by Brian Clarey, Eric Ginsburg and Jordan Green
That’s what separates downtown Greensboro from downtown Winston-Salem, more or less a straight line, with High Point creating dimension to the region..
It’s these cities — the third, fifth and ninth largest in our state’s archipelago of urbanism — that make us the Triad. And that 30 miles, the hypotenuse of our little corner of the South, is all that separates us.
It takes me about half an hour to get from my front doorstep in the northeast section of Greensboro to the smack-dab center of Winston-Salem, about the same amount of time it takes to get to Friendly Center and find a parking spot. I can be in High Point in the time it takes me to drop off the kids at school and get back home. And it’s amazing that I have to point this out as often as I do.
From almost the day I moved here I’ve been a citizen of the Triad, traveling with ease between these cities as a matter of course. For me it was by necessity — I was a journalist covering the entire area — but like other not-from-around-heres I quickly realized that the distance between our cities is negligible, shorter than even the most basic commute in other places I’ve lived.
And so it surprised me to learn how many people around here never make the trip east, or west, or slightly to the south, how little they know about these other Triad cities that, to the rest of the country, amount to a single market.
It’s true: Our big cities, each with a population of fewer than 300,000 souls within their proper borders, barely raise a blip on the national radar, which takes the sole factor of economic heft into consideration. Our only power on this scale comes as a region of more than 1 million. And even then we barely crack the Top 50 media markets.
Most of the people in the world think the “Triad” refers to a Chinese crime organization. Go ahead and Google it.
Jeri Rowe coined the term “Sandy Ridge Curtain” to describe the divide between the Greensboro and Winston-Salem, an exit on Interstate 40 that marks an invisible barrier near the Forsyth and Guilford county lines that so few seem willing to cross. Yet there are those among us, increasing in number, who recognize the power that comes from making connections between the cities, understand how these centers of culture and commerce play off — and against — each other and realize what we can learn from one another.
Citizens of the Triad cross the Sandy Ridge Curtain for love and money, for opportunity and education, business and politics. Some just make the drive to flesh out their cultural lives.
That cultural aspect may be the most important tie that binds.
It’s true that almost no one in Winston-Salem cares what happens in a Greensboro City Council meeting, just as High Pointers have little interest in the doings of the Winston-Salem Police Department. Maybe they should be, particularly the police department, which doesn’t check which city someone lives in before they conduct a traffic stop.
But the culture permeates.
Most people would be willing to drive to High Point for a great restaurant, or Winston-Salem to see a limited-release film, or Greensboro to try out a local brewery. Or, at least, they should be.
It’s only 30 miles, after all.
Owner, Design Archives Emporium in Winston-Salem and Greensboro; shopdesignarchives.com
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: Winston-Salem
Before this year, Kit Rodenbough had been a Greensboro gal through and through.
Her vintage shop, Design Archives Emporium, first flourished near the corner of Market and Davie streets back when downtown Greensboro used to shut down by 8 p.m. After a time on Tate Street, she moved to her current location at the corner of Elm and McGee streets downtown, never giving much thought to our neighbors to the west.
Until, one day, she did.
“It was just one of those things I tend to do: React and go with my instincts,” she said. “Someone mentioned [downtown Winston-Salem] to me in July, and I just went over there and found this location and I did it. It wasn’t this long, drawn-out process, but it felt right.”
Her Winston-Salem location opened in November on Fourth Street, in a space that once displayed Nash automobiles. It’s fitting for the vintage and consignment shop, which specializes in wares from local crafters and treasures from the recent past.
“In the Greensboro location, we get foot traffic because we’re in the heart of downtown,” she said. “Everyone who comes to Greensboro comes downtown, and probably 90 percent of them eat [across the street] at Natty Greene’s, so we feed off that.
“I knew of Foothills [Brewing],” she continued, “and this location right next to it gave us the very same feel that our Greensboro location has, right next to the brewery, a popular spot.”
Now she’s a citizen of the Triad, making the trip to the Camel City from her Greensboro home at least three times a week, often more.
“[The drive] is nothing,” she said. “I take Business 40, which I thought would be horrible, but it’s not bad at all. It’s just 30 minutes — for me, it’s a good time to unwind. I can’t do anything but drive and think.”
She says the differences in the two downtown districts became apparent very quickly.
“Most of my [Winston-Salem] customers are residents of Winston,” she said, “particularly a more seasoned clientele, living downtown. They seem to be retirees and they seem to be interested in the arts and supporting artistic ventures. I haven’t seen that in Greensboro.”
Her New Year’s resolution, she said, is to spend more time getting to know her new neighborhood.
“Because I don’t know Winston-Salem like I do Greensboro,” she said, “I feel like I’ve gone somewhere far away, even though the distance is nothing. When I drive into downtown Winston-Salem I feel like I’m in New York, SoHo or somewhere. It feels worlds apart from Greensboro.”
Radio the Artist
Visual artist based primarily in Winston-Salem
Lives in: Kernersville
Travels to: High Point
To be honest, the three cities marking the corners of Radio’s Triad are Winston-Salem, High Point and Raleigh, the three places where he does most of his art. That being said, he still lives in Kernersville, his hometown, but only until Jan. 11, when he leaves to spend a year teaching English in China.
In some ways, Radio is frustrated that aspects of the Triad arts scene overlook locals like him for projects, pointing to mural projects with out-of-state street artists that could have capitalized on local talent. At the same time, he’s itching to expand his world to include a greater understanding of a different culture, hoping to return to the area with fresh ideas, a slightly different perspective and some level of influence on his craft.
Greensboro doesn’t feel like the kind of place that supports artists like him, or at least he hasn’t found it, he said. But he’s made significant inroads in Winston-Salem, where he’s painted murals and volunteers with an arts-based program at the children’s hospital, and in High Point where he is connected to the 512 Collective.
“Greensboro for me is kind of like High Point,” he said, in that “it’s kind of a hit or miss. I just feel like [the cities] should all work together and try to get more resources for artists and to help artists create jobs and businesses and provide more tools to help artists thrive and be successful.”
Radio had expected to be involved with a couple of murals in Greensboro, but all of the plans fell through, he said. And while he’s been happy with what he’s been able to accomplish in Winston-Salem and High Point, he said, the teetering scales finally tipped in favor of leaving the area, at least for now.
Works at Only Earth Natural Foods
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Travels to: High Point
The more time passed, the more Michelle Curry finds herself hanging out in High Point. She has lived in and around Winston-Salem for her entire life and always had friends in High Point. But her gig with Only Earth Natural Foods in High Point has led her to spend more time there.
“There’s more connection going on with the university and there are more people trying to build up the city, which makes me really happy,” she said. “I also see it with the restaurants and the fact that there was actually a beer fest this past year that was really big for High Point, and all these little cute shops that have sprung up. It’s not a little bedroom community like it used to be.”
Curry sees the Triad cities as interconnected, both in terms of people who travel to shop at the health foods store and the folks who are synergistically pushing the culture forward.
Still, most of her free time is spent in Winston-Salem, a place she is thrilled to see changing. Curry remembers driving downtown as a teen when she was still fresh behind the wheel, and it excites her how much more is happening now. It’s a primary reason that she’s chosen to stick around.
Art director at Pace Communications
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Travels to: Greensboro & High Point
It took Camilo Perdomo about a year to adjust to living in Winston-Salem. He and his wife, Kristin Kennedy, left Greensboro after he landed a job with Qué Pasa, but he said they quickly realized the city is right for them even when all their friends were on the other side of the Triad.
“I saw the strong push that Winston was making for the downtown and the industry there, and that was very appealing for us at our age,” he said, adding that they spent their first year living downtown. “It’s interesting to see investment in a food culture.”
He later switched careers to work as an art director at Pace Communications in Greensboro, a company he didn’t know about when he lived there. It was as if the Gate City opened up to him once he became a sort of outsider, even after living in Greensboro for about six years, he said.
“When I left Greensboro I never thought I would be back to work,” he said. “Pace has opened a world of opportunities within the Triad and outside of it.”
Perdomo loves that he can live in Winston-Salem, work in Greensboro and be involved in work projects on a national level that allow him to travel. It allows him to be a big fish and small fish in different ponds at the same time, he said.
He even spends some time in High Point, going there to play basketball with a friend. They usually eat at Carter Brothers or an Indian buffet in the Third City, too. Traversing the three cities, he’s noticed a level of healthy competition that he hopes will lead to improvements in each.
“Instead of a triangle, I see the Triad as more of a circle,” he said.
Perdomo, who moved to Greensboro almost eight years ago as an immigrant, said this seems like one of the best eras to live in the Triad, when there is a strong push for culture and other aspects of urban life from a new generation is making the cities flourish.
Triad bureau chief at North Carolina Public Radio
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Travels to: Greensboro and High Point
A tenuous connection to High Point, based on occasional, basketball-related visits, isn’t the only thing Jeff Tiberii and Camilo Perdomo have in common — they also both commute from Winston-Salem to Greensboro for work.
For nine months Tiberii made the trek with the help of the regional PART bus, which dropped him off on the same block as the North Carolina Public Radio studio upstairs in the Triad Stage building downtown.
He’s lived in Winston-Salem for more than eight years, working at the former ISP Sports and later at WFDD based at Wake Forest University. And that’s part of why he still resides in the Camel City.
“The reason I don’t live in Greensboro is probably as simple as that I had already lived in Winston for five years” before working for NC Public Radio, he said. “My commute is like 30 miles and it takes pretty much 30 to 35 minutes. If I were in the Northeast corridor I couldn’t live 30 miles outside of DC or Boston or New York. It’s an easy commute.”
Tiberii’s wife, Blair Busby, spent some of her formative years in Winston-Salem, and her family remains in the area. While he isn’t sure where they’ll be in 20 or even five years — Busby is doing her clinical rotation for physician assistant school in Wrightsville Beach now — Tiberii said they would be crazy not to at least consider spending the rest of their lives in the Triad.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s so reasonable to live at a reasonable wage.”
While his professional life is the main reason he spends time in Greensboro, Tiberii tries to stretch his time in the Gate City to build relationships, grab lunch, spend time in a park or check out a play. He even extends his orbit to attend a High Point Panthers men’s basketball game once a year, an annual ritual with a friend in the Furniture City.
“I think that the cities complement each other pretty well,” Tiberii said, “but it seems like there’s this barrier to an extent and I’ve never been able to really put my finger on it. There’s certainly some overlap but also some things that each city has that the other doesn’t. I think people should venture down Business 40 more often.”
Owner of Alter Vapes
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Travels to: Greensboro
Lisa Blevins always liked Winston-Salem, but after a long-term relationship ended, it pushed her to pick up from Greensboro and try something new. Blevins had opened Alter Vapes in downtown Greensboro in August 2013, but that didn’t stop her from moving to Winston-Salem last February. She already had friends there, and her brother Joe too, but there were more components drawing her in.
“Winston-Salem has more texture than Greensboro, meaning that it has more hills,” she said, laughing a little. “Now my house is on a hill and I’m very happy about it. And there’s more art and diversity.”
Blevins opened the vape shop after growing “tired of being an office wench” and quitting cigarettes immediately with the help of a vape. She works there full time and runs it with her other brother Chip.
Despite her long tenure in Greensboro, she really only misses being able to walk to work. But she has no intention of relocating the business to Winston-Salem — if anything she’d open up a second shop there, keeping the first intact.
Partner at Smith Moore law firm
Lives in: High Point
Travels to: Greensboro
Tom Terrell’s roots in High Point go back to the 1700s. He has ancestors who were buried in a Quaker cemetery at the Springfield Friends Meeting in the early 1800s. Although he was born in El Paso, Texas — his father, from south Greensboro, was in the armed services — his family moved to High Point when Tom was 6 months old.
After earning a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, Terrell returned to High Point to start a family of his own.
“I came back to High Point out of a sense of loyalty,” he said, “but sometimes that loyalty is challenged.”
Terrell left the Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler law firm in High Point to join the larger Smith Moore law firm in Greensboro in 2000. His wife, Gaither, also works in Greensboro — as director of the counseling center at Guilford College. Their son, Joseph, incidentally, plays guitar in the acclaimed Chapel Hill folk group Mipso.
Tom Terrell said he finds that opportunities for leadership spring more naturally from the place he calls home than where he works. But working outside of High Point cuts into his ability to pursue leadership opportunities in his hometown.
“It makes it much harder, if not sometimes impossible to serve in a leadership role in High Point organizations,” he said. “A meeting that should take an hour of my time would take three and a half to four hours to travel, do the meeting and travel back. Since I started working in Greensboro in 2000, I have been the president of the High Point Historical Society. I have chaired what was called the Core City Project. I’ve done a couple other things. I’ve been on the chamber of commerce board of directors. The number of things I’ve done pales in comparison to what I would have done if I had been able to be here in the day.”
He has also played an active role in supporting candidates for local office over the past three decades.
Terrell has also served on the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees, giving him ties to all three Triad cities. Phil Phillips, then a member of the UNC Board of Governors recruited him to the position. Phillips told Terrell the board needed an outsider because it had been challenged by infighting. They also needed someone who was sensitive to historically black colleges and universities but not directly involved in the world of higher education.
“It was my first blind date, and I loved it,” Terrell said. “I had eight happy years there. I was the commencement speaker in December 2004.”
Terrell said he’s observed that it’s becoming more common for people who live in High Point to work in Greensboro or Winston-Salem. That’s partly a function of the two larger cities having more institutions of higher learning and larger hospitals that provide greater employment opportunities for professionals.
“The Triad is a wonderful place to work and raise a family,” Terrell said. “Of the three main cities, High Point has a long way to go. We are still a city of 100,000 that has no downtown. Our downtown is a trade district that is closed to the citizens of the city. It hurts us bad. Every other city around us — Jamestown, Kernersville and Lexington — have figured out a way to revitalize their core. We have not figured that out. Instead we fight each other. We have no leadership; we have no vision. We definitely have a long way to go to catch up with Winston-Salem and Greensboro as places to live.”
Friends, church, family connections and a mortgage anchor the Terrells to High Point, but Tom said the equation of “live in High Point — work and play in Greensboro and Winston-Salem” isn’t satisfying.
“If I were starting over I would choose Greensboro over High Point,” he said, “not because I work there, but because High Point of late does not have the political or civic leadership that we need.”
Core member of the 512 Collective
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: High Point
Beka Butts’ New Year’s resolution is to start dipping her toes in the water that is Winston-Salem. She’s put a lot of focus lately into High Point, where her artistic and organizational involvement in the 512 Collective has been catalytic, but she hasn’t been able to spend the amount of time getting acquainted with Winston-Salem that she would like to.
The Triad should really function as one metropolis, Butts said. In some ways, it already does, but she would like to see more people talking about the area as a whole. Butts is hopeful about the direction all three cities seem to be headed in, adding that she hopes it starts to be seen more as a place where a twentysomethings can live, work and do things they are passionate about.
She’s seen the payout for those who dig in and take a chance rather than remaining suspended in a permanent state of hesitation. Taking chances — like accepting an offer to be involved in a studio space in High Point even though she lives in Greensboro — has paid off big time, she said.
Now Butts in getting involved in the broader Washington Street District around the artist collective and gallery space, helps put on events at the Third City’s library, and teaches 8- to 12-year olds twice a week as well. Oh, and she also works part time at an Italian restaurant in Greensboro.
And she has plenty more she wants to see happen, like getting the city of High Point to work with them to activate vacant spaces and encouraging more people to take chances like she has.
Sometimes Butts runs into High Point natives who live in Greensboro now who tell her there is nothing happening in their hometown. But she knows better. People need to look more deeply, she said, taking note of the grassroots things that are springing up.
It may take time to build, she acknowledged, but it’s important. The energy and momentum seem to be there, with heartening developments such as Dance From Above at the Crown combining local music and art, she said.
Rather than complaining about the Triad lacking the events, galleries, markets or other things that people want to see happen, Butts said it is incumbent on people to make that change themselves.
“If we don’t see it already then we’ll just make it,” she said. “I think [this] is a great place for that.”
Marketing consultant, Southern Wine & Spirits
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: Winston-Salem
When we worked together, years ago, Jessica Schell didn’t realize there was an invisible boundary between the cities of the Triad.
New to Greensboro, the western Pennsylvania transplant just got in her car and drove, blissfully unaware of the taboo regarding travel between the cities of the Triad.
Now she’s lived in downtown Greensboro and downtown Winston-Salem without restricting her social or professional life to either one.
As a liquor rep, she says, “I go to where the cool, craft places are.”
Her job brings her from Greensboro throughout the western part of the state, all the way to Asheville and back again.
She sees the 30 miles separating Greensboro from Winston-Salem as negligible.
“It’s nothing to me,” she says. “I go to Winston-Salem five or six times a week. Don’t take regular 40, take Business 40 and go through Kernersville. It goes by really fast if you’ve got a couple of buddies in the car with you.”
And though she again calls Greensboro home, she gives the current edge to Winston-Salem.
“What I say is that Winston people come to Greensboro, but Greensboro people do not go to Winston,” she says. “And that’s kind of how it’s always been. People haven’t caught on yet, but they will: Winston-Salem is more like Asheville now. It passed Greensboro and [Greensboro] people are just now catching on to it. It’s just 30 miles, but it’s two totally different worlds. It just really is.”
Emily Stewart Baker
Cofounder of the Breathing Room
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: Winston-Salem
A car accident with a tractor on Friendly Avenue in Greensboro set Emily Stewart Baker on the path of her two vocations — music and holistic healing — and likely sealed her decision to stay in the Triad after graduating from Guilford College.
With time on her hands, she picked up a guitar and taught herself to play, discovering pockets of songwriters and musicians in the process. She also learned about alternative medicine.
“During the time I was recovering from the accident, I had discovered so many different healing modalities,” Stewart Baker recalled.
Music, in turn, led to Stewart meeting her future business partner, Suzy McCalley.
McCalley brought her violin to a rehearsal of Stewart’s band, the Baby Teeth.
“I think we were at a potluck one night and just started talking,” Stewart Baker said. “She had been conceiving of the idea of the Breathing Room. She was aware that the West End Mill Works was coming.”
Stewart Baker had previously worked at 2 Art Chicks, a studio/gallery that leased space to artists in the building that currently houses Mellow Mushroom on South Elm Street in Greensboro. Joining McCalley as a partner at the Breathing Room in Winston-Salem, she brought the same model. “It’s definitely about bringing people together who might be working alone or might be working at home or in a rented office space,” she said. “It allows people to work together, in tandem and to allow people to exchange ideas.”
The Breathing Room has brought in a handful of practitioners from Greensboro, including hypnotherapist Andrew Eversole and massage therapist Alicia Bullard, along with at least one practitioner from High Point.
Running a business in Winston-Salem while living in Greensboro opens up new networking opportunities, but presents logistical challenges. A lot of Stewart’s work for the business, including graphic design and financial management, can be handled from home or on tour, while meetings and her reiki practice require her to be physically in Winston-Salem.“It’s great to be open to those two communities,” she said. “It definitely takes a lot of planning. I do work from home a lot. I do really try to plan my days in Winston very carefully, so I can squeeze in as much as possible.”
Stewart Baker said she’s noticed a psychological barrier to traveling between the two cities among many people, but a select few have recognized the 30-minute commute is not that daunting.
“I’ve always wanted to dig into Winston,” she said. “I used to go to shows at Krankies and the Garage, but that was the extent of my involvement. I figured it would happen sooner or later, and it did.”
Ultimately, the sum is greater than the individual parts.“I’ve gotten to know wonderfully creative people in all three cities,” Stewart Baker said. “I’m really happy to have dug into Winston and met more people. I think there’s a lot of growing, changing and moving going on in the Triad.”
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