Mr. Hatcher’s Neighborhood
One man holds the keys to Plaza Midwood’s future, and no one knows what he’s thinking
The fence wrapped ’round the bar: John Hatcher’s decision to build a fence around the Thirsty Beaver shook up Plaza Midwood.
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Happy hour arrives without fanfare at the Thirsty Beaver Saloon on the last Friday in June. Bar stools fill up, and conversation mingles with the hum of the air conditioner.
Built in 1945, the squat, orange, brick-and-concrete rectangle on Central Avenue shows its age. The walls are pale yellow with a smattering of dirty handprints, the front windows shaded by Snoopy curtains. You can ring the doorbell if someone accidentally locks you out. Bras hang on a rack above the door. A can of Yuengling costs $2.75. The jukebox is free.
A man with dark hair pulled back in a bun is drinking a can of Pabst at the bar. He lives in the neighborhood, builds staircases for a living, and has a succinct view of the changing landscape in Plaza Midwood: “If you take away all the little places like this, no one’s gonna want to live in the condos, to be honest with you.”
A few blocks away, a 53-unit, art-deco-style apartment complex has appeared at the corner of Commonwealth and Pecan avenues. Twenty-five additional apartments are rising beside the Dairy Queen on Central. At least 200 more are planned at the intersection of Clement and Central, and 25 others are planned on the site of the former Carolina Actors Studio Theatre building.
New residents mean more money, more traffic, more drivers failing to back into diagonal spaces on Commonwealth Avenue. Soon, the second-hand-furniture stores and pawnshops could be displaced by frozen yogurt chains and toddler gyms. Some people would argue this is a good thing. But when a high chain-link fence wrapped its way around the Beaver in early June, the neighbors got worried—and not just because they don’t want to lose their bar.
The man who put up the fence also owns the parking lot beside the bar. He owns much of the north side of Central between the Beaver and Hawthorne Lane, including empty lots, a warehouse gym, and a decaying church. He owns the strip mall diagonally across the street from the Beaver that houses Family Dollar, Bistro La Bon, Yoga One, and yards of coveted parking spots. He owns the Midwood Corners shopping center at Central and The Plaza. With all of his property holdings, he has the power to shape much of Plaza Midwood’s future.
And nobody knows what he’s thinking.