Friday, January 26, 2007

Reactions from New York newcomers

As this blog shows, transplants from New York state are a huge force here in the Charlotte region.

Lots of you responded to my recent writings on the subject, and some responses will appear in my column in Monday’s Your Week section. Here’s a sampling of some others:

"New Yorkers have been flowing into the Charlotte area for many, many years. I lived in Charlotte for fifteen years, starting at the end of 1971. That was when it had a special Southern charm that it surely lacks today. The nouveau-riche ‘McMansions’ are but one example of the garishness that has overtaken so much of the once elegant, yet modest city." --Drew Untener, Charleston, S.C.

"I am also new to the Charlotte area from upstate New York. I moved here in the spring of 2006. I grew up just outside of Rochester, New York and went to college in Rochester, which I graduated from in 2004. I was in the golf business in New York and, needless to say, with the climate in New York it was only profitable for about six months a year.

There are multiple reasons I chose Charlotte: I had friends from college already living here; It still has multiple seasons; It is only a day’s drive back to upstate New York; It has pro sports teams; When I visiting here I found people to be very friendly; There is always something to do; The weather." --John Switzer

"I hail from Niagara Falls! I first moved here in 1998 then spent three years in Europe (2000 - 2003) and came straight back to Charlotte. I chose Charlotte from a list of various cities way back when and have never regretted it. We just simply love it here! The people, the climate, the family orientation of the city and certainly the vision they have for uptown make this place almost perfect." --Debbie Hemmingsen

"My wife and I moved to Matthews from Hyde Park, New York (Dutchess County, 80 miles north of New York City) this past August. We were first introduced to Charlotte in July 2005 when we visited relatives in Concord and drove around the region for an afternoon. That was all it took. Things here were new and fresh looking, development was vigorous, and neighborhoods, although thick with housing, appeared for the most part to be planned with an eye for aesthetics and long-term appeal.

People are people, and while some here use a Southern accent, there are no other distinguishing differences that I've noticed. Except of course that they seem to be less hurried. Less haggard. Less uptight and worried than folks in New York. People here are more likely to lift a hand in passing and give you a ‘How ya'all doing.’" --Jeff Barber

"I’m a former resident from upstate New York. Down here you know if there's bad weather because church closes; up in New York it’s when the shopping malls close. I moved to Charlotte when the economy was booming in the early 2000's. The biggest thing for me was the lack of winter and snow storms. I love being away from the bad weather. As for pizza and wings, there are many imitators here in charlotte, but none have come close. to being New York style. The traffic is much heavier in Charlotte and the wait times are longer than in New York. Of course, I know why – everyone has followed us to Charlotte." --Jennifer

"I moved to Rock Hill about 2 ½ years ago from a small town about 30 minutes north of Syracuse. My husband, son (16) and I relocated here due to the fact that I was laid off from an insurance company I worked for almost 16 years. The economy was terrible and the weather was always gloomy. We absolutely love it in this area. I’ll now always be a Carolina girl and no longer consider myself a Yankee. I say, the last one out should turn the lights off." --Christine Hall

Sunday, January 21, 2007

New from upstate New York?

Newcomers from upstate New York are helping to transform our region by bringing new cultures, tastes for food and accents to our area. I examined the trend for an article in today’s paper.

If you’re a newcomer from New York, what do you think of life here in Charlotte? How is it different – or the same as – life back home? Why did you move, and what made you choose Charlotte? I hope you’ll drop me an e-mail at so I can contact you with follow-up questions, but you’re welcome to post here too.

And if you’re new in town from other regions and you haven’t already gotten in touch, I want to hear from you too, with your experiences and questions about getting settled in the Charlotte area.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Where to find New York-style pizza?

Where’s the best place around to get New York-style pizza?

It’s a question I hear frequently from newcomers – and
they’re not all necessarily from New York.

"We have tried Fuel (which is probably the best so far), but we are still in seach of that perfect pizza!" wrote one Connecticut transplant. "We have gone to Ballantyne to try an advertised 'New York Style' pizza which did not measure up."

Besides Fuel (1501 Central Avenue, and five other locations
in Charlotte, Davidson and Gastonia), common suggestions include: Hawthorne’s New York Pizza and Bar (1701 E. Seventh St.
and another in Highland Creek), Portofino’s Italian Restaurant
(3124 Eastway Drive plus others in Charlotte and Gastonia) and Zio
(116 Middleton Drive – it’s owned by Endicott natives).

While searching around, I also found this link to a New York pizza blog.
Now it’s your turn – where did I miss?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cool places to send newcomers

Where do you send newcomers to show them something cool in the Charlotte region?

Lupie’s or the Lazy 5 Ranch? The Penguin or Paramount’s Carowinds?

That question came up at last night’s Levine Museum of the New South event for newcomers. Participants called out suggestions of places that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman, here six months from California, should check out with his family. Along with some of the aforementioned spots, the Brooks restaurant near NoDa and the Manor movie theater made the list.

In an upcoming column, I’ll be seeking suggestions from readers for other spots around the region that are good to send new arrivals, but you guys get a head start – please post some here or e-mail them to me and I’ll follow up.


For another preview, here’s a link to my upcoming report with news partner WCNC about the Charlotte skyline exhibit going on at the Main Library in uptown Charlotte through the end of January. It'll air during newscasts Monday and again next Saturday.


Speaking of Gorman, he kept the museum crowd laughing with some of his newcomer observations:

--“As far as roads go – I’m sorry folks, this is not traffic.” He lived 36 miles from the LAX airport but took nearly four hours to get home when his flights landed there. He called L.A. freeways “long, thin parking lots.”

--His favorite Charlotte road, he said, is “Tyvola-Fairview-Rama-Idlewild,” followed closely by “Billy Graham-Woodlawn-Runnymede-Sharon.”

--While lost once, Gorman’s wife Sue told him, “Just keep driving and you’ll run into a Sharon or a Queens.”

--He went to a local restaurant and ordered a three-vegetable plate. His veggies were greens, mac and cheese and hush puppies. “I was unaware that fried dough qualifies as a vegetable, but I was thrilled.”

--The charms of dining at local mainstay Anderson’s, where movers and shakers met for power breakfasts before the Elizabeth eatery closed recently, were lost on him. He looked up one morning and saw Mayor Pat McCrory and County Commissioner Parks Helms in adjoining booths. “This is nuts. What are we all doing here?” he thought.

--“I’ve tried Sun-Drop (soda). I didn’t get it.”

--After a speech at First Baptist church, he was caught off guard when the minister invited members to come up and “lay hands.”
“I’m kind of freaking out – I’m thinking, ‘They’re gonna touch me,’” he said. “It pushed me so far out of my comfort zone.”

--And finally: “All in all, it’s been a great six months. I have had the time of my life.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NASCAR news, and general newcomer feedback

The NASCAR Hall of Fame, anticipated to be one of Charlotte’s signature attractions when it opens in 2009, is ready to break ground.

That’s some of the news that came out of a recent presentation at the Main Library in uptown Charlotte, part of its occasional lunchtime discussion series. I recently wrote about the series, and an accompanying library exhibit on the history of Charlotte’s skyline, as useful events for newcomers to learn more about the area.

Winston Kelley, executive director of the hall, said the groundbreaking, scheduled for Jan. 25 at 3 p.m., is open to the public. In addition to the hall and an office tower, officials plan to build a NASCAR plaza that can be used for outdoor public events. The site is bordered by Brevard, Caldwell, Stonewall and Second streets in uptown.

Some background for the benefit of new arrivals: Charlotte competed against cities including Atlanta, Kansas City, Daytona Beach and Richmond to land the hall of fame, which officials estimate will generate $60 million annually in economic impact after it opens.

NASCAR itself is a $5.9 billion industry in North Carolina, where it employs an estimated 27,000. As Kelley pointed out: “While it’s a tremendous entertainment asset, it’s also an economic development asset.”


On to more general newcomer news:

This morning I appeared on “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins” on WFAE (90.7 FM) to discuss how newcomers are transforming our area, along with Levine Museum of the New South historian Tom Hanchett.

I knew we could count on it being a hot topic, and sure enough, there was a steady stream of phone calls and e-mails from listeners. Here are some excerpts from the e-mails – feel free to send me your own thoughts:

--“I moved from northern VA about a year ago to Charlotte, and love living here. However, I do miss the sense of pride and excitement people in northern VA had about living in that area. So far I haven’t noticed much of that in Charlotte. It seems that a lot of newcomers to Charlotte still show some allegiance or pride in their own previous cities. A question I always ponder is what can we do to get more people proud of their new city, Charlotte, and create an atmosphere of pride and excitement about the city?”

--“My family moved to Concord at the end of 1990. What’s interesting is that we’ve lived there longer than about 40 percent of the current residents. So, for those who feel ‘alien’ – stick around. The growth rate will make you a native in 10 years; and you’ll be able to complain about all of the ‘newcomers.’”

--“A city is what you make it. If you come here expecting not to feel welcome, you will feel unwelcome. Charlotte is just as friendly as any other town; it’s all in your attitude.”

--“There is no such thing as a ‘Southern’ accent. Everyone else just talks funny.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Peter Gorman on being a newcomer

Following the article in today's paper, here's more from the interview with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent, Peter Gorman, a newcomer from California:

Q. Talk a little bit more about how you chose your south Charlotte neighborhood.

A. We like that we’re in a one-street neighborhood because we didn’t want too much action. We knew that we also wanted to go to an area that was older homes and trees, that kind of experience. We wanted the opposite of California. There, we had a house that was about three years old with no trees. We wanted a little charm, a little flavor. We also wanted a lot that was big enough for dogs.

Q. Has it taken you a while to figure out who the movers and shakers are?

A. I could be myopic and just go with the folks that are involved in more visible activities. (At the) Chamber of Commerce, I met a particular group of folks, very involved in events and activities and goings-on. There was a whole group of individuals that were not there - the affiliation with the religious community, and that’s such a strong component here. So I’ve had to go and meet religious leaders and get feedback from folks like Claude Alexander from University Park Baptist and Gregory Moss from St. Paul (Missionary Baptist).

I’ve also had to reach out and find the municipality mayors. They’re all important. We’re Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. We’ve got to remember that although the vast majority of our kids live in Charlotte, there’s a good number of kids who live in different municipalities.

Q. Have you had a chance to explore? Have you gotten lost?

A. I’ve gotten lost a lot. The one perk I’ve taken on the job: I had them put a GPS in my car. I drive a district car. With 160-plus schools, the district’s gotten their money back already by me getting places quicker.

(With my family,) we’ve wandered. We’ve found quirky places we like. We found a pizza place we like, right by our house, the Mellow Mushroom. We’ve explored Matthews; we like it very much. We went up and spent some time in Davidson; it’s just a quaint little community.

For Halloween, we took our daughter for a drive and we went to get pumpkins out near Mint Hill in an area that was rural. That’s cool. And yet it was so close to our house.

What I do stay away from is the freeways. I stay away from Interstate 485. I don’t go to that mall on Pineville-Matthews, Carolina Place, because of the traffic.

Q. You came from a school district where the average home value was close to $700,000. What do you think of home values here?

A. I love Charlotte house prices. We got a lot more house and way more land for a lot less than we sold our place in California for. Now I’m thrilled that I own more of my house.

Q. As a family, have you found the community hospitable to you as newcomers?

A. It’s the most hospitable community I’ve ever lived in. We’ve had more offers of help than anywhere we’ve been.

We had people bring us food in our neighborhood. I had an awful lot of people invite me out to eat when I first got here. I got a lot of bachelor sympathy. I’ve got to be careful. I’ve put on 16 pounds since I’ve been here.

I didn’t know macaroni and cheese was a vegetable. I don’t like ice tea, and people look at me like I’m nuts. I like barbecue. I went to the Charlotte Country Club one night with someone, and it was barbecue night, and they had seven kinds of sauce. It was fun but confusing. I didn’t realize some days the most difficult decision I’ll make is what type of sauce to have with my barbecue.

Q. What do you still want to find in the community?

A. Entertainment things we can do with our family. We took our daughter to the Carolina Raptor Center. We loved it. I need to find those things with our daughter and experience them.

It’s been like drinking out of a fire hose, it’s been big gulps. I want to go back and savor it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

How do younger newcomers adjust?

Adults have lots of reasons for moving to this region – jobs, family connections, better climate and lifestyle. But their kids have no choice – and some of them arrive here from other parts of the country kicking and screaming.

At a newcomer discussion I attended yesterday, a recent arrival from Ohio said her 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are having a harder time adjusting to life as a Southerner than she is.

Sometimes, her kids have trouble understanding their teachers’ strong Southern accents. Schoolmates can make them feel like outsiders. They miss friends from where they used to live.

And although this community has a strong support system for newcomers – abundant clubs, groups at houses of worship, and social events for new arrivals – few of them are targeted at kids or teens.

I’d like to know more about what life is like for newcomers under age 18, and what strategies they’ve used to adjust to life here. If you are one, or you know one, please drop me a line with contact information for a future article.


Peter Gorman, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, is himself a newcomer from California, and he’s headlining the next “New South for the New Southerner” event at the Levine Museum on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. He’ll talk about how he’s adjusted to the community with his family, including his 8-year-old daughter Katie. (The museum event costs $4, which includes food and North Carolina wine; call 704-333-1887 ext. 501 to make a reservation).

Click here to see my newcomer report with WCNC-TV about the museum, which will air Monday at 5:25 a.m. and again during the 11 a.m. midday show.

I sat down with Gorman this week to talk about his newcomer impressions – you can see Monday’s paper and this blog to find out what he said.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

More newcomer resolutions

If you haven’t yet finished making your New Year’s resolutions, here are some suggestions in response to my recent column on some things newcomers can do to get settled in this region:

“Thoughts to share: Always have at least three things in mind that you like about your new home to share with people you meet. Can be as simple as ‘I love the way a full moon peeps through the trees in our backyard’ to ‘People smile at you on the street, whether they know you or not.’ Share your positive comments every chance you get. Try to find something new every week to add to your ‘I Like’ list....

‘I resolve not to talk about how things were better back home’ – Simply don't compare – unless the new place comes out looking better. You can be misunderstood.” – M.H. Roche

“Join and get active in a good church. May I suggest East Baptist Church, 6850 Monroe Road. We would welcome newcomers.” – Jackie

“My New Years resolution: I want to become involved in a garden club.” – Elizabeth, who reports she’s still looking for the best club fit – folks with suggestions can send them to me and I’ll forward them to her.


And on another note, writing about newcomers means I write a lot about population growth. Here, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, is some food for thought:

“The U.S. Census Bureau projected the Jan. 1, 2007, population (as) 300,888,812, up 2,863,990 or 1 percent from New Year’s Day 2006.

In January, the United States is expected to register one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11 seconds.

Meanwhile, net international migration is expected to add one person every 27 seconds.

The result is an increase in the total population of one person every 15 seconds.”