The Warehouse District was a ghost town when Eric Fuller opened his wood-puzzle workshop in 2006.

Aging brick buildings held small businesses and art galleries but little else. During the day, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone walking the streets. The downtown renaissance had begun but hadn’t yet made its way to the outskirts. 

Fuller’s shop, Cubic Dissection, sits in a sprawling forty-two-hundred-square-foot industrial space at 316 West Cabarrus Street. There he crafts complex puzzle boxes that typically sell for between $25 and $200. 

The goal isn’t to get rich, he says. He just wants to provide his staff with benefits and craft a unique product. 

He started making puzzles with a handsaw in his kitchen in 2003. His puzzle boxes are not only beautiful but boggle the mind: One in the works requires twelve thousand moves to complete. Another is only solvable by pressing a specific spot on the box, which pops open a magnetized lid. 

“In the end, I do get paid to frustrate people,” Fuller says. 

To subsidize his business, he sublet front-office space to a hair salon and leased parking spaces to McLaurin Parking. 

But in April, his building was sold to Hobby Family LLC for $1.6 million. Three weeks after the sale, Fuller paid his monthly rent—$2,000—to his new landlord, as usual. 

Two days later, he received an eviction notice. 

Citing an estoppel certificate that Fuller had signed, Hobby Family argued Fuller violated the lease by subleasing the office and parking lot, although subleasing is not addressed in his lease and therefore is permitted under state law. 

Fearing its own eviction, the hair salon left in June, Fuller says, and McLaurin reduced its parking lease to just one space, costing him another $750 a month. 

Last week, Fuller sued Hobby Family, fighting what he believes is an attempt to bully him out of his lease. Representatives from Hobby Family have not responded to the INDY’s request for comment. 

Fuller’s story might be a canary in the coal mine. Indeed, as investment pours into the thriving Warehouse District in the form of high-end new developments like The Dillon, small businesses are likely to feel the squeeze from rising rents or leases they can’t re-sign as buildings change hands. 

That’s the nature of the beast, Fuller says. 

“When you look at areas where there are arts, it’s in areas where it’s cheaper to work,” Fuller says. “That makes an area creative and desirable.”

That inevitably draws investment, which in turn displaces the creative enterprises that put a neighborhood on the map. 

The Warehouse District saw record food and beverage sales in September, up 63 percent from the same span of 2018, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s quarterly report. That outpaced the growth of any other downtown district. 

The sales boom has been bolstered by the opening of several high-end restaurants in The Dillon, including the Barcelona Wine Bar and O-Ku Sushi. Across the street, Weaver Street Market opened in September. 

Fuller knows his rent is well below market value and could be triple what he’s paying. He suspects that’s why his landlord wants him out before his lease expires in 2021. 

Bill King, the DRA’s CEO, says he hasn’t seen a decline of small businesses in the  Warehouse District. 

But ultimately, King says, “for small businesses to survive in downtown Raleigh and to keep up with the growth and rising value, we need people to support these small businesses, and we need folks to continue to patronize them.” 

Fuller plans to ride out his lease for the next two years. After that, it’s unlikely he’ll stay downtown. He’s looked for similar spaces to set up shop, but in his modest price range, he says, “there’s nothing close.” 

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at 

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One reply on “A New Lawsuit Hints That the Small Businesses That Revived the Warehouse District May Not Be Able to Afford It for Long”

  1. Why does Indyweek care for what happens to a small business owner in a redeveloping section of Raleigh, especially when it doesn’t care what happens to displaced human beings in similar circumstances?

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