Citizens of the Triad

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Citizens of the Triad, unite!

by Brian Clarey, Eric Ginsburg and Jordan Green

Thirty miles.

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.

— BC

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Kit Rodenbough in her Winston-Salem shop, Design Archives Emporium.
Kit Rodenbough in her Winston-Salem shop.

Kit Rodenbough

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.”

— BC

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Radio the Artist spends time in Winston-Salem by choice and by necessity.
Radio the Artist

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.

— EG