did through the first of the year and even since then.”
Ready to leave memories of COVID times in the past, they are glad to get back to what they are good at: selling books in-person.
Bookstores are for browsing.
“Any of the books we have in the store you can find online – no question about it, but many of them, some of the ones that become our bestsellers, you really have to do some digging to find them,” said Lorentz de Haas.
At the Blue Corn Cafe, co-owner Danielle Martini-Rios keeps a close eye on her servers’ hands. When she trains them, her directions are clear:
“Don’t touch your hair. Don’t touch your eyes. Don’t touch your mouth.”
In the age of COVID-19, these things matter. From the location of her servers’ hands to the menu, the pandemic has forced Martini-Rios to make adjustments to keep her restaurant afloat, her employees safe and her customers happy.
“I’m working harder today than I have since I’ve opened this restaurant,” she said. “This has never happened to any business before in my lifetime.”
Martini-Rios and her husband Antonio Rios opened the restaurant on 9th Street in 1997. He is the head chef. They run the business together. Their goal is to provide customers with authentic Latin-American food like slow-roasted pork barbacoa or the house favorite, the Blue Corn quesadilla.
Everything changed a year ago. As the coronavirus began to spread, Gov. Roy Cooper prohibited indoor dining and Durham shut down. Rios was caught off guard. She had to rethink the way she’d run her restaurant.
“I knew I had to get back out,” said Martini-Rios, a lively woman who wears her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. “So, how do I make the biggest impact on my community? How can I still bring income in? And how can I try and keep some people employed.”
Almost immediately, Martini-Rios furloughed a majority of her kitchen staff, encouraging them to file for unemployment benefits rather than rely on the restaurant’s suddenly unpredictable takeout revenue.
She often had to improvise. When takeout orders started picking up, her sons pitched in. Her 15-year-old worked the line in the kitchen, and her 20-year-old began working up front waiting tables. Blue Corn also prepared meals to be delivered to workers at Durham hospitals and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, courtesy of the city as well as corporate sponsors and the restaurant itself.
“We’ve all just taken on different roles,” she said.
The challenging times have meant the cafe had to scale back its ambitious efforts to be a green business. Martini-Rios said they have stopped composting, rethought menu offerings and reverted to plasticware instead of plant-based utensils.
“It’s not a great decision,” she said. “It breaks my heart to hand somebody a plastic straw, but I have to make tough decisions.”
When the state allowed indoor dining to resume June 1, she reopened with new safety measures. She put hand sanitizer bottles throughout the dining room, eucalyptus soap in the bathrooms, and scented candles on the counters to make people feel safe and welcome. Salt and pepper shakers were removed from tables along with all other condiments, now available upon request, to limit the number of surfaces customers could touch.
“We have to be particular because people are on edge,” she said. “It’s my job to look at the small things that make you feel comfortable.”
Blue Corn Cafe’s assistant manager, Mikayla Brooks, works to ensure that customers are aware of the restaurant’s sanitary efforts.
“I tell the servers to make sure people see that their stuff is being sanitized because if they see it, they know that we’re putting in the time,” she said. “And if we’re doing it when they’re here, they’ll know that we’re doing it when they’re not here too.”
In previous years, holiday dinners at the Blue Corn Cafe have featured live bands with singers strolling through the restaurant. Now, the music is recorded and comes from the overhead speaker system.
Martini-Rios, who just turned 46, was born in Florida and grew up in between Italy and New Jersey with a family that loved playing soccer and cooking together. As she talks about her childhood, her eyes light up behind her glasses.
“We’re Italian people,” she said. “Everything we do is based on what we’re eating.”
Martini-Rios went to the University of New Hampshire with pre-med plans. Shortly after graduating, she moved to North Carolina to join a women’s soccer league and started waiting tables at a local restaurant. That’s where she met Antonio, who was the head chef.
As her passion for the kitchen simmered again, her plans for medical school faded, and she realized how much she enjoyed the restaurant business. Her life-long love of cooking and Antonio’s mastery of his native Mexican cuisine made them the perfect pair to open Blue Corn Cafe. They’ve never looked back.
Still, the year of COVID-19 has interrupted some of her dreams.
Martini-Rios had begun to save money to buy herself a Porsche. Once the pandemic hit, that was put on hold.
“That Porsche went into holding all of this together. My new Porsche is Blue Corn is still open,” she said.
The demands brought on by the pandemic mean Martini-Rios rarely has free time.
Martini-Rios feels under-appreciated primarily by Durham officials.
Though she was awarded a $10,000 grant from the city on July 2, she was unable to use it in the way she had hoped. She wanted to use the money to build a back deck and a seating area along 9th Street, but the permits that she applied for were all denied by the city, leaving Blue Corn Cafe with insufficient COVID-safe outdoor dining options.
Instead, the money went towards the installation of HEPA air filters throughout the restaurant, personal protection equipment for the Blue Corn Cafe staff members, and to design a new online ordering platform.
“The money was well-spent,” Martini-Rios said. “But that grant did not keep me open. If (the city) thinks that’s the case they’re sorely mistaken.”
Martini-Rios is grateful for the support of Blue Corn’s customers. As vaccinations increase throughout Durham, she is eager to welcome more of them back into her restaurant.
“When people are inoculated, they can start to get out and help these small businesses get back on their feet. They are going to be such a vital part of our resurrection of this city.”
Photo at top: As the coronavirus shutdown disrupted her business, Blue Corn Cafe co-owner Danielle Martini-Rios adapted, trying to keep as many workers employed as she could. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama | The 9th Street Journal
Editor’s Note: After we published this story yesterday, we asked about a recipient that seemed odd to us – Ascot Diamonds, Inc. a chain jewelry store that received $20,582 but did not appear to have a store in Durham. Today, Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell told us they had sent us the wrong list and gave us a new list without Ascot Diamonds included.
Why was Ascot Diamonds included on the first list? Chadwell told us that was a mistake of the city’s vendor, Carolina Small Business Development Fund, due to a “data population error.”
We’re retaining the list below, with Ascot Diamonds, since that is what the city originally sent us. We’ve posted the new spreadsheet the city sent us today here. It also contains changes in the list of loan recipients, removing Ascot and adding a $10,807 loan to Quality Academy Home Daycare.
Just a reminder: The 9th Street Journal filed a public records request for this list July 23, so the city has had almost six weeks to get us the correct list.
– Bill Adair
An eclectic group of businesses ranging from bars to nail salons to a head shop received grants or loans from the city’s COVID-19 small business relief program, according to records released Monday.
The city had been boasting about the program for weeks but didn’t release the list of recipients until Monday after a public records request from The 9th Street Journal. Among them: a $10,000 grant for Hunky Dory, a store specializing in “beer, records and dankness,” a $10,000 grant for artist Maya Freelon – the sister of just-appointed City Council member Pierce Freelon – and a $20,000 loan for Pour Taproom.
Local businesses got about $915,000 from a $1 million Duke University contribution for grants and $225,000 in loans from Durham’s $2 million fund. Eight businesses got loans that averaged about $28,000 and 124 got grants that averaged $7,500.
Of the 124 grants, 19 were given to barber shops, hair salons, nail salons or other personal care businesses and 15 were given to food and beverage-related businesses. As for the loans, two were given to bars or breweries, two to beauty and nail salons, one jewelry store, one plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractor, a restaurant and a mental health/substance abuse treatment facility.
In July, Durham had boasted of giving out hundreds of thousands in relief in a several-month process, but city officials said they didn’t know which businesses got the cash until now. Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), a Raleigh-based small business lending nonprofit which managed the program, had committed to disclosing to Durham which businesses got the money monthly but did not comply with that requirement.
A full list of the grants and loans can be found below.
Amy T Farrar DDS PLLC 2020-6-25
Cargo and Co LLC 2020-6-18
Living Arts Collective 2020-6-19
Re Entertainment 2020-6-18
southern cross group llc 2020-6-18
LE NAIL SPA 2020-6-18
A1 lock and safe of North Carolina Inc 2020-6-26
Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts 2020-6-26
Carson Efird LLC 2020-6-26
Bungalow LLC 2020-6-20
Heal Tree LLC 2020-6-18
Happymess at Outsiders 2020-6-18
HUNKY DORY DURHAM LLC 2020-6-19
Blackspace LLC 2020-6-18
Brown Jiu Jitsu Academy 2020-6-27
Indulge Catering LLC 2020-6-26
Goes to 11 LLC 2020-6-18
Blue Corn Inc 2020-6-28
The Bella Shea Ramirez LLC 2020-6-22
Family Greens 2020-6-27
36 North LLC 2020-6-25
Rogue Business Solutions LLC 2020-6-18
Allure Me The Hair Estate INC 2020-6-19
LUXURY NAILS SPA 2020-6-19
Rock Fury Industries LLC 2020-6-18
Lucys Pet Care LLC 2020-6-23
AGT Express LLC 2020-6-18
Denoble Law PLLC 2020-6-28
MA Solucion Professional Inc 2020-6-27
SA Core LLC 2020-6-18
Omar Beasley Bail Agency 2020-6-25
Point A B Consulting 2020-6-28
Wendy Allen 2020-6-25
Allways Handy Home and Garden LLC 2020-6-28
Mid South Fencers Club Inc 2020-6-26
A2Z College Planning 2020-6-25
MTS Speech and Language Services Inc 2020-6-24
The Endurance Collective 2020-6-21
Kendall Corporation LLC 2020-6-18
Wright DIY LLC 2020-6-18
Elevate MMA Academy LLC 2020-6-18
MICHAEL E POCINKI 2020-6-28
Comfort CUisine 2020-6-27
Yama Inc 2020-6-19
The Famous Chicken Hut 2020-6-20
Lets Eat Soul Food llc 2020-6-26
TGX Development LLC 2020-6-24
The Curated Curl and Co Hair Loft 2020-6-19
The Law Office of Katie A Lawson PLLC 2020-6-18
Nancy Frame Design LLC 2020-6-24
Yinsome Group LLC 2020-6-25
HuthPhoto LLC 2020-6-26
Stan Coffman 2020-6-24
Principal Janitorial Services LLC 2020-6-22
Empower Dance Studio 2020-6-24
Suzanne Faulkner 2020-6-26
Pro Shop Solutions LLC 2020-6-24
The ZEN Succulent LLC 2020-6-26
Scatterbugs Vintage Inc 2020-6-24
The Artisan Market at 305 LLC 2020-6-19
Triangle car Service llc 2020-6-23
Sonic Pie Productions LLC 2020-6-22
Jeannette Brossart 2020-6-28
doora arts and crafts 2020-6-28
Methodical Magic LLC 2020-6-18
JMS Catering 2020-6-23
Medrano 1205 2020-6-18
VILLAGE ITALIAN PIZZERIA LLC 2020-6-23
PARKS BARBER SHOP 2020-6-18
John William Scotton 2020-6-22
Lakewood Hairquarters and Retail Inc 2020-6-18
BCause It Takes A Village LLC 2020-6-18
Rushin Global LLC 2020-6-18
George Stevens Insurance Agency Inc 2020-6-19
Judith Romanowski Attorney PLLC 2020-6-18
Next Level Tax Services 2020-6-19
Community Expert Solutions Inc 2020-6-26
PecanBacks Inc 2020-6-24
Tysha h Cox 2020-7-19
Echo Family Group Inc 2020-7-22
Little Mangum Studio LLC 2020-7-23
Alpha Nano Tech LLC 2020-7-20
United KB LLC 2020-7-24
Kathy Smith Yoga LLC 2020-7-22
Alexandra Hamer 2020-7-22
Green Ribbon LLC 2020-7-24
The Pinhook 2020-7-23
Maya Freelon LLC 2020-7-24
Scorpions School Of Martial Arts 2020-7-21
Triangle Gluten Free LLC 2020-7-20
Vo Family LLC 2020-7-23
Rapid Results Fitness 2020-7-24
October Forever 2020-7-22
SOLAY Counseling and Research Center 2020-7-27
CC AND P ASSOCIATES LLC 2020-7-27
True Colors In Home Daycare 2020-7-27
Modu Martial Arts 2020-7-29
The Pampered Woman 2020-7-28
Full Strength Flexibility 2020-7-28
Veda K Brewer 2020-7-29
Croissanteria LLC 2020-7-27
Matthews Somatics LLC 2020-8-3
Jadas Mens Accessories 2020-8-1
Shirley S Abraham 2020-8-2
Getaway Travel Inc 2020-7-30
Elegant Nail 2020-8-6
Last Minute Event Planning 2020-8-11
Wood Water LLC 2020-8-11
Clean Hands Painting LLC 2020-8-5
LEE NAILS 2020-8-14
A AND P PAINTING INC 2020-8-13
Borders Barbershop LLC 2020-8-4
HT Travel Inc 2020-8-20
WORLD CLASS TAKWONDO ACADEMY 2020-8-20
HOLSEN C VASQUEZ MENDEZ 2020-8-20
LE NAIL SPA 2020-8-25
Luxury Nails Spa 2020-8-25
Principal Janitorial Services LLC 2020-8-25
Infinity Benefits Group Inc 2020-8-24
CASTRO REMODELIN LLC 2020-8-22
Glimmer and Glow LLC 2020-8-23
Ronalds Unisex Barbershop 2020-8-27
The Glass Jug 2020-6-19
Fernandez Community Center, LLC 2020-6-21
Celine Vu, INC 2020-6-22
Silver Spoon Restaurant 2020-7-10
Saloon Salon, LLC 2020-6-18
Ascot Diamonds, Inc. 2020-6-26
Quad Triangle Taproom LLC 2020-6-18
9th Street Journal staff writer Ben Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The group running Durham’s $2 million COVID-19 small business relief program was obligated to tell the city which businesses got the cash. But the city has yet to find out.
In July, Durham officials boasted in a press release about giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. Yet over a month later, they admit they still don’t know where the money went.
The city is supposed to get a monthly report. The Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), a Raleigh-based small business lending nonprofit, committed to disclosing which businesses got money from a fund of $2 million in publicly-funded loans and $1 million Duke-backed grants, according to a copy of the contract between the city, Duke University and the group obtained by the 9th Street Journal.
The contract said the group “shall provide monthly reports” to Durham and Duke that included the amount of money paid to individual businesses and the business’s names, along with aggregate data about the owner’s gender, race and ethnicity.
Durham has gotten aggregate data, but not the business names and the amount they received, according to Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell. Both Durham and the group were aware of the requirement, according to Chadwell, but haven’t exactly been in a rush to comply.
The information will be available to the public “within the next two weeks,” Chadwell said in an email to the 9th Street Journal. But his promise is would have the information being public more than six weeks after Durham’s self-congratulatory press-release, and well past the requirement in the contract.
“Generally, if a valid contract requires a party to do something and that party fails to do that thing in the set timeframe, they have violated the contract,” Charlotte-based First Amendment attorney Beth Soja said.
There’s no apparent reason for the delay, Soja said. There weren’t any exemptions in the contract that would preclude the group from handing over the information to Durham.
There also doesn’t appear to be anything in the contract that specifies what would happen in the event of the contract being violated.
Carolina Small Business Development Fund President and CEO Kevin Dick declined to comment for this story, saying Durham would respond “in order to represent the entire effort.”
The group was slated to give out cash over multiple months, with a first wave of loans and grants announced July 21 and a second round to follow.
So far, the group has approved eight businesses for Durham-backed loans for a total of $259,000, with $1.6 million in loans remaining, according to Brian Smith, the city’s senior economic development coordinator. That’s more than $32,000 per loan.
Little is known about those businesses, except that they range from sectors like the “personal care services” industry to beverage manufacturing to an alcoholic “drinking place.” The group has also given out about $849,000 in Duke-backed grants to 115 Durham businesses, or an average of about $7,400. Most of those businesses are retail, accommodation and food services, arts/entertainment/recreation, professional services and “other services.”
From the outside, the Bull Durham house at 911 N. Mangum St. looks pretty much the same as it did in the famous 1988 baseball film. The windows are big and a mix of styles, typical of the home’s Queen Anne architecture. A swing still hangs on the front porch.
But inside, there is barely a trace of the erratically wallpapered, chaotically cluttered home where Annie Savoy, played with passion and wisdom by Susan Sarandon, seduced a series of Bulls players, most notably Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Today, the home is transformed into an embodiment of southern minimalism.
The garish wallpaper is gone (understandably) and the walls now display a spectrum of muted pastels. Instead of Annie’s large collection of candles, the home is filled with natural light. It is very southern chic, with plenty of open space, simple colors, and vintage-esque furnishings.
We know these details because the sale of the house is pending (asking price: $1.15 million) and, when it was on the market, it even had its own website, thebulldurhamhouse.com, complete with a virtual tour. Stroll through the house (virtually or in person) and you won’t see many signs of Annie or Crash or Nuke – except for the tub.
“For me, the scene I’ll never forget was the infamous bathtub scene with Annie and Crash,” says Jarin Frederick, the real estate agent selling the home for Urban Durham Realty.
“The clawfoot tub is still in the home today!” says Frederick, referring to the location of one of the most famous moments in the film. The tub scene is all kinds of steamy, with Costner and Sarandon finally consummating their love affair surrounded by dozens of burning candles. They share passionate kisses and the camera pans away as the water splashes out the candles’ flames.
Is the tub now in a different room? It seemed larger in the film, but maybe that’s an optical illusion. But if you’ve got $1.15 million, who cares? You can recreate this moment of movie magic, even if you have a bit less space for candles.
Even before it was on the big screen, the house, built in 1880, carried an air of celebrity. It has been granted historical status both locally and nationally as the “James S. Manning House.”
Manning was a reputable Durhamite, first as an attorney and judge, later a state senator and eventually as the North Carolina’s attorney general. He remained in the home until 1912 when he resettled in Raleigh. After the Mannings relocated, the house changed families a few times until it eventually became vacant.
That’s how it stood in 1986, when Ron Shelton, a director, screenwriter, and former minor league infielder, saw the house while scouting locations for the film that would eventually become Bull Durham. Shelton has said in interviews that the filmmakers chose Durham because of its minor league team and its skyline of dilapidated tobacco warehouses, which complement the romantic allusions of the movie.
But Bull Durham wasn’t entirely shot in Durham. A batting cage scene was filmed in Garner at what is now a mini-golf course; the bar where Nuke and Crash first meet is in Raleigh; and the baseball diamond where LaLoosh is interviewed about pitching in “the show” was in Arlington, Texas.
The Manning house, though, is less than a mile from the Durham Bulls stadium where the team played in the 1980s and where much of the film was made.
What a difference 30 years (and a little decorating) can make. When Annie lived there, the house was decorated with a seemingly endless collection of tchotchkes: buddhas, goddesses in various forms, and baseball memorabilia. Each room had its own statement wallpaper (usually floral) and the whole place was candlelit by night and sunlit by day.
In a desperate attempt to seduce Nuke during what he thought to be a celibacy-induced winning streak, Annie shouts that she detests cute – she wants to be “exotic and mysterious.” That describes her home, too, a workshop for her new age mysticism.
Today, the home is spacious with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, a front and back porch as well as an office, family room and living room. In the film, the house was painted a fading mint color. Now, it’s a slate gray, the classic mismatched windows accented with a bright red like the stitches of a baseball. It’s so nice it looks like it’s been on the cover of Southern Living.
Frederick says the owners have taken good care of it. “When you walk through the home you are immediately aware of the love and commitment the homeowners made the last 13 years in preserving this historic Durham treasure,” she says.
The website highlights a laundry list of restorations and updates since 2007. These range from lighting fixture updates to larger renovations, like the addition of a garage and workspace in the backyard and the refurbishment of the front porch where Crash awaited Annie’s return from the ballpark in the film’s last scene.
Annie joins him on the porch, and the two sit under cover as rain comes down around them. She rambles about the non-linearity of baseball and Crash kindly tells her to shut up. Eventually the two move inside. Much is left unsaid as they dance in front of Annie’s shrine to the religion of baseball.
Staff writer Carmela Guaglianone can be reached at email@example.com
At top, photo of the Bull Durham house by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal
A few months ago, Durham’s Mystic Farm & Distillery decided to expand beyond its well-known line of gin and bourbon liqueur and make a completely new product: hand sanitizer.
When Jonathan Blitz’s partner Michael Sinclair first came to him with the idea, Blitz thought it would be a distraction to their whiskey production. Now, he is glad he went along. “It’s turned out to be an absolutely enormous business… it’s given us a new lifeline.”
Mystic has been distilling gin, whiskey bourbon, and bourbon liqueur since 2013, and added sanitizer at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At first, the company sold to individuals, with so much demand that it backed up traffic down the street.
“It was awesome,” said Sinclair.
The business has now shifted from individuals to larger contracts, including one from Duke University.
Duke needed a dependable supplier after experiencing backorders with its usual vendors. “We had to find a plan B,” said John Noonan, Duke’s vice president of facilities.
Mystic turned out to be that plan B. The company said it could meet Duke’s huge demand.
That demand has gone up because the number of hand sanitizers on campus has increased from 1,000 to about 1,700 to accommodate the return of students to campus. “When you get thousands of students and faculty who are taking four or more shots of hand sanitizer a day, it adds up,” Noonan said.
Duke also is taking steps to ensure the sanitizing stations are environmentally friendly – refilling the bottles instead of replacing them.
What do the processes of making hand sanitizer and alcohol have in common? Not much. But the equipment to produce it is similar, which is why Mystic and other distilleries have gotten in the business.
The equipment Mystic uses was bought from a pharmaceutical plant auction and then adapted to distill alcohol. This same equipment has now come full circle, being used to make medical-grade hand sanitizer.
You might think that alcohol from the whiskey and gin might somehow be used in the hand sanitizer. But they are different products. It is more efficient to buy the base alcohol in bulk for the sanitizer.
Blitz says, “One of the reasons we’ve been able to get contracts from the large academic medical centers is that we are producing a high quality product and keeping that quality high. It’s not cheap or easy, but it has to be done.”
Blitz predicts they’ll be making the new product for a long time. “This generation for the next 15 to 20 years is going to use a lot of hand sanitizer.” Mystic is continuing to look at expansion options into over the counter drug opportunities now that they have the ingredients and equipment.
Blitz says hand sanitizer now outsells their spirits, but what matters is that the company is thriving. “We’ve been able to keep all our employees, which is what success means to me.”
Staff writer Dryden Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In photo above: Mystic now sells hand sanitizer in a variety of sizes. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal
When Kevin McDonald woke up the morning after his first round of electroshock therapy, he couldn’t remember how to make coffee. He used to drink it every morning – strong with some cream. That Saturday he stopped.
But the shock therapy continued, and so did his memory lapses. Scrolling through Facebook, he found himself staring at unfamiliar names and faces. And when he drove into the complex of TROSA, the Durham organization he founded 26 years ago, he couldn’t remember the security guard’s name.
Eventually, McDonald, who served as the President and CEO of TROSA since its inception, decided he had a choice to make: hold on to the organization, or allow someone more capable to take over.
In the decades since McDonald started TROSA (the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers) with $18,000, an abandoned school building and a four-burner stove, the organization has helped hundreds of people recover from substance abuse and become a cornerstone of the Durham community. TROSA moving vans help Durhamites schlep their stuff to new homes, TROSA yard crews keep lawns trim and TROSA cleaning crews prepare Cameron Indoor Stadium before almost every Duke basketball game.
But after 26 years running the organization, McDonald knew he needed to hand over the reins. On July 1, he stepped aside to a role as “founder” as Keith Artin, the organization’s longtime chief operating officer, became president and CEO.
“I just knew in my heart of hearts that you have to let go,” McDonald said.
When I called McDonald over Zoom recently, he appeared on my screen wearing a white button-down shirt that matched his large white beard. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, McDonald, who is 72 and has trouble breathing, has worked from home. Despite the isolation, he’s enjoying life.
“I’m drinking Coca-Cola instead of Diet Coke,” he chuckled. “I’m splurging, man.”
McDonald is no stranger to letting go. Because his dad was an officer in the Air Force, McDonald never got to settle down. He was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, but he grew up across the South – Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia and Florida.
As a Yankee with a Boston accent, McDonald struggled to fit in, and developed feelings of shyness and social anxiety. His mother was also physically and emotionally abusive, he said.
In 1959, when McDonald was 12, his family moved to Germany, where his father served as commander at an air base. His anxiety and lack of confidence continued to fester.
He escaped with alcohol, frequenting local bars as a young teenager. “I wasn’t shy there, after I had some drinks,” he said. By the time he left Germany in 1963, alcohol had become a major problem in his life, he said.
The family moved to California, and he started partying and drinking more. Eventually, his drinking problem became so severe that his dad delivered an ultimatum. “My way or the highway,” his father told him. McDonald took the highway. He was 17.
After high school, he enlisted in the Air National Guard, in the hope of making it into the Air Force Academy. He started carting drugs from Northern California to Los Angeles, but wore a short-haired wig during his military training so he’d look clean-cut.
McDonald didn’t make the Academy and then started snorting heroin, which spiraled into more trouble. Soon he wasrobbing pharmacies to get drugs. But he got caught twice in three months. The first time, he was bailed out; the second time, he received a sentence of 20 years in prison. (A defense lawyer found a way to reduce that to three months.)
Instead of spending years in prison, 32-year-old McDonald headed to Delancey Street, a substance recovery program that would become the model for TROSA. At Delancey, McDonald began to learn how to care for other people, and—even more difficult—to accept other people’s care for himself.
“The hardest thing for me was to receive, to let people care about me, get close to me. That started happening too,” he said during an interview with Frank Stasio on “The State of Things.”
During his 12 years of working at Delancey, McDonald visited Greensboro, North Carolina to help set up a substance recovery facility. There, he met many of the people who would later invite him to set up a similar program in Durham.
Inspired by his own treatment, McDonald decided to start one when he moved to Durham. He told his wife Sue about his plans during their wedding dance.
TROSA soon took off, earning large donations from the Chamber of Commerce and support from the community, including volunteer work from a Duke fraternity. Combining work-based training, counseling and education, the program helped hundreds of residents recover from substance abuse problems. TROSA’s lawn care, thrift store and moving company have each won readers’ awards from Indy Week.
Even as the program grew into a big success, McDonald kept his eye on the day when he would have to move on.
“It’s what’s important for the organization, not the founder, not individuals in the organization, and I really believe in that,” he said during his 2015 interview on “The State of Things.”
Roughly the same time as that interview, McDonald began experiencing more severe bouts of depression, which had been a chronic problem. He had more trouble finishing tasks and getting out of bed. People who knew him well could tell that he was a little colder, a little harder.
He went to a psychiatrist, who eventually recommended that he undergo electroshock therapy.
He ended up going through 19 rounds of the therapy before deciding to stop. He says the treatment left major gaps in his memory. He once had a knack for remembering names and faces. Now, when TROSA residents greeted him, he would have to say, “Hi, what’s your name?” – and he felt terrible about it. He used to be able to give speeches from memory, but now he had to write them down.
Around that time, McDonald was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a brain disorder that can lead to physical decline and short-term memory loss.
“It was scary,” he said. “It was like, I went inside myself. And, how am I going to adapt to this one? How am I going to beat this?”
But as the memory lapses continued, McDonald realized that some things in life can’t be overcome – only endured. He decided it was time to step down at TROSA.
“Nobody realized but me where it was,” he said. “And so I just said, ‘July, I’m out.’ And it was the right thing to do.”
McDonald’s voice cracks when he talks about the support he got from his staff, particularly after he announced he was stepping down.
“I just was so emotionally blown away by people caring so much. I’ve cared a lot of about people in my life, and I’ve given everything I got for a lot of years, but I don’t expect people caring about me.”
Does he regret stepping down?
“Oh no,” he said. “I worked hard, man.”
Actually, he’s quite happy. A person he trusts is in charge, and, as founder, he can still be involved.
“I’m ain’t laying down, and I’m gonna help people.”
Of course, he’s had to adapt to his new role. With Artin in charge, he’s learning to follow orders instead of giving them.
“I don’t need to be a general,” he said. “Rank? I’m past rank. I’m Kevin.”
9th Street Journal reporter Chris Kuo can be reached email@example.com
In photo at top: Kevin McDonald in his home. He now splurges and has a real Coca-Cola. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal
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.
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).
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
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 toreopen.
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 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