In an old office building just off Ninth Street in Durham sits a cardboard box containing a barbershop pole, a lobster trap, antique brass doorknobs and hinges, and a stuffed water buffalo head.

Graham Worth at The Common Market. Credit: Photo courtesy of JNK Public Relations

The items have been carefully curated—and, along with the building, will soon be repurposed as part of the expansion of The Common Market, a Charlotte-based deli, bar, and bottle shop slated to open its first Triangle location in a Green Street office space this June.

Graham Worth is leading the Durham rollout. A Raleigh native with a knack for spotting decorative potential in sundry garage sale items, Worth has helped launch three of The Common Market’s other four locations—three in Charlotte and one in South Carolina—and says unconventional wall art, like doorknobs and lobster traps, is an integral part of the brand.

The Common Market started as a convenience store in 2002.

“Blake [Barnes], who founded it, didn’t have enough money to do anything else,” Worth says. “When he cobbled together some money, he added a deli. Then he looked around and realized people liked to drink while they were there, so he built a bar. What it is, in its current state today, all happened organically over time.”

The layout of the Durham location reflects this evolution, in a sense. From the outside, the building is unassuming, almost like a corner store. But its interior—a spacious, split-level concept that Worth created by cutting a giant hole in the ground floor, thus merging it with the basement—is more comparable to a food hall.

The ground floor will be anchored by an all-day, vegetarian and vegan-friendly deli that serves bodega-style breakfast fare, like bacon, egg, and cheese bagels; classic lunch sandwiches, like clubs and grinders; and dinner items that have yet to be determined.

“Our night menu really varies based on the preferences of the neighborhood,” Worth says. “At one store, we do wings, cauliflower wings, cheesesteaks, and a spicy tofu sandwich. At another store, we focus more on tacos and quesadillas.”

As far as Durham’s dinner menu goes, Worth is open to suggestions. He’s also on the hunt for two local vendors—a coffee purveyor and an ice cream purveyor—to help round out the house menu. Both vendors would operate on-site.

The market will also sell snacks and retail items, like cheeky greeting cards, and its basement will house a bar, a bottle shop with wine and craft beer, and a few arcade games.

The seating—which includes two- and four-tops, bar chairs, a coworking area with couches and wall outlets, and outdoor patio tables—is varied to accommodate the market’s multitude of offerings. There’s even a row of double-sided, indoor-outdoor bar seating, which may appeal to parents of messy eaters or couples who can never agree on the thermostat temperature.

“We want there to be something for everyone,” Worth says. “A while ago, a customer told me, ‘The Common Market is the only place in Charlotte where I feel comfortable no matter what I’m doing or what I’ve just done—I could be coming from a workout, or going to a nice dinner, and I would still feel comfortable.’ I think that really speaks volumes about our ultimate goal, which was to create a community living room.”

For Ninth Street—a mom-and-pop business district that seems increasingly at risk of losing its local flavor and communal spirit to corporate interests—a funky gathering place like The Common Market may be just what the doctor ordered.

Between 2017 and 2019, Ninth Street lost two locally owned businesses that had neighbored each other for nearly three decades.

One was Francesca’s, a cozy café that hosted countless hangouts and late-night study sessions before shuttering due to an exorbitant rent increase. The other—an eclectic clothing store called Native Threads that closed when traffic grew too slow—was known for the copper green frog statues that stood outside its shopfront, perpetually smiling at passersby.

Nowadays, the stretch of Ninth Street that once harbored these businesses is now home to a pick-up-only Starbucks.

It’s hard not to see the Starbucks—which has another location inside the Harris Teeter, across the street—as the soulless specter of its predecessors. Francesca’s comfy booths have been replaced by a sterile waiting area, bereft of furniture. A few feet from the spot where the frog statues stood, pedestrians now pass beneath a protruding Starbucks logo, which, while also green and smiling, doesn’t feel quite as friendly.

With five locations, The Common Market is technically a chain now, too. But it still has a homegrown Carolinas feel to it, with an individualized spirit and aesthetic to each location.

“None of our stores are the same,” Worth says. “They can’t be replicated. And I think the fabric of Durham aligns with that. There’s a funkiness and a uniqueness and an eclectic vibe that we share.”

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