By Mia Khatib
RALEIGH — A strip mall at the corner of New Bern Avenue and Raleigh Boulevard that has experienced multiple crime-related incidents in recent years has been mostly vacant for around eight months. K and B Cleaners, the only remaining tenant, has been on-site for two decades but never removed the Peggy’s Cleaners sign from a previous business.
Owner Richard Lee said the New Bern Mini Mart moved out around February 2022 after the landlord decided not to renew its lease. Lucky Beauty Mall left around August.
“Basically, as I know, there was too much trouble [at Mini Mart],” he said. “And Beauty Mall, I think the landlord tried to raise their rent so it’s not affordable that much.”
Lee told The Tribune he is glad that Mini Mart moved out because its gambling machine was the main source of trouble in the area. In addition to the violent incidents, he said loitering was also a big problem and law enforcement wasn’t able to help much.
According to the Raleigh Police Department, more than 80 crimes, including a murder, were reported in the 1600 block of New Bern Avenue from January 2020 to mid-April 2022.
“I’m so happy, and all my customers are very good and nice people,” Lee said. “Sometimes I felt bad, sometimes people were scared to come. Now, it’s no problem, there’s no trouble.”
Capitol Commercial, which owns the property, didn’t respond to The Tribune’s multiple requests for comment, but Lee said from what the company has told him, a restaurant may be on the table. He said the empty units will be renovated along with the outside of the building. He doesn’t know how much his rent will increase after renovations, but “as long as it’s not crazy” he expects to stay.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch, who represents District C in Raleigh City Council, said he’d like to see some healthy food options and gathering spaces come to the community. “I know one of the things I've always heard here is a place for people to go sit down and eat. So that's something that I'm really trying to work towards,” Branch said. “I just want something that complements the community.”
Branch said he hasn’t talked to the new owners about their plans for the site, but he expects some type of development to come in once the New Bern Bus Rapid Transit line takes shape. He said because the strip mall is already zoned for retail, the landlord is not required to engage with the community about their plans but he still encourages they do so.
“A lot of my conversation has been around reassuring the residents [that they won’t lose their homes because of the BRT], and I haven't had time to really go with a deeper dive with the commercial,” he said. “But I do know [other business owners in the community] are looking to do some work in developing as well.”
Demetrius Hunter, who owns Black Farmers Hub nearby, said he was asked to open up shop at the site four months ago but isn’t aware of other outreach efforts. He said there have been a lot of unhealthy options at restaurants and convenience stores in the community for decades, and he wants to see more healthy food come to the neighborhood.
“I definitely want to see the businesses that are doing good things in the community to at first be prioritized, but if they're not interested in that, I think anything that's healthy, anything that's positive, will very well be received in the community because we need it,” he said. “I'm really hoping that we can do better in that area as far as having a better quality of life.”
Hunter also wants to see a multipurpose gathering space for conferences or events because a problem in the area is “there’s nowhere to go.” And while none of the businesses that recently left were Black-owned, Hunter said he’s always concerned about preserving housing and businesses in historically African American communities.
“My parents grew up in College Park. That neighborhood is changing drastically now; it’s been gentrified and a lot of people that I grew up with is out the door,” he said. “I hope that there's some sort of way that we can reconnect back into our community.”
Teddy Gordon, manager at Jack’s Seafood & Soul Food Restaurant across the street, told The Tribune he’d like to see a vocational center come to the site to engage young people and keep the crime element away.
“We're not really necessarily worried about moving out and nothing like that. I guess we're mainly worried about the impact of what's moving in, and how it will develop and kind of build the community up,” he said.