INDY Week 4.28.21

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g e u g t n Demand for the modular children’s couch soared during the pandemic. How did the founders of Nugget create a phenomenon? BY SARAH EDWARDS, P. 12

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Chapel Hill

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Raleigh | Durham

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Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill

Special Home Issue: Airstream Adventures, p. 14 PHOTO BY MARC BILBAO

VOL. 38 NO. 15

CONTENTS NEWS 6 8

The killing of Andrew Brown Jr. cannot be excused away. BY JANE PORTER Walltown residents fight to preserve their community's historic legacy in the face of the looming redevelopment of Northgate Mall. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

10 Experts predict demand for the COVID-19 vaccine will begin to fade in the coming weeks. BY ROSE HOBAN

SPECIAL ISSUE 12 14 17

How the founders of Nugget created a modular children's couch— and a social phenomenon. BY SARAH EDWARDS An N.C. couple decked out a 1970s Airstream and moved across the country. BY LAURA GUIDRY For some vintage resellers, the pandemic was a reset button. BY EMMA KENFIELD

ARTS & CULTURE 19 Nine years later, Bowerbirds is back. BY JORDAN LAWRENCE 20 Kooley High makes music for lazy Sundays. BY ERIC TULLIS 21 A 19th-century satire for the Internet age. BY BYRON WOODS

THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes

4 PHOTOVOICE

COVER Photo by Jade Wilson / Design by Annie Maynard

WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper

Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald

EDITOR I AL

Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

Senior Writer Leigh Tauss

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Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Nick Williams Interns Emma Lee Kenfield

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Creative Director

Director of Sales John Hurld

Annie Maynard Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Jade Wilson

Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns

C I RC U L ATI O N Berry Media Group

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BACK TA L K

Lots of happenings on the COVID

front

last

week.

We reported that metrics, especially

among younger

folks, are creeping back up following weeks of decline,

and looked at factors possibly contributing to this, including

Durham

reopening bars and restaurants at higher capacity. As always, readers had thoughts. e Facebook commenter BRIAN PORTER has no sympathy for anyone out carousing who hasn’t gotten vaccinated: “Vaccines are available to everyone,” Brian wrote. “If they don’t get it, then that’s on them. Can’t blame the “nightlife” now.” Then, last Wednesday, Gov. Cooper announced plans to lift restrictions on social distancing, capacity, and mass gatherings if one-third of the state’s residents can get partially vaccinated by June 1. Facebook commenter BEN SLOAN thinks political forces are at play. “He’s going to lift the restrictions on June 1st anyway because we live in a very conservative state, there’s a shit ton of pressure on him from small business owners who think they’re the next Bill Gates, and conservatives have become absolute greedy morons who disregard science and doddle [sic?] children ever since Trump took office,” Ben wrote. “Actually that’s who they’ve always been, it’s just the cat is out of the bag.” Commenter LORI LIEB agrees with Ben. “You’ve got it,” Lori wrote. “The pressure to ReOpen has been led by the conservative forces that don’t care about anything except the almighty $, I don’t care how many Bible quotes they throw out there.” We’re giving the last word on this to commenter SARA DAVIS, who wrote: “dumbest shit ever is not getting the free vaccine.” We agree! Check out this week’s story on North Carolina’s reaching a tipping point when it comes to vaccinating residents.

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15 MINUTES Sasha Kanarski, 29 Realtor and broker, owner of The Spot Studio, an affiliate of Fathom Realty BY JANE PORTER jporter@indyweek.com

Tell me about your background and how it informs your business. I went to art school to study graphic design and oil painting but ended up transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill after I freaked out over the artist’s life. I had a whole life-crisis situation. But the way I got into design is all self-taught and just being a sponge of information, just consistently reading design publications and following artists and designers that I love.

So what does The Spot Studio do for your real estate clients? I do interior staging and decorating. So I help any clients who are interested redo their space [which could] be as big of a project as they want: a total room or renovation to figuring out which colors they want, what kind of furniture to buy, how to change the space to make it for them, personalized, a place that they feel happy and uplifted.

What are some home decorating tips you’d offer? The hunt for the right pieces is absolutely worth it. If you have older decor and you don’t want to part with it because you paid all this money for it, don’t be afraid to utilize Facebook marketplace, the OfferUp app, Craigslist, and sell pieces that don’t feel like you anymore. Look at those places to buy new pieces. The hunt takes time. We also have a lot of great local sellers around the Triangle who have a very interesting selection of furniture and decor. (See story on page 17). Over the years, we have had so many neutral color schemes that were all gray or all white and just these blank palettes. But bright colors [are entering] the picture. Green has become neutral and

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

we are seeing more eclectic looks. Painting is an easy way to update a space. I definitely suggest using samples because colors can look so different under different light [in] your home. Consider using peel and stick wallpaper in unexpected places, like on a kitchen island [behind] the stool area, or in a medicine cabinet, or stair risers. It is great for renters, an easy way to upgrade your home and you can remove it when you move out. Don’t be afraid to mix metals. Matte black with brass and stainless steel—we are seeing a lot more of that. Experiment with textures. Try different things because now it is so easy to change out your look and collect pieces that feel like you.

What advice would you give to first-time homebuyers looking to buy homes in the tough Triangle market? Be patient. Opportunities come along. People get discouraged and it’s a very emotionally involved process. If you really want a home and put in your all and you don’t get it, and it happens repeatedly, it can be very, very exhausting and just sad. But if you are willing to be more flexible where you are looking, you can open yourself up for more opportunities. So don’t be rigid in what you are looking for, keep an open mind in where you are willing to live. Don’t get discouraged. W INDYweek.com

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More Black Lives WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON

Ma’Khia Bryant and Andrew Brown are the two newest names added to the long, exhaustive list of Black people murdered by police. Unlike previous protests in Raleigh, there was very little talking before folks started marching on Friday evening. Instead of staying close to Moore Square and Nash Square Park, the group marched down to Morgan Street Food Hall and Glenwood South and let their voices be heard while patrons drank and ate at bars and restaurants. Police followed the crowd, giving warnings to disperse, for close to an hour until the marchers reached North West Street. There, they parted ways and called it a night. W

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April 28, 2021

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2021

L E T T E R FRO M T H E E DI TO R Down Home Concerts

Live music is back—

tickets on sale now!

Inexcusable Andrew Brown Jr.’s killing cannot be explained away BY JANE PORTER jporter@indyweek.com

Friday, May 7

The Gibson Brothers

with TRAY WELLINGTON BAND

H

is hands were on the steering wheel. He was shot in the back as he tried to drive away.

Friday, May 14

Balsam Range

Thursday, May 20

The Bluegrass Experience 50TH ANNIVERSARY featuring TOMMY EDWARDS, SNUFFY SMITH AND FIDDLIN’ AL MCCANLESS

All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown Raleigh Limited capacity, socially distanced seating; masks required | Livestream tickets available

pinecone.org • Box Office: 919-664-8333 6

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Less than 24 hours after Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota cop convicted of killing George Floyd, was led away in handcuffs last week, reports rolled in that two more Black people in America were shot to death by law enforcement officers. Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old child from Columbus, Ohio, was the first. She was killed near her home just minutes before the Chauvin verdict came down. The second was Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old man from Elizabeth City, located some two hours northeast of Raleigh near the Outer Banks. Excuses were made about Bryant’s killing almost immediately, just as they are about the vast number of people killed by law enforcement officers in this country (roughly two people per day, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union). Bryant was holding a knife when she charged at another girl who was pinned against a car, police said. And, right now, from Fox News to The Federalist, excuses are being deployed to try to explain away Brown’s killing. He was a felon. He was being served drug-related search and arrest warrants. He was trying to flee. Neither Bryant’s nor Brown’s killing is excusable. Nor is 13-year-old Adam Toledo’s in Chicago. Nor is 20-year-old Daunte Wright’s in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Nor—as we finally saw, officially, following a grueling, exhausting year filled with pain— was George Floyd’s in Minneapolis. The circumstances around Brown’s death are chilling.

“Let’s be clear, this was an execution. His hands were firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting.”

attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, it told her all she needed to know. Sheriff’s deputies blocked Brown in his driveway and approached his vehicle, shooting AR 223 semi-automatic rifles and Glock 17 pistols. They opened fire instantly, in a residential neighborhood, at 8:30 on a weekday morning. A neighbor, who, mercifully, wasn’t home at the time, told The News & Observer that a bullet went through his home and broke the glass of a clock. “Let’s be clear, this was an execution,” Cherry-Lassiter said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “He had his hands firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting. He still stood there, sat there in his vehicle, with his hands on the steering wheel while being shot at.”

Initial reports from Brown’s family members and neighbors who saw what happened last Wednesday morning describe sheriff’s deputies on the scene to serve Brown with arrest and search warrants. Brown was in his car. As he tried to drive away, the deputies opened fire, shattering the vehicle’s back window. Brown crashed into a neighbor’s tree. When the deputies reached the vehicle and opened the door, Brown was dead.

His hands were on the steering wheel.

He was shot in the back. On Friday, seven Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office deputies were placed on leave. On Monday, attorneys for Brown’s family, and some family members, were allowed to watch 20 seconds of body camera footage to try to bring them some clarity as to what happened while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the killing. It wasn’t much, but for Brown family

Many terrible details are likely to emerge soon about Brown’s killing, a process that has been slow to unfold so far. We’ll know more once a judge authorizes the release of more bodycam footage, expected soon. The results of an autopsy Brown’s family is commissioning also are pending. And we’ll certainly hear more about Brown’s alleged drug dealing, his criminal history, 20-year-old convictions for trespassing and assault—anything and everything that can be dredged up to paint Brown, a father of 10 and longtime resident of Elizabeth City, as a criminal lowlife. We must let none of it obscure the fact that Brown did not deserve to die that way. The truth, contained in the facts as relayed by witnesses, neighbors, and a lawyer, remains: His hands were on the steering wheel. He was shot in the back as he tried to drive away. W


r, it told iff’s depway and AR 223 17 pisn a resia weekmercifully, he News ough his ock. ecution,” nference nds firmup to his here, sat s on the t.”

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April 28, 2021

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N E WS

Durham

Self-Preservation Walltown residents fight to preserve the community’s historic legacy; developer Northwood Ravin is unmoved BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

V

alita Holmes has lived in Walltown, one of Durham’s historically Black neighborhoods, since the 1960s. On Saturday, she described how aggressive, affluent newcomers appear at the front doors of working-class homeowners “with envelopes full of cash offering to buy your house.” “People tell them, ‘Get the hell off my property,’” Holmes said during a late morning press conference on the grounds of the Walltown Park Recreation Center, which her mother, a retired math teacher, helped to start. The Walltown Community Association (WCA) helped organize the press conference as it grapples with a decade of gentrification in the neighborhood located north of Duke University’s East Campus. At the gathering, community leaders discussed their two-year-long fight following the 2018 purchase of the 45-acre Northgate Mall by Northwood Ravin, a real estate firm specializing in luxury apartment developments, and particularly the firm’s redevelopment plans for the old mall. “I really feel like they’re trying to close us out, and I don’t want to leave my neighborhood,” Holmes, a network administrator with Durham County, told the crowd of about 50 people.

Development plans Under Northwood Ravin’s proposal, the mall redevelopment would take place in two phases. The first phase would include construction of six four-story buildings, with the ground floors used for retail, and housing on the remaining three floors. The mixeduse buildings would surround a large green space with some access available to Walltown residents at Guess Road and West 8

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Club Boulevard. Meanwhile, the second phase of the redevelopment proposes building two 10-story buildings close to Interstate 85 and Gregson Street. The first phase of the proposal does not need to go before the Durham City Council or the Durham City-County Planning Commission as it’s a residential plan with some commercial development. Nate Baker, an urban planner who serves on the planning commission, said that Walltown’s struggle is “indicative of a broken planning system.” “This will show the community what inequitable development looks like. I do not think it squares at all with shared equity goals,” Baker said in an text message to the INDY. “We’re pretty much letting [Northwood Ravin] get away with what they want unless the Walltown organizers can win concessions, which is a big burden on them.” Durham Mayor Steve Schewel says he supports the WCA’s efforts but that his influence is limited. “I have met with the developer to urge them to provide the affordable housing and green space that the community is advocating for,” Schewel told the INDY. “I’ll continue to support [WCA].” In an email to city officials, Jeff Furman, an operations director for Northwood Ravin, said responsibility to work with residents “to find solutions to relieve gentrification” lies with city leaders. “Asking private landowners to solve the City’s issues is a misdirected mission,” Furman wrote. “While we appreciate the ideas coming from Walltown ... we instead encourage the neighborhoods to work directly with the City and its elected officials to change public policy to relieve gentrification and locate more affordable housing and affordable retail

George Wall house

PHOTO BY THOMASI MCDONALD

on nearby underutilized public land.” In December, Walltown resident Brandon Williams and his neighbors went before the Durham City Council to share three maps, developed over two years, for a new Northgate that would allay concerns that redevelopment of the property without community input “would continue to displace and undermine Black wealth by elevating the already increasing property taxes and rents in our community,” Williams told the council. He called the maps “a vision based on the hopes, desires, and experiences of Walltown residents, centering the people who have been and will continue to be most impacted by gentrification in the area surrounding Northgate Mall.” WCA leaders say the developers should provide longtime and low-income Walltown residents with an ownership stake in the mall’s redevelopment, including stock shares and seats on the board to preserve and build wealth in the community. The neighborhood association also wants Northwood Ravin to set aside 30 percent of the development for affordable units; provide first right of purchase and rental to low-income Walltown residents; create and foster community gathering places, and develop a section of the site as a transportation hub for buses and bicyclists. During Saturday’s press conference, WCA leaders and neighborhood supporters discussed the three alternatives, focused on housing, green spaces, and accessible transportation hubs, to the Northwood Ravin redevelopment proposal. Marcia McNally with the Durham Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit helped develop the alternative maps.

McNally said Walltown residents questioned how they would access Northwood Ravin’s proposed green space areas. “It’s a green space, yeah, but it all looks so private,” she told the INDY. “It’s surrounded by four-story buildings ... with rents starting at $1,200 to $1,300 a month. It just looked so exclusive and sat so far back from the road.” With the redevelopment looming, some longtime Walltown residents, particularly younger ones, are embittered by the changes brought by gentrification. Alvin Black, a 32-year-old entrepreneur who spoke at Saturday’s press conference, said he first moved to Walltown as a child in the late 1990s because it was affordable for his family. He grew up surrounded by “aspirational figures” and sturdy role models. Now, he sees families forced out because they can’t pay property taxes. Black showed the INDY a video of himself standing in front of the modest home of George Wall, a formerly enslaved man and Duke janitor who founded Walltown in the early 1900s. Today, Wall’s home at 1015 Onslow Street is worth more than $260,000, according to the real estate website Zillow. Just across the street, another house was knocked down to build a 6,969-square-foot home that sold for more than $1 million in August. “So many families have been displaced,” Black said. “There should be a redevelopment of a place un-redlined for Black people. This is dispossession massively personified.” Holmes shared a painful story about a man who, like Wall, worked as a janitor at Duke. The man lived in Walltown for 30


years, and paid around $300 a month in rent. His landlord asked him to move out while he renovated the place. When the renovations were completed, the landlord raised the rent and the gentleman had to move out. “In the process of moving, he had a heart attack and died,” Holmes said.

Property values rising In 1902, George Wall purchased a plot of land in a stretch of woods for $50. “Soon after, he built a small wood-frame cottage: one story tall, one room wide, and a few rooms deep, with a brick chimney and a little shed-roofed stoop in front,” according to a story in the 2015 spring issue of Duke Magazine. “Soon other Black families settled nearby, forming a close working-class community. In the 1920s, around the time Trinity was renamed Duke University, the industrious little hamlet two blocks north was coined Walltown.” Wall died in 1930. Today, no Black residents live in that section of Onslow Street. “It was a self-contained community that speaks to the dynamics of segregation,” Williams said at the press conference. “It was a self-sufficient neighborhood. That legacy continues to shape the neighborhood.” In 2019, the WCA conducted door-todoor surveys of Walltown residents to ask what they would want to see with the mall property. Affordable housing and retail topped the survey lists. The nonprofit DataWorks assisted the WCA in looking at property value changes between 2017 and 2019. County tax records indicated the greatest concentration of property value changes in the neighoborhoods near the mall took place in Walltown. Residential property values there increased as much as 900 percent, according to the report. DataWorks concluded that “this makes residents vulnerable to displacement because 53 percent of Walltown workers are in sectors that have had flat or decreasing wages over the last 20 years.” Williams said the area median income in Walltown is around $37,000; community members won’t be able to afford rents or housing costs in the proposed development. “That’s not going to do much for us over here,” Williams said. “It will not touch folks in our neighborhood. When we say affordable housing, we want it at that $37,000 level and below.” Williams said the WCA would like to see 110 units set aside for affordable housing. “In order to have a sense of community,” he said, “people have to live there.” W INDYweek.com

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North Carolina

The Tipping Point Nearly 4 million people in North Carolina have been vaccinated but experts expect the demand— and enthusiasm—for getting the shots will soon begin to fade BY ROSE HOBAN backtalk@indyweek.com

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n the 18 weeks since the first North Carolinian received a vaccination against the novel coronavirus that’s upended the world for the past year, the state has managed to put about 6.6 million doses of vaccine into the arms of more than 3.8 million people. That mass vaccination effort led to 647,415 doses being administered the week of April 5. That week, though, is likely to be a high-water mark. In the week starting April 12, 519,373 total doses of vaccine were administered in the state, a lower number than the average for the six previous weeks. And with just under half the adult population in North Carolina having a vaccination now, local and state officials are anticipating that increasing the numbers of vaccinated will be more of a slog. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the U.S. will likely “reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm in the next two to four weeks.” The report writers surmise that once this occurs, “efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed.” Census data compiled last week by Carolina Demography found that 2.4 million North Carolina adults reported they are vaccine hesitant, “meaning they will either probably not, or definitely not get a vaccine or that they did not plan on receiving all required doses.” In places such as Craven County, health director Scott Harrelson said he’s seen a distinct softening of demand for vaccines. At first, he said, when his department would announce 800 vaccination 10

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appointments on their website, most of them would be filled within a half hour. Recently, though, he’s started to see the process slow. “[Appointments] were hanging out there for, you know, 24 hours-plus, and then we said, ‘Okay, I think we’re at a point now where we’re just gonna say 18 and up,’” he said. Earlier this month he reported that his department is scaling back. “We’re going to taper down and go to three [days a week] and then two, and then we’re going to cycle out and just have some probably Moderna on hand here in the health department for people who call in,” Harrelson said. With greater availability at physicians’ offices and drug stores, the county-run vaccination clinics aren’t as vital a link to a vaccine. “We are definitely getting to a place where you know, people may not be able to move the same volume that they are moving in a week now,” said Kody Kinsley, deputy secretary for health at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Lower throughput “I think that the next phases will be harder to vaccinate than the first phase of the population,” wrote epidemiologist Whitney Robinson from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill in an email to NC Health News. “I think we will need to switch strategies to meet the needs of the next group.”

A physician at Duke Health gets vaccinated at Duke University Hospital PHOTO BY SHAWN ROCCO/DUKE HEALTH

Harrelson described how in his county, it had been relatively easy to bring a group of providers to one place, line up vaccine recipients, and give out shots quickly. He said his vaccination clinics could process around 35 patients every quarter-hour in clinics taking place four days a week. Second-dose clinics went even faster. “Number one, you’re already registered, you’re already in the system,” he said. “And number two, you don’t have to have people to schedule second appointments either.” But the pace is slowing. There are people who can’t make it to a daytime clinic either because of work or family obligations, Harrelson said. There are homebound folks who lack the ability to travel to a centralized location, or people who lack transportation, for whom the vaccine will have to come to them. And then there are those vaccine hesitant folks. It’ll take time, and more effort, to get the next layer of people vaccinated. “Just this past week, our hospital got 200 doses of the [Johnson and Johnson] vaccine. And they were just doing pop-up clinics all around town,” Harrelson said. “And it took

them pretty much the better part of the week to get rid of those 200 doses.” Harrelson said he’s proud that Craven County has vaccinated more than 81 percent of the more than 20,000 people over the age of 65. All told, the county, with 104,000 residents, has had 30,605 people receive at least one dose. But at only about 30 percent of the total population to have gotten a shot, that’s a long way from the level that health authorities estimate will be required for “herd immunity.” Gov. Roy Cooper said last week that his administration’s goal is to get about twothirds of North Carolinians vaccinated. “With at least two thirds of adults vaccinated, our public health experts believe we’ll have enough protection across our communities to be able to live more safely with this virus,” he said. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that herd immunity might be reached if 70 to 85 percent of people are immune. But two-thirds of people is a long way from where North Carolina is right now.


“I think we will need to switch strategies to meet the needs of the next group and vaccinate them at a steady, strong pace,” Robinson said.

Getting the hard to reach Harrelson said he’s seen that some younger people are hanging back from getting vaccinations for various reasons: they may have already had COVID. Other young people tell him they’re willing to take their chances. “They’re just saying, ‘Hey, look, at this point, I know the transmission rates are lower than they’ve been in a long time, a lot of other people have been vaccinated,’” Harrelson said. “They also hear about people getting the second dose and maybe feeling sick for a day or maybe the weekend. “I really do see that a lot of people are saying, ‘Well, you know, I’ve known people who actually got the virus that didn’t hardly get sick at all. So I think I’m just gonna take my chances.’” Kinsley said the State Department is pivoting on its strategy now. There will still be mass vaccination clinics; for instance, the timeline for the huge FEMA-run clinic in Greensboro has been extended to the end of May. But now, instead of needing an appointment, people can just drive up and get a shot. That’s becoming the case around the state, with more walk-in opportunities springing up. “My hope is that you walk down the street, you pass three opportunities to get vaccinated,” Kinsley said. “We’re definitely moving into this phase where we have to be easy for folks. We have to be everywhere for folks.” He admitted that this next phase would likely be slower. Instead of health directors like Harrelson being able to vaccinate hundreds in a couple of hours, now the throughput will be maybe a dozen people per hour in a drug store. “It definitely gets more complex,” Kinsley said. “Some providers may only be able to do 50 shots a week, as opposed to 100 shots a week.”

Encouraging the hesitant Then there are the conspiracy theories. “There’s some shady stuff out there,” said Lisa Harrison, health director for the Granville-Vance Health Department. Harrison said she’s heard it all: worries about safety, worries about the vaccine development process, worries about

microchips, and lots and lots of distrust of the government. “It’s all been debunked, but nobody’s paying attention to the articles that talk about how false it is, right?” she said. “It’s interesting how many people… continue to just be anti-government, anti-vaccine. And that’s a group we’ll never get there.” Paul Delamater, from the geography department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ruefully agreed with Harrison. He studies vaccine hesitancy, including people’s attitudes about the annual flu vac5 weeks, 5 different themes cine. He noted that usually, the U.S. gives flu June through August vaccine to just under 50 percent of people, Half days “which I think is poorly considering almost Ages 6-12 every single person is eligible for one.” Delamater has been tracking COVID BENEFITS: Students will challenge their cases, deaths, the spread and, now, vacciminds and bodies by improving nation and modeling how we’ll get to herd flexibility, balance, and strength immunity. His estimate, right now, is that while relieving stress. between people who got COVID—either Motivating instructors, positive with or without symptoms—and people and empowering environment. who have been vaccinated, around four milSPOTS LIMITED! lion North Carolinians are immune. That REGISTER NOW AT means there’s another three million or more eastcloudkungfu.com/summer-camp-2021 people to get vaccinated before any herd immunity threshold. Some of those might be kids, who are not For more information, contact imari@eastcloudkungfu.com yet eligible for vaccination. There are about two million children in the state, but they likely won’t all get vaccines either. “Once it’s approved in children, you’re going to see a whole different level of activity from the anti-vaccination movement,” Harrison said. “Then that’s going to be lit on fire.” Delamater agreed there are definitely some people who’ll never agree to get a COVID vaccine, and the effort shouldn’t be focused on trying to convince them. “Just put all your effort toward the people who are ‘wait and see’ and build confidence in them,” he said. “I feel like that group’s probably bigger. And it’s probably the group that you’re actually going to move some people, you know? And really have an effect.” Kinsley said that to reach those “wait and see” folks, vaccines need to be everywhere, from doctors offices, to pharmacies, to mobile clinics that can go out to Tothere advertise or feature a pet for adoption, where people are. And may need to be inducements too. please contact advertising@indyweek.com “I’d just like to say that a vaccine and a hush puppy sounds like a winning option to me,” he said with a laugh. W

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North Carolina Health News is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering all things health care in North Carolina. Visit NCHN at northcarolinahealthnews.org.

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From left: co-fouders Hannah Fussell, Ryan Cocca, and David Baron at Nugget Comfort headquarters in Butner PHOTO BY JADE WILSON DESIGN BY ANNIE MAYNARD

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Demand for the modular children’s couch has skyrocketed. What comes next for the Butner-based company? BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

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ne evening in the summer of 2018 I ran into the entrepreneur David Baron, whom I vaguely knew from undergraduate days at UNC-Chapel Hill. Over the din of Durham’s Surf Club bar, Baron explained that he’d spent the last few years designing a modular children’s couch. He handed over his phone with pictures that showed a construction of mod, colorful cushions, like something you’d see in an airport lounge. Politely sipping my beer, I remember thinking: “No way this is gonna be a thing.” I was wrong. The couch, which retails for $229, has attracted a devoted following and a hype that, ticking up over the years, nearly reached a fever pitch during the Great Indoor Year that was 2020. Named Nugget, the couch has become a social phenomenon that bridges divides between play and home life, toy and furniture, spawning an entire market of knockoff designs in the process. But more than that, Baron—alongside co-founders Ryan Cocca and Hannah Fussell—seems to have built an equitable, conscientious company, one that may be the new face of North Carolina furniture manufacturing. On its own face, a Nugget is simple. It consists of four foam pieces (two triangle pillows, one seat cushion, and one base) and currently comes in 18 colors. For families doing both school and life at home during the pandemic, the Nugget—which can be rearranged into slipsides, forts, or just a regular-looking couch—has become a ticket to a creative, customizable (and padded) new world. Rave customer reviews emphasize the versatility of the design. “This product beyond exceeded my expectations and my son is OBSESSED!” reviewer Amy Taylor wrote on the Nugget website “AND I personally want all things Nuggety.” Everyone seemed to want all things Nuggety. Getting them has been another thing entirely.


Even before the pandemic, the small company, which manufactures out of Butner, N.C., had been struggling to catch up on mounting orders. Since 2017, demand has been roughly tripling each year; at the onset of the pandemic, the company was still fulfilling orders from the end of 2019. Lockdown set the company further behind. In mid-March, cautious about COVID-19, Nugget paused its operations and Nugget staff, then around 20 people, went home with pay and benefits for 45 days. The closure drove fulfilled orders down and parental hype up. At one point, there were 200,000 people on the waitlist, and the resell market boomed, with Nuggets selling for $500, then $1,000, then several times that. Knockoffs also began to pop up on the market. In a profile of the company, Buzzfeed described the coveted couch as a “Supreme Drop for Moms” and by the fall, Inc. Magazine had named Nugget the fastest-growing furniture manufacturer in the United States and fastest-growing company in North Carolina. Last October, looking to level the playing field and manage expectations, the company created a “Nugget Lotto’’ system. The first week, there were nearly 300,000 entries for the 10,000 Nugget slots.

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he Nugget creation story goes back to UNC-Chapel Hill, where the three founders met, and where Nugget Comfort CEO Baron first dreamed up the idea for the company. At first, he sought to reimagine one of the creakiest, most disposable facets of college life: The dorm-room futon. “It hit me like a brick—what was a demonstrated desire that people kept on buying, but nobody liked?” Baron says. Asymmetric information kept cheap college futons in demand, Baron reasoned, despite their long list of drawbacks: bulk, discomfort, and the fact that they don’t even convert particularly well from couch to bed. From there, Baron—and Cocca, the founder of local streetwear company Thrill City, who had come on board— began to imagine a piece of furniture as elemental as a cushion. In 2015, the pair launched a Kickstarter for “the easiest couch ever.” It didn’t take long for 574 backers to pledge $84,748 to bring the Nugget to life. Over Zoom, Baron—who has a deep baritone voice and an engaged, almost electric conversational style—explained

that, in these early Nugget days, he was already trying to imagine what kind of company he wanted to build. “The core tenet of a good company is that you don’t hurt anyone in the process of what you’re doing,” Baron says. “You are ultra aware and you don’t hurt anyone—internally, externally, or indirectly.” In 2017, the pair sent a design to Cocca’s partner, Hannah Fussell, a fourthgrade public school teacher. It proved a fortuitous shipment: Fussell’s classroom loved the Nugget and when she returned to North Carolina, later that year, she joined the company as an intern. Immediately, Fussell made key changes, phasing out the stark white zippers and bright Crayola colors and replacing them with an appealing palette of shades ranging from “cactus” and “blue jean” to “redwood” and “bamboo.” If parents were going to integrate Nuggets into their common spaces, she reasoned, they were going to want to look at them all day. Knowing how vital convenience is to caregivers, she also made the machine-washable covers easier to remove. Soon, Fussell fell in love with the work and the possibilities for carrying on the state’s legacy of textile manufacturing. “Now, I’m the head of product for a furniture company in the great state of North Carolina, the furniture capital of the world,” Fussell says. “We’re always thinking, ‘How can we continue to be talking about bringing furniture back to North Carolina?’” During her first few years, Fussell also expanded brand reach by making connections with Triangle-area parents. Maddie Gaulden, a mother of two in Durham, was one of the original Triangle parents whom Fussell contacted. She is drawn to toys with the potential for “open-ended play to encourage their imagination,” she says. And despite a three-and-a-half-year age gap between her sons, the Nugget has been function-

al common ground for both of them (“it’s essential when playing ‘the floor is lava.”). Gaulden spread the word. These grassroots efforts were the beginning of a marketing journey that hasn’t relied all that much on marketing: Notably, the company has never paid for advertising, instead relying on an inviting social media strategy and word-of-mouth. This includes Facebook. When I began researching the company, knowing that Facebook was a major contributor to the Nugget zeitgeist, I did a perfunctory search, expecting to encounter one or two Facebook groups; instead, I lost count after 40. There are regional Nugget chapters, and military parent Nugget groups, and even the Nugget Comfort Club BST & More chapter, which bears the peculiar disclaimer “NO DRAMA.” The largest group has 69,300 members. Posts run the gamut from photos of creative fort builds or hype about a forthcoming new color to questions of a more philosophical nature (“If you had all the money in the world, how many Nuggets would you own?”). Scroll a bit further down into the Nugget Facebook fandom and you’ll also come across several (well-populated) groups themed around “Nuggets After Dark”—and yes, reader, those groups feature exactly the kind of adult conversations you might expect. But, perhaps, a few PG-13 subcultures are just a byproduct of making a really, really popular couch. Cocca says that the company approach toward the Facebook group phenomenon is hands-off. And the desire to unite and build community around a product, he reasons, is only natural.

“As a family company, I think it’s an obvious connection that you would try to run things in a way that’s more thoughtful about the future.”

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hat’s for the best, as the company has had plenty of other things to focus on this year, like getting people their Nuggets. It’s an area in which the

company has experienced growing pains. By the end of 2020, Nugget had shipped out an impressive 156,000 couches, though the lottery system means, fundamentally, that not everyone who wanted to have a Nugget under last year’s Christmas tree got one. But, Baron says, he’s not in a rush to overextend the capacity of a small company. “We could always make more than we make if we were willing to bend our values,” he says. “We never want to overwork anyone. A comfortably made Nugget is one of quality and everyone deserves to have a high quality, comfortable, well-paid job. We’re never going to just ask for them to be made faster for the sake of being made faster.” To that end, the company pays a living wage and offers healthcare to its employees, who now number 80, and have made local non-profits like No Kid Hungry, Student U, and You Can Vote NC a fundraising focus. “As a family company, I think it’s an obvious connection that you would try to run things in a way that’s more thoughtful about the future,” Cocca adds. “It’s not like we have it all figured out, but last year was a great opportunity for us to show some leadership.” The social efforts make a strong case that Nugget is more than just a bunch of cushions—that it is a company nurturing local roots and, in the process, shifting a nationwide conversation about what home, play, and family life means. The toy market is famously faddish— Tickle Me Elmo topping the charts one year, Furby the next—but Nuggets corner two markets at once: they don’t go in the toy bin at the end of the day because they’re a part of the room, and home. Baron also doesn’t rule out creating new kinds of Nugget Comfort products in the future, either, when the team is ready. “[The pandemic] is a catalyst for people understanding that the home is an important place for family time, comfort, education, and creativity—that the home is a lot more than a respite from everything happening outside of it,” Baron says. Gaulden, the mother who was an early Nugget adopter, echoes this sentiment. “I’m not surprised at all that they are this successful,” Gaulden told the INDY. “What sets them apart is not just that it’s a well made product, but that they have built such a solid team and have great leadership at the helm. As a parent today, I really try to be an ethical consumer whenever possible. I don’t think that I’m alone in that.” W INDYweek.com

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Airstream Adventures M

PHOTOS BY MARC BILBAO

How to deck out a 1970s camper and move across the country BY LAURA GUIDRY backtalk@indyweek.com

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y husband, Marc, and I decided we should live in an Airstream travel trailer with the same sort of hurriedness that someone would choose what kind of takeout to get after a long day of work. Or someone at a craft store deciding to try hand lettering as a hobby before promptly giving it up. I now think back on the quickness of that decision in awe as I have since spent weeks thinking through clothing purchases and months deciding if linen sheets would really make me as happy as the targeted ads say they would. Yes, I’d like them, but would I $300 like them? I did not approach the decision to purchase an Airstream and renovate it with as much care. In fact, I jumped fully into the choice with what can only be described as the certain naivety most first-time renovators have. It will be quick. It will be affordable. We would stay within budget. These things would ultimately be wrong. It turns out that renovating an Airstream also moves unbearably slowly. It’s quick on Instagram, slow in reality, and most times makes you want to howl.


“Some days, it felt like we were standing at the edge of potential ... Other times, it was as if we had bound ourselves to the Titanic.” I did not know this when I saw a couple’s Airstream on Pinterest. I saw pictures of white interiors that were simple, clean, and minimalistic. I saw the long bench that served as a couch and tiny desk where the wife wrote and the husband drew. I saw the preserved 1970’s floral wallpaper that was faded but groovy still. I read the couple’s story. They both worked. They were tired of pouring money into overpriced rentals. They wanted to save more but couldn’t. They were us and we were them. We would do something similar, I thought. Our Airstream is a 1973 Ambassador model. Tongue to bumper, it is 29 feet long with sharply curved walls and about 188 square feet of living space. From my desk, I can reach the fridge, the stove, the recycling bag we keep by the door, and the couch. Our bed is stacked high above drawers; we have a kitchen and full bath. Really, there’s everything we need in this micro space. We spent two-and-ahalf years renovating it. First, in a Burlington, North Carolina, parking lot outside my husband’s work and eventually with us living inside it with everything still not complete. When we purchased the Airstream for $600 after stumbling across it languishing on the side of the road, we stripped everything out. Wearing full body PPE suits for weeks that made us look like marshmallows, we pulled out molding insulation, the remnants of leftover INDYweek.com

April 28, 2021

15


Raleigh's Community Bookstore

Listen to the latest podcasts on Bookin’ Available

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Salamishah Tillet, In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece Kate Messner, Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy Virtual Events

Melissa Bernstein, Lifelines: An Inspirational Journey from Profound Darkness to Radiant Light

WED

4.28 7PM

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Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause

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4.29 7PM

with Professor Hilary Green All events are online. Register for Quail Ridge Books Virtual Events Series at www.quailridgebooks.com. www.quailridgebooks.com • 919.828.1588 • North Hills 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh, NC 27609 Offering FREE Media Mail shipping and contactless pickup!

Marc Bilbao and Laura Guidry

Coming Soon Imagine living in an urban cohousing community in walking distance of Ninth Street shopping & dining Private Condos Shared Indoor & Outdoor Space Sustainable Community Living To learn more check out our website and register for an info session bullcitycommons.com bullcitycommons@gmail.com 16

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT

tenants, and old appliances. We found a plastic dog with chipped paint and kept it. We tore everything out until the inside looked like a ribcage and we had to walk on the metal bars like balance beams. Some days, it felt like we were standing at the edge of potential. Like we could squint and see it. Other times, it was as if we had bound ourselves to the Titanic— large, clunky, expensive, not well thought out, and, ultimately, doomed. Slowly, we put the Airstream back together and we moved in when it wasn’t quite done but done enough to be unable to justify renting an apartment. The cabinets faces weren’t hung. For months, we were cooking on a hot plate that rested on a board where our oven would eventually live. Our clothes were stored in long Tupperware containers because we hadn’t built drawers yet and there was a pile of tools where the couch cushion should have been. Designing the Airstream to be our home was a long process and like most homeowners, we are constantly finding new adjustments to make as we live in our home even three years later. Our bathroom, the most intensive part of our renovation, is fiberglass wet bath so

for weeks while we were sculpting the curves, it was Pepto Bismol pink. After living stationary for two-and-a-half years in North Carolina, we decided to hit the road. We screwed baby locks on our cabinet doors and learned the importance of sway bars for our truck. We’ve taken our Airstream all the way to California with some tweaks along the way. Our jobs shifted and the home we had built years earlier had to adjust with us. In Texas, we ripped out the wine fridge for more storage. In Indiana, we swapped out our dinette for a long desk that folded down over a bookcase so we’d have more room to work. We slightly adjusted where we stored our cleaning supplies and we hung art. We swapped the RV toilet for a composting one and added solar capabilities. It’s hard to know how much we spent on renovations but after a general estimation, we think $20,000 is a reasonable guess. In the middle of the process, when it felt like we were hemorrhaging money at Home Depot, we met via a web conferencing call with a financial advisor. She worked at a hip boutique financial advising firm that fashioned itself after a gym, called its employees ‘trainers,’ and encouraged its clients to be financially fit.

“How much would it take to finish the Airstream?,” she inquired. At that point, we had fully gutted it and were left with this shell that looked more hopeless than anything. Well, we couldn’t just say a number, we explained. It’s impossible, Marc said. Let’s just say a number and then if we spend through it, we are done, I argued. We both knew we wouldn’t. We offered up $5,000 to our financial trainer. She smiled at us and within a few months, we had completely blown past that and had reached the renovation point of no return. Our home now is everything we wanted it to be, back then when we were dreaming and not understanding what a true renovation would cost—be it our time, money, or emotions. There are sleek lines and deep curves. The bathroom reminds us of a trip we took once, where, at the hotel, you could look up and see the sky. We’ve got Bauhaus bright colors, pictures on the wall, and would-be rent payments that have allowed us to go back to school and take bigger risks. You shouldn’t have to live in a tin can to have affordable housing, but we do. We’ve named our Airstream Walter and even though the views from our windows are constantly changing, we are always home. W


From left: Alison Matney and Hannah Spector

Secondhand Dreams The Triangle vintage resellers turning antiques into new beginnings BY EMMA KENFIELD backtalk@indyweek.com

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or 20 years, Alison Matney sat hunched in front of a desktop computer, confined to a cubicle. Matney has a colorful persona—tattoos crawl up both arms and hair is shaved on both sides of her head—and found corporate America draining. It meant financial stability but mental debility. With her 40th birthday approaching in March 2020, she decided to call it quits, intent on following her passion for design. Meanwhile, Hannah Spector had just re-entered the restaurant industry after a decade of working with Planned Parenthood. Drained and tired of taking her job home with her each day, she quit and took up bartending while figuring out next steps. Then, the pandemic happened. Spector lost her restaurant job. Matney was panicking, too, as she’d just quit her job weeks prior, and opportunities were proving scarce. “During the summer, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what have I done? I don’t have a paycheck. I’m not on unemployment. I don’t have any savings anymore,’” Matney says. “But something inside me was just like, it’s gonna work out.” Today, Matney is the proud owner of Bull City Vintage, a vintage reseller based in Durham that now has more than 5,000 followers on Instagram. April 24, Matney opened her first showroom at 420 W. Lakewood Avenue, featuring her collection of mid-century furniture, polished decor, and knickknacks. The showroom, for now, does not have regular hours like a retail space, but Matney plans to hold monthly pop-up events featuring other Triangle sellers; the showroom will also be open by appointment. The Bull City Vintage showroom opening was held at the space last Saturday, extending into Sunday due to rain. Around 200 people showed up, sifting through Matney’s treasures indoors and stopping by other resellers’ pop-up stands outside. One of these resellers was

Hannah Spector. Spector created Spector Vintage + Design shortly after the pandemic hit, as well, with more than 2,000 followers on Instagram today. She sells vintage decor and furniture of all kinds, antique ceramics, and one-of-akind textile artwork. “When the pandemic hit, it was a great kick in the ass. Because I had to figure out a way to make money,” Spector says. “I definitely physically take my work home with me now, but it’s a different kind of taking work home with you. I really love what I’m doing.” For many people, the pandemic—despite the anxiety, loss, and fear—forced them to hit a reset button and follow passions they’d previously set aside. For some, like Matney and Spector, it opened them up to vintage reselling, invigorating their love for new beginnings, home decor, and sustainability.

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rowing up in New York City, Hannah Spector was a self-declared punk. In middle school, hooked by the messaging of punk music, she began to attend shows, favoring the “activist nights” at former New York City venue Wetlands Preserve. This introduced an interest in sustainability and social reform. “There’s such an abundance of items out there,” Spector says. “Instead of buying new things which may not be made ethically, and certainly require processes that pollute the environment, you’re minimizing your impact and your carbon footprint.” When faced with unemployment during the pandemic years later, Spector created her vintage reselling account. Spector Vintage + Design, which reached its oneyear anniversary in March, has allowed her to work when she wants and feel fulfilled knowing her job aligns with her beliefs. Matney’s Instagram shop, meanwhile, opened a bit later than Spector’s. In October of 2020, she purchased a mid-century modern dresser from an estate sale. It had been a long summer. A single mom, she spent most of her time at home with her son, where, room by room, she’d been renovating her house. Hunting for new additions to her home on a budget, she frequented estate sales. On this day, the dresser spoke to her. “I didn’t want to turn around and resell it for $800 because people shouldn’t be paying that much money for mid-century modern stuff,” Matney says. “I want people just like me to be able to afford really cool pieces.” On Etsy and eBay, genuine mid-century modern pieces, especially dressers, typical-

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

ly range from $500 to thousands of dollars. Replicas sold by Overstock and Wayfair are cheaper, within the range of $200 and $500, but they lack the authenticity and durability of genuine pieces. Matney believes vintage items are for everyone. She says too many resellers turn the affordable to the unattainable and, in a city already battling gentrification, she wants to assure the community that nice, quality furniture is not a luxury reserved only for the moneyed. She cleaned the dresser, touched it up, and sold it for $175. This epiphany shot her into a newfound passion for vintage reselling. She continued reselling, and created an Instagram account called @Bull_City_Vintage_NC. The name came to her, a Durham native, effortlessly. “I’ve seen the city change over the last 40 years,” Matney says. “It’s my home, and I wanted to keep that as part of the shop.” To curate her shop, Hannah Spector scavenges auction websites, eBay, estate sales, Goodwill, and other thrift stores. She takes note of trends and items on her buyers’ wish lists, still using her individual taste to guide her search, favoring textile art, mid-century furniture, and dead stock glass. Matney begins each day in her basement, which is filled with vintage goodies from across North Carolina. Her van, Bessie, has taken her as far as Franklin, N.C., to pick up a 1980s Harley-Davidson clock. Then, Spector and Matney, respectively, begin cleaning. “The things that I’ve cleaned off—everything from cigarette ash to cat pee,” Spector says. “But that process is so rewarding, because you can take something that isn’t really even recognizable and return it to its former glory.” Before pricing, the sellers must consider the labor, travel time, and refurbishing expenses, while remaining true to their mission: making vintage items affordable to their customers. “My main thing is making sure that I’m not price gouging or overpricing,” Spector says. “I sell for people like me [who are] sick of people who have wealth having all the cool shit. That’s it.” When she finds an item she doesn’t intend to sell, Matney buys it anyway. Functioning appliances, furniture, and clothes are readily available at estate sales and thrift stores across the state. She collects these and donates them to Section 8 housing, such as McDougald Terrace. “So many sellers use their platforms to raise up things that are happening in the INDYweek.com

April 28, 2021

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10

Online Thrift Stores You’ll Want to Follow

BY SARA PEQUEÑO

If you don’t have time to sift through the shelves of Trosa Thrift or CommunityWorx, these curators will make sure your house is still fun and eco-friendly. Will & Bequeath (@willandbequeath) | Durham/Raleigh | For those looking for something outside the MCM old, this shop sells vintage tchotchkes from around the world. Marty’s Thrift! (@martys.thrift) | Raleigh | Marty Rogers sells a curated collection of the favorite pieces from your grandmother’s house, plus some tops in a variety of fun prints. Dress Kit Vintage (@dress_kit_vintage) | Durham | A must-follow for folks looking for Memphis Group-inspired earrings, and a fun place to find MCM goods. Crystal Clear Finds Co (@crystalclearfindsco) | Durham | Come for Crystal’s curation of gorgeous wood carvings, stay for her posts about her thrift adventures and family. Perno’s Eclectic Relics (@pernos_eclectic_relics) | Durham | Live out your cottagecore fantasies with her cute kitchen pieces, or find colorful decor to add some delight to your digs. Savvy Hound Vintage (@savvyhoundvintage) | Garner/Raleigh | The sequins. The patterns! The home pieces to make you feel like the biggest diva on the street. Casa Vintage (@vintage.casita) | Raleigh | If you’re looking for an even mix of handcrafted and vintage goods, Casa Vintage has a holder for all your trinkets. Country Feedback (@countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl) | Tarboro | While they may be slightly outside the Triangle, this vintage seller’s eclectic record selection is deserving of some rule-breaking.

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pewter&sage vintage and thrift (@pewter_and_sage) | Durham | If you love collage walls but don’t have the patience to scour the art section of a thrift store, let pewter&sage create one for you. Nouveau Central (@shopnouveaucentral) | Durham | An elephant painting, a spare white vase, a giant wooden fork—a wide-array of items showcased tastefully next to a snake plant. Happy shopping!

community, social justice issues,” Spector says. “A lot of people donate part of the percentage of their sales, or they have special days when they do a sale where money is being raised for a certain cause. It’s a community of a lot of activists. And that feels really powerful.” Matney hopes to hold her second shop the weekend of May 22 and hopes to continue with similar pop-ups, each month, diversifying her selections with additional sellers. “If I don’t have something, I want my clients to find that,” she says. “So if there’s another shop that has it, I’m so excited. If we can all help each other that way, it’s even better.”

Matney says she’s grateful for the vintage community and credits her success to those who have helped her along the way. In the past six months, she’s sold more than 300 items—from a paperweight to a wardrobe. She works harder than she ever has, driving hundreds of miles to search out pieces, lifting heavy furniture, cleaning, researching, and coordinating purchases. And at the end of the day, she’s glad she left her previous job for the unknown. “I’m not gonna be a wealthy person, but that’s fine. I just want to be happy,” Matney says. “I don’t shower every day, and I don’t sleep very much, but I’m still loving it.” W


M U SIC

BOWERBIRDS: becalmyounglovers

[Psychic Hotline, April 30]

Flying Solo A duo no longer, Bowerbirds shows both its bruises and resilience on its first album in nine years BY JORDAN LAWRENCE

music@indyweek.com

“I

swear I had the clearest mind / Day or night / But nothing lasts forever,” Phil Moore sings, sadly wistful during the crescendos on “Every Life,” summing up, in the record’s final song, the mood of Bowerbirds’ first proper album since 2012. These aren’t the same Bowerbirds that stood at the fore of the Triangle’s burgeoning indie folk scene nine years ago. Most obviously, the band is no longer a duo. Moore is now the group’s only permanent member, he and Beth Tacular having dissolved their romantic and musical partnership. The 12 meditations on the album, named becalmyounglovers, center on wounds, healing, and transformation and feel the toll of that uncoupling—and the uncertainty of carrying on as a solo act what was once a team effort. “It was a difficult decision,” Moore says, when asked about continuing on without Tacular. “I’d been sitting on these songs for a while. There was kind of a point in time where it didn’t feel right to release it as Bowerbirds maybe for like a couple, three years.... And so I just kind of waited on it. Eventually time heals all wounds, they say, and it kind of got to that point. I got Beth’s blessing to do so.” Bowerbirds started playing in 2006 and quickly garnered a respectable national following and critical plaudits on the heels of its 2007 debut, Hymns for a Dark Horse. Two subsequent albums, 2009’s Upper Air and 2012’s The Clearing, arrived via big-time indie label Dead Oceans. All three records carved out a peaceful vibe that was still remarkably passionate, finding solace in the consistency and cycles of the natural world. becalmyounglovers is less confident in solace. The first song was written eight years ago, before Moore and Tacular parted ways, but the remaining Bowerbird says that, when he listens, it “kind of captured that whole trajectory for me.” Meanwhile, several songs do circle the direct impact of the breakup. “Tell me, tell me darling / Is it just a phase somehow?” Moore begs amid the nervy, rickety sway of “Moon Phase.” “Or will I never know your warmth again / On the dark side now?” The more shattering quality for longtime Bowerbirds listeners is the diminished certainty in the resilience of the

Phil Moore of Bowerbirds

PHOTO BY LIBBY RODENBOUGH

natural world. Previous songs found serenity in the idea that our environment will outlive us. That’s changed on becalmyounglovers, where desperation and confusion are prevailing emotions. On “All This Rain,” Moore watches a storm—“There’s a hurricane in the Carolinas / Otherwise, never safer”—offering his thoughts over shy piano. Where previous Bowerbirds songs might have marveled at the many forms nature’s beauty can take, this song keys on the irony that there’s “All this rain and the well is dry.” “Put the body down for the evening,” Moore sings. “Don’t you want to live? Well I’m guessing I do.” For Moore, the unsteadied vibe of becalmyounglovers is about more than a breakup. Now a father to his and Beth’s seven-year-old child, he’s a different person than he was when he transitioned from his previous band, Ticonderoga, to Bowerbirds. He lives in a different world. “I often think about, like, is it just 20 years has passed? Or is it, like, my age? Or is it, like, that the world is changing?” he says, outlining his alarm at how the next couple decades may unfold for humanity and the planet, and the need for widespread systemic change. “My worldview has been quite a bit more shaken in the most recent years, and this last year in particular,” Moore continues. “It’s hard to look back on those old records and be like, I love the person that was singing those records and respect him a lot, but I wonder, you know? I don’t think that that’s me anymore.” The sound of becalmyounglovers appropriately embodies the notion that you can’t go home again, even if you can get close. It lumbers and lunges with an elegant primitivism similar to Bowerbirds’ Hymns for a Dark

Horse. But where that album was steeped in rustic, rugged sounds, becalmyounglovers is dominated by smoothly electrified guitars. The approach is well-suited to Bowerbirds’ percussive sense of melody, though it does come across more bruised. Still, Moore was able to find comfort in one thing that hasn’t changed—the deep well of talented friends he could tap to help him record. He speaks with excitement about getting to work with drummer Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver, The Rosebuds), bassist Alex Bingham (Hiss Golden Messenger, T. Gold) and multi-instrumentalist and singer Libby Rodenbough (Mipso). Rodenbough’s harmonies are particularly strong on the record, going a long way toward making the album feel like Bowerbirds. “It’s such an amazing part of the Triangle scene, I don’t know how I would move anywhere else,” Moore says of his musical community. “Even just with the friendships around here between musicians. That’s just part of the whole thing. I can’t consider another place home.” As to what comes next, the Bowerbird isn’t keen on going back to touring 100 or 200 dates a year as the group once did in their heyday. He thinks more songs will come, but he doesn’t think he’ll get right back to releasing two EPs and an LP in less than a year, as he has now done between 2020 and 2021. As on the new album, certainty for the project’s future is in short supply, but Moore seems content to let things happen as they will. “I’m just kind of seeing what shakes out,” he says. “It’s such a weird time that it’s refreshing to release this record now. I think a lot of my fellow musicians, as they release records, they’re like, ‘Oh, man, what do I do now?’ Whereas I’ve taken this big break. This is a baby step for me.” W INDYweek.com

April 28, 2021

19


Review

KOOLEY HIGH: LAZY SUNDAY

HHH [M.E.C.C.A. Records; April 23]

Bring it Home On new EP, Lazy Sunday, Kooley High is unbothered and unmatched BY ERIC TULLIS

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BILL BURTON ATTORNEY AT LAW Un c o n t e s t e d Di vo rc e Bu s i n e s s L a w UNCONTESTED In c o r p o r a t i o n / L LC / DIVORCE Pa r t n e r s h i p MUSIC BUSINESS LAW Wi l l s INCORPORATION/LLC WILLS C o l l e c t i o n s SEPARATION AGREEMENTS Mu s i c

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ne of hip-hop’s prevailing mid-pandemic trends has been for acts to package small servings of their music, as a placeholder, as the music industry and economy reactivate. But this just might be the only trend that the locally pioneering, five-man hip-hop crew, Kooley High, has followed over a 15-year career, largely dignified by a casual disregard for whatever music or movements are à la mode at the time. Led, once again, by emcees Charlie Smarts and Tab-One, Kooley High’s new three-pack EP titled Lazy Sunday is no different. While this brief offering sounds at home stylistically for Kooley High, it seems as though the aspiration here is to get us to remember when being at home was more of a reference point than a decreee. This could explain why three of the four producers on Lazy Sunday were from outside of the Kooley camp. On opener “Hold Up,” Ukrainian producer KLIM raises his boom-bap influences to the occasion, gifting Kooley’s parleyers with a rich rush of twinkling chimes under concise snares and basslines. TabOne hops spryly from one bar to the next with rhymes of encouragement: “Hold up/ get your fucking goals up/ turn your tv off/ get off your phone and turn your soul up/you know what?/ I bet that’ll be that shit that fill them holes up/ roll up.” Next, on “Rollin’ in the Hay” they invite producer Eric G. and the ever-ready rhymer GQ—both of whom are Jamla Records labelmates with former Kooley High emcee, Rapsody—to the affair.

Some of the more melodic musings that Charlie Smarts has been toying with over the last several years come to light here over Eric G.’s pictorial-as-usual beat profile, ultimately setting the tone for guest GQ to put on a show-stealing masterclass in wordplay. If there’s one thing that sticks out on this track listing more than it actually sticks, it’s the guest remix production by Statik Selektah for the title track, which also features Brooklyn vocalist Melanie Charles. Besides Charles’ refreshing vocals, it’s neither much of an ambitions veer from the original Sinopsis-produced song, nor does it highlight the dustiness and grit that Statik Selektah’s reputation as a crate-digging DJ and beatmaker is built on. It’s quite possibly his most relaxed work behind the boards, but that’s what lazy Sundays and Kooley High have always been about—the luxury to be both unbothered and unmatched. W


STAGE

PATIENCE, or BUNTHORNE’S BRIDE

Durham Savoyards | YouTube limited online series weekly, through May 7 | durhamsavoyards.org

Content Creators The pandemic forced the Durham Savoyards to reimagine a 19th-century satirical opera in the internet age. All it took was a little patience. BY BYRON WOODS arts@indyweek.com

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n the opening moments of a new YouTube miniseries, a group of kohl-eyed, mooning fangirls pop, one by one, into the panels of an online video conference. After genuflecting to bedroom posters of their idol—a poet whose brooding visage evokes a glam-era Rasputin—they burst, simultaneously, into an unlikely song: “Twenty Love-Sick Maidens We,” a tune from the dawn of the 1880s. The number opens W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s comic opera Patience, and the anachronous social media sequence kicks off director Melissa S. Craib Dombrowski’s online modern-day adaptation of the Victorian-era satire for the Durham Savoyards, the region’s long-standing light opera company that was founded in 1963. The creative team, which includes music director Joanna Sisk-Purvis and video editor John Paul Middlesworth, has split the evening-length work into seven weekly episodes, four of which have rolled out since the March 26 season opener. The remaining three will debut each Friday through the finale on May 7. Previous segments remain viewable on the company’s YouTube channel. But why reframe a 140-year-old satire on pretentious artistic fads into an online beef between passionate devotees and detractors of an overly precious, simpering huckster of a poet? Gilbert and Sullivan made great fun of their culture’s foibles, Dombrowski says, “and those have not changed so much since then.” Patience, she notes, ultimately looks at “the frivolousness of artistic fashions and how we still tie ourselves up in knots about them. The message is still relevant and very funny.”

But Dombrowski quickly offers another reason for the 21st-century facelift: It isn’t as if the Savoyards had that much choice. Their first attempt at the present production fell apart in March of last year when Durham’s Carolina Theatre went dark due to COVID-19 less than two weeks before opening night. “The actors and the people who were building sets, they basically had it all nailed down,” Dombrowski says. “Then they had to dismantle it, which was heartbreaking.” A rescheduled run last August fell through due to the pandemic. About to pass the two-year mark since their last show—a spring 2019 run of The Mikado—the Savoyards realized they needed a contingency plan that didn’t rely on reopened theaters. “Since the only venue available to us was the Internet,” Dombrowski recalls, “we chose to lean into that and make a sense of place there.” For her, modernizing Patience was the only viable decision for its online medium to make sense: “a deliberate artistic choice,” she notes, “rather than something we were stuck with.” And in doing so, Dombrowski calculated that the sudden shifts in our culture would actually back her move. “We’ve all had a year where we’ve been separated by screens, where the only way to be connected was to be online,” she notes. “With so many of our live interactions happening through social media, it got to the point that being online, for us, was being live—that that experience became present, presence and immediate for us, since that was all we had.” “These days,” she concludes, “online is as ‘live’ as many of us still get.”

Durham Savoyards artistic director Melissa S. Craib Dombrowski

Putting Gilbert and Sullivan online wasn’t easy. For safety, none of the actors or musicians gathered for rehearsal or production; rehearsals and scenes were done remotely. An online production of Gilbert’s oneact comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, mounted as a trial run last September, revealed that actors on Zoom had to start each line a split-second sooner than they ordinarily would. “Otherwise, it started getting really slow, and Gilbert and Sullivan has to be snappy,” Dombrowski says. After Sisk-Purvis circulated video guide tracks for each number with pianist Cole Swanson, vocalists, chorus members, and instrumentalists in the orchestra recorded and submitted their parts separately. Sisk-Purvis then assembled the audio files in Logic Pro and mixed the final soundtrack. Middlesworth did the same with video footage and the dialogue of the singers. “It took so much time,” Sisk-Purvis admits, “but it’s worked.” With two fully mounted productions and no revenue from ticket sales, the Savoyards is counting on public donations to cover its costs. “We need our community’s support,” Dombrowski says.

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Throughout production planning, the company chose to make the show more accessible to larger audiences. They resolved not to place it behind a monetizing paywall. Then, they decided to divide it into user-friendly episodes. “The general feeling is that most people watch about 15 to 20 minutes on YouTube before they’re done,” Dombrowski says. In the process, a work that once could be accessed only through pricey tickets—with an entire evening invested—becomes available to anyone with an Internet connection and 20 to 30 minutes of spare time. “It has the potential to reach a much wider audience than we normally do,” Sisk-Purvis says. An early, significant signal that that’s working came when Sisk-Purvis showed an episode to a group of middle schoolers. “They thought it was hilarious,” she says. “The online chats and memes helped make it really clear what was going on. They might not have gotten some of the older references, but who does these days. That was really exciting.” W INDYweek.com

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