by Brian Clarey, Jordan Green and Joel Sronce
Let me tell you something.
It’s an ugly truth, one that you might find a little bit disturbing to your sense of place, your sense of worth, your sense of self.
Everybody does, once I tell them. Unless they already know it. And deep down, we all know it.
That ugly truth is this: No one cares about a city of 300,000 people.
Yes, 300,000 sounds like a lot of people. But really, it’s not. It’s not enough people to move the needle, demographically speaking, not enough to attract any sort of national attention, not enough economic activity to lure a big-league sports franchise or even a Trader Joe’s.
Even the Census cuts off its pullout list of the biggest US cities at the 300,000 population mark, which is why none of the cities of the Triad are on it.
Yep, Greensboro weighs in at just about 285,000 people — No. 68 on the population list. Winston-Salem, Trader Joe’s notwithstanding, has just under 250,000. And don’t even get me started on High Point, where just 110,000 souls lay their heads each night. High Point is only slightly more populated than Billings, Mont.
But then these numbers start to add up. Throw in Kernersville, Jamestown, Summerfield and all the rest of the land that lays between our three cities, and all of a sudden we have a what is known in the business as a combined statistical area of almost 1 million people — the 33rd largest in the country with 15 colleges and universities, a slate of blue-chip companies and a sophisticated network of highways to connect us.
Taken together, the Triad matters.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
Sometimes it seems that Greensboro culturati are more likely to drive to Chapel Hill for a night’s entertainment than Winston-Salem, practically right next door. And good luck getting a native Winston-Salemite to head east for half an hour.
As the Triad develops and the demographics swing, the short distances between our cities become more traveled — for work, for love, for art and sometimes just for the hell of it.
Since its inception, Triad City Beat has worked to create connective tissue between the cities we cover. And once a year we acknowledge those others who brave Business 40 and the Sandy Ridge Curtain, the ones who know the awful truth like we do, and even embrace it.
The numbers don’t lie. There is only one Triad; we’re all just living in it.
Tange Lomax: Spitfire rapper
Lives in: High Point
Performs: all over
Tange Lomax, a spitfire rapper who balances grit with a transcendent sense of melody, is based in High Point, but two of her closest allies work out of Greensboro.
She considers it a boost to have Greensboro rapper JK the Reaper do a guest spot on the aptly named “Breakthrough,” a track on her most recent album Free Spirit.
“He has gone on tour, so he’s ahead of a lot of artists,” Lomax says. “He’s where a lot of us want to be. To have him collab on the album is an inspiration.”
Anthony Childress of Greensboro is also a vital part of Lomax’s support network.
“Someone I consider my brother is starting to try to help more North Carolina artists get exposure,” Lomax says, referring to Childress. “He’s putting together a mixtape to highlight different North Carolina artists. I call him my ‘road manager.’ He’s there at all my shows.”
She’s a regular feature on the Black 2 Hip Hop showcase, which marks its fourth year on Feb. 11 at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro, and she’s also performed at Urban Grinders and Greene Street in the Gate City.
Lomax made some inroads in Winston-Salem too, with spots at Phuzz Phest and the Stand Against HB 2 concert last year.
Aside from recording demos at home and trying to encourage a few local artists, her activities in her hometown of High Point are relatively limited.
Lomax is definitely a citizen of the Triad, but don’t let that designation give you the wrong impression. Being a successful hip-hop artist requires the cultivation of a network of relationships with fellow emcees, producers and promoters that extends statewide.
Charlotte, where Lomax got her start and where she’s recording her forthcoming album, The Real Me, can’t be counted out of her story. A Charlotte rapper named Schyler Chaise reached out to Lomax after discovering her on YouTube, and the rest is history.
“He invited me out,” Lomax recalls. “His manager became my manager. That’s how I ended up doing shows in Charlotte. That’s how I did my first album. People thought I was from Charlotte.”
Currently, Lomax is recording and performing with a cohort of artists and hip-hop collectives from across North Carolina. The configuration is mutually beneficial because it gives the artists the opportunity to share billing and get access to new fans across the state.
“It’s a collective called Bake City, it’s a collective called House of Rebels, it’s a collective called Nomad Staff,” Lomax explained. “It’s artists called Seers, Josh Jones, Anthony Childress, basically people from across the state. Nomad Staff, they’re from the Asheville-Boone area. Seers is from Brevard. Josh Jones is from Greensboro. I’m from High Point.”
Lomax is excited about releasing her new album in March or April.
“It’s sounding really groovy as well as not losing the elements of rap and hip hop,” she says. “I’m trying to find that balance between melody and lyrics. It’s coming together. I think people are going to love it.”
Kris Fuller: The Wandering Chef
Lives in: Greensboro
Chef Kris Fuller cuts a conspicuous presence on the floor of Crafted: The Art of the Taco at its Winston-Salem location on Liberty Street: Seating customers, busing tables, scanning the dining room and kitchen. It’s just past lunch with half the tables still going and a few groups coming sporadically through the door.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” she says, referring to the recent opening of the place — the third brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Crafted food chain that also includes a food truck and a consulting arm of the business. “The amount of support that Winston-Salem has shown us in the first 60 days is overwhelming. I can’t even explain the amount of gratitude I have for this city.”
The Camel City location, she says, may be a little larger, and with a more open floor plan, but things on the taco side of the business are much the same as at the flagship location in the Gate City. It’s at the bar where she sees the difference.
“What I’ve found in Winston-Salem is that Winston-Salem is very much a craft-cocktail kind of town,” she says. “Greensboro is your beer city — we’ve got breweries left and right and it’s just a beer-drinking town.
“In Winston-Salem,” she continues, “though they appreciate their craft beer, they really appreciate their craft cocktails; we’re really seeing it in the craft cocktail sales.”
About the difficulties of opening a restaurant in Forsyth County as opposed to Guilford, she’s decidedly thoughtful.
“I felt like the permitting process was easier in Winston-Salem than we had experienced with the city of Greensboro,” she says. “But also Winston-Salem felt easier and smoother because we learned lessons from the past three restaurants that we’ve opened, so with each new one it gets just a little easier.”
A few of her key employees have made the move from Greensboro to Winston-Salem to help open the shop, “so they could truly be ‘local,’” she says, “and so they would be nearby in case they were needed.”
She loves downtown Winston-Salem — coffee at Krankies and Camino, drinks at Single Brothers and Silver Moon, food at Willow’s and Finnegan’s Wake.
“I’m a big fan of Slappy’s Chicken,” she adds.
The Liberty Street location, she says, was chosen very carefully.
“The National Cycling Center, the art park and building, Camel City BBQ and the new barcade,” she says, rattling off the most recent projects on the street. “We’re gonna start to see these old storefronts come to life.”
It’s a similar situation to Crafted: The Art of Street Food in Greensboro, which came into a recently activated spot across from Deep Roots Market along with Preyer Brewing, and later joined by Joymongers Brewing.
“It’s hard to come into an already established area that’s blowing [up] and going and to try to be the new kid on the block when everybody else is already doing their thing,” she says. “We like to look at areas that, if you talk to enough locals, they know the up-and-coming areas. When we opened Street Food, we looked at the ballpark, the apartments, the greenway, the hotel coming up the street. There was enough happening to take a leap of faith. Liberty Street is the same way. This is what’s next in Winston-Salem.”
But Fuller keeps her apartment in downtown Greensboro, which she shares with her wife Rachel Walker — who is a previous Citizen of the Triad notable.
“Our home base is Greensboro,” she says. “I grew up mostly in Greensboro. I love Greensboro. I love Winston-Salem, but Greensboro is my home base, man.”
She finds the commute on Business 40 — performed during off-peak restaurant hours, to be painless.
“I don’t mind traveling,” Fuller says. “I kind of like the drive. My drive to Winston-Salem is that one time of the day I can sit in silence if I want to.”
Doug Clark: Opinion journalist
Lives in: High Point
Works in: Greensboro
Doug Clark had worked at the High Point Enterprise for more than 15 years when he received an offer to write for the editorial page at the Greensboro News & Record in 2004. His wife was teaching at Central Davidson Middle School in Lexington at the time, and they decided to stay in High Point to split the difference.
Logistically, Clark doesn’t consider it a big deal to live in High Point and work in Greensboro.
There’s usually not much traffic on his morning commute, which takes Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Business 85 and Interstate 85, and then to Highway 220/Randleman Road, which delivers him to the office in downtown Greensboro.
Psychologically, he said, the gap between the two cities has widened over the past 13 years.
“When I first came here in 2004, the News & Record was providing a lot of High Point news coverage and we had a larger editorial staff, and it was really advantageous to have a High Point guy on the editorial staff,” Clark said. “Since then, things have changed and we don’t do a lot of High Point coverage.”
Now that Clark’s wife has retired from teaching, they’re thinking about moving to Greensboro. They’re interested in living downtown, but with the possibility that the News & Record might sell its building, the couple has put their plans on hold to see how things shake out.
Clark acknowledges there’s a certain appeal to being part of the zeitgeist in the city where his newspaper is located.
“If you’re in a community all the time you know it much better and you get involved,” he said.
Notwithstanding their possible move to Greensboro, Clark says the couple has important ties to their church and friends in High Point.
“I don’t want to be harsh in any way, but I do see that Greensboro really has some vitality that High Point doesn’t,” Clark said. “It’s not your usual city. A lot of that has to do with the furniture market. You just can’t have a downtown like Greensboro, Winston-Salem or Durham because of the furniture market. That’s one of the things that makes a city a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong: I really like High Point. It was a great place to raise our kids. It certainly has a better handle on some problems like crime than Greensboro does, but in terms of where you’d want to spend a weekend, there’s not much to choose between.”
(Read more by clicking page 2 below)
Tim Tsujii: Elected to split difference
Works in: Winston-Salem
Lives in: Kernersville
Call it the “Kernersville Solution.”
When Tim Tsujii, Greensboro born and raised, took the job as elections director for Forsyth County last year, he knew there would have to be some changes.
His wife Nikki still worked in Greensboro, for one, at Adams Farm Living & Rehabilitation, and they have a daughter in Guilford County Schools and another about to start.
“I did think about [moving to] Winston-Salem,” Tsujii said, “but after discussing the girls’ school and the commute….” He sighed just a little.
Though he graduated from Western Guilford High School, Tsujii was no stranger to the Camel City. He and Nikki, who began dating in their teens, would go to shows at the old Ziggy’s on Baity Street, and while he was a student at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, he would divide his time back home between the two cities. When he moved back, Tsujii remembered making the drive from Greensboro in the early days of Foothills brewpub on Fourth Street, and the beginning of the music series at Corpening Plaza.
“It’s one big region,” he said. “I would equate it in size to the [Washington] DC metro area. When I was living in DC, I’d venture off to Maryland and Virginia on weekends all the time.”
And so: the Kernersville Solution.
“So yeah,” he says, “initially I kind of wanted us to move to Winston-Salem, but my wife… she doesn’t have any plans on leaving her job — she loves where she’s at — so to be fair to her we split the commute evenly between the two of us.
“The thing is, our daughter still attends public school in Guilford,” he continues. “We’re paying tuition for her to attend public school there for the year, just for the year to ease her transition to a school in Forsyth County.”
Ironically, since moving to Forsyth over the summer, he and his wife spend more time in Greensboro than they do Winston-Salem, both in downtown spots and in the Adams Farm area where they used to live.
He works in downtown Winston-Salem, a new landscape that he is still trying to figure out.
“So people mention the arts as being one of the big differences between Winston-Salem and Greensboro,” he says. “I don’t know. I’d say it’s comparable in quality, to be honest. [But] I think the opportunity for creativity and innovation seems to be more prevalent here in Winston than in Greensboro. It’s a different environment in terms of opportunity to do things and be creative.”
But then: Kernersville.
“Kernersville is a lot bigger than people think,” he explains. “There’s plenty of things to do there, plenty of stores and our neighborhoods are great.”
Interesting, though, that he still refers to Kernersville as “there.”
Hailey Moses: The uprooted gardener
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Works in: Greensboro
As is common among some local college grads, Hailey Moses stuck around. When the end of her four years at Guilford College didn’t urge her to leave Greensboro, she stayed in the city for a fifth. Then, suddenly, the years stretched to 10.
“It’s interesting, looking back,” Moses said. “I don’t remember ever going to Winston-Salem in my years at Guilford.”
As many Triad-dwellers would admit, this geographic stagnancy isn’t unique to Moses. Neither is her declaration: “People in Greensboro don’t realize how cool Winston-Salem is.”
The misunderstanding is mutual.
It’s an oversight she regrets, though she now takes full advantage of a city she never did.
Finally ready for a big change, Moses jumped at the recommendation of a friend and took her possessions down the short road west to Winston-Salem this past July, after a decade in Greensboro.
She didn’t, however, consider looking for a new job. As the garden educator in the Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children’s Museum, Moses is quite happy. The opportunity to teach and empower kids and families through food education is not something she’s ready to give up.
Since she decided not to quit her work, Moses had to find a new life nearby yet distant enough from a home she felt she had exhausted. Not every decision needs to have a specific origin, Moses assured.
“I was just ready for a good, big change.”
She enjoys her morning commute to Greensboro, the time to herself a chance to take harbor in a podcast. (She does admit to being “over it” by the evening drive.)
Not surprisingly, it’s the Camel City’s outdoor aspects that the gardener values, even when they involve being within the city. Winston feels greener, she said. Her place is a 10-minute walk from Old Salem; a 20-minute stroll gets her downtown — routes she runs constantly.
What’s more, she pointed out, “The restaurants and bars with seating in the front patios, things like that, they contribute to the feeling of so much going on here.”
“Plus,” she was quick to include, citing Publix and Trader Joe’s, “Winston-Salem’s grocery game is on point.”
Benjamin Briggs: Preservationist
Lives in: High Point
Works in: Greensboro
Benjamin Briggs has served as executive director of Preservation Greensboro since 2003, but considering that the High Point native and preservationist lives in an 1843 farmhouse owned by his great-great-great grandfather, it’s not surprising that he wasn’t tempted to pull up stakes.
“I’m the sixth generation to have the house,” Briggs said. “There was never any consideration that I would sell that or give it away.”
Besides, the location of Briggs’ place on Penny Road near the Palladium makes for pretty a convenient commute to his office at the Blandwood Mansion in Greensboro, and it’s also not far from High Point’s core city.
“My dad raised me with the understanding that people in Greensboro are adversarial to High Point,” Briggs said. “My experience is that is somewhat true. There are very distinct reality structures that remain. High Point wants to remain independent. Greensboro feels that High Point should be a subset, or they feel that its streets are confusing, and they avoid it altogether.”
Briggs said he’s thought about organizing a coach tour of High Point for Greensboro residents.
“Ninety-five percent of people in Greensboro have no idea about the diverse architecture in High Point,” he said. “People in High Point know about [the Greensboro neighborhood of] Fisher Park; the reverse isn’t true.”
Briggs’ loyalty and interest in his hometown is manifested in his research, support for local businesses and willingness to pitch in to support local organizations — everything from writing a book about High Point history that was published in 2008 to showing up for a cash mob to support the renowned soul food restaurant Becky’s and Mary’s. And he’s helping to rebuild the High Point Preservation Society, which celebrated its new start with a wine and cheese soiree at Pandora’s Manor Bed & Breakfast on Monday. (See related story on page 8.)
Although High Point is younger than its larger neighbor, Briggs said the two cities share a Quaker heritage and legacy of manufacturing. The primary difference between the two, he said, is that until the recent expansion of High Point University, High Point hasn’t had a strong educational component compared to Greensboro, which is home to UNCG, NC A&T University, Bennett College, Greensboro College, Guilford College and Elon Law School.
“High Pont has been more of a business-focused city,” Briggs said. “It’s a can-do city. People in High Point feel more enabled to get things done in a pragmatic fashion. On the other hand, Greensboro has an educational focus. That causes people to slow down and ponder decisions…. In High Point, it’s a checklist; you go through it and check off all the items. If you go to a committee meeting in Greensboro, they’ll check to see how everybody’s feeling about it and try to come to a consensus before making a decision.”
As an example of High Point’s can-do spirit, Briggs cited Phyllis Bridges, who has completed two documentaries on African-American history in the city, with additional material left over for future projects.
“She just saw this need and this opportunity to get something done, and she did it,” Briggs said. “I have not seen an example of that kind of work in Greensboro. It seems like things are a little more facilitated through the city, maybe through the civil rights museum, Bennett College or maybe A&T. There are so many partnership opportunities.”
Clay Howard: A rambling man
Lives in: Kernersville
Works in: Greensboro
Plays in: Winston-Salem
The pebble of Clay Howard’s life was dropped in Greensboro some years ago, but its ripples have since ventured out over the Triad and beyond.
A Southeast Guilford High alum, Howard remained in Greensboro after getting married. Then, in order to more evenly split the commute to their separate jobs — his wife works as a teacher in Winston-Salem — the couple settled down in Kernersville, where they live today. Their kids attend school in Winston-Salem, too.
Howard continues to work in Greensboro, now as vice president of the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, though his home and his heart linger elsewhere. [Disclosure: Triad City Beat keeps its offices in the Nussbaum Center.]
“There are more opportunities for my kind of music in Winston-Salem,” Howard explained. “Greensboro has a good scene for young people, Americana and acoustic stuff, but I’m a rocker.”
Howard cites the Camel City’s support of the arts as the reason he and his band, Clay Howard & the Silver Alerts, call it their musical home.
“The Winston-Salem music scene has really flourished, as Trade Street has,” Howard said, alluding to venues such as Test Pattern, which opened in 2016.
Along with previous variety shows and nonprofit benefits, Howard mentioned the Friday Night Music Club at Bull’s Tavern that would take place on Jan. 20, in which he would perform as a special guest with host band the Plaids.
“The inclusiveness of players, musicians and different people really separates Winston and Greensboro,” he said.
Howard doesn’t mind the 10 years of commuting either. The 20-minute trip out and 30 or 40-minute trip home are chances for him to listen to the band’s recent mixes or just clear his head.
Howard still likes Greensboro, he clarified.
“I just don’t play here!” he laughed.