by Eric Ginsburg
1618 owners have signed a lease to move into the refinished Book Trader on the 300 block of South Elm Street in the core of downtown Greensboro.
The heart of downtown Greensboro has undergone significant changes in the last year, and those in the know are buzzing about more action underway. The building owners and new tenants at the former Book Trader downtown officially signed papers this morning to turn the rumors into a reality.
“We are happy to announce that our first floor at 312 South Elm Street will be leased to one of our outstanding local restaurants, 1618,” developer Dawn Chaney said, adding that it will fill the whole first floor, about 3,400 square feet.
Nick Wyatt, who co-owns 1618, said he and his business partner plan to open a restaurant that is a fusion of 1618 Seafood Grille and 1618 Wine Lounge.
The planned name is simple: 1618 Downtown.
“It’s going to be more food and restaurant focused,” Wyatt said. “What we’re going to be doing is morphing the two concepts. We are hoping to open in the first part of 2015.”
1618 Downtown will “lean a little more casual” like the wine lounge but will be food-focused like the grill, he said. Wyatt and business partner George Neal are aiming for a mid-range price point and a menu that embodies the re-invention of a neighborhood bistro, with nightly specials and seasonal ingredients.
The restaurant will be open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, Wyatt said, and will hopefully appeal to a cross-section of people downtown, including young professionals and — in the future — people coming to the planned performing-arts center and the Union Square campus.
Wyatt said they will sell bottles of wine too, akin to a bottle shop, given that the other wine options downtown are farther north.
The 300 block of South Elm Street, the geographical center of much of the city’s downtown action, has struggled with high vacancy rates — several storefronts remaining unrented and one building was recently condemned by the city. But amidst the decay, signs of spring are visible — Scuppernong Books and Grass-Fed opened, while Action Greensboro moved a few blocks away to make space for the expansion of Cheesecakes by Alex.
Chaney owns 312 S. Elm St. with general contractor Pam Frye under the name Dawn & Dawn LLC. They bought the building in May, moving quickly and starting demolition in June.
“Our goal is to have the total building finished by the end of December,” Chaney said.
Like their counterpart — Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann who redeveloped the nearby building that is home to Scuppernong Books — Chaney and Frye are turning the floors above the commercial space into apartments, including one with rooftop access.
There will be six residential units with a single separate entrance from 1618 Downtown, including two 2-bedroom apartments and four 1-bedroom units.
“The real plus that I think is important here is that every one of our apartments will have windows,” Chaney said.
Chaney also said they have applied for historic tax credits, adding that when the building is finished they will hold a grand opening, selling tickets that will raise money for Preservation Greensboro.
“We are restoring the exterior of the building to the original,” she said. “We believe historic preservation should keep the original design of the building to be as close as we can get to a duplicate of the original design.”
The agreement between the restaurant and building owners has, in ways, been years in the making. Wyatt rented one of Chaney’s residential properties when he was still a student at UNCG while Frye installed the kitchen at 1618 Wine Lounge. Talmage Payne, the architect for 1618 Downtown, was also Wyatt and Neal’s architect for the wine lounge.
Chaney and Wyatt are both bullish on downtown’s future, lauding the benefits of a mixed-use development, the right building and good timing.
It is no surprise to hear Chaney, the past chair of Downtown Greensboro Inc.’s board, sing the praises of the center city.
“I believe in downtown and I think the downtown area is our next big development for the city of Greensboro,” she said. “I think it’s a catalyst for our success in the city.”
Wyatt said he and Neal were looking for a building with “a very quintessential downtown feeling,” something they quickly saw in the former Book Trader.
“We tend to like locations that are more urban, closer to town, neighborhood-driven, so obviously downtown seemed like the next step for us,” he said. “I’ve had an interest for a few years to be downtown and have a lot of talks over the years with Cecelia Thompson at Action Greensboro.”
Wyatt said Thompson convinced them to bring their mobile kitchen downtown in the past and prodded them about what it would take to open a location in the center city.
There were other factors for Wyatt and Neal, too. They have confidence in the management team they’ll be bringing with them, Wyatt said, and that 1618 Downtown won’t be fighting with their other businesses for customers. The timing is right as well, he said, allowing them to get in before downtown becomes unaffordable but not so early that the restaurant wouldn’t be financially viable.
And they want to take part in shaping their city, Wyatt said.
“I’m in Greensboro,” he said. “I’m invested. My fiancé is here. For a 34-year-old person I am as invested as I can be without my parents living here.”
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