Plaza Midwood. There’s a good chance if you’re part of the Charlotte Metro region’s LGBTQ community, you’re familiar with the neighborhood.
For all intents and purposes, it’s the city’s hub for queer community.
In fact, a census report from 2010 confirms that 28205, the Charlotte zip code that claims Plaza-Midwood, NoDa, Chantilly and Shamrock, is home to more LGBTQ individuals than any other zip code in both North and South Carolina.
The main thoroughfare, Central Avenue, may hold part of the answer why it is so popular: it’s packed full of independently owned businesses — specialty shops and restaurants — and even a high end grocery store.
Just a quick drive through the area and you’ll see a mixture of gay men, lesbians and gender-fluid 20-something blending in comfortably with their heterosexual neighbors.
The beauty of it all? Everyone seems perfectly happy, comfortable and at home with each other. Plaza Midwood is a community on the go, as evidenced by constant foot traffic and the many methods of travel available, from rentable scooters and bicycles to the light rail.
But it wasn’t always that way.
As early as the 1970s Charlotte’s LGBTQ Community took root in the city’s Dilworth neighborhood. There they built a sense of community that included gay bars, a bath house, antique stores, gay-friendly restaurants and access to other nearby bars and dance clubs that served a mixed clientele of lesbian, gay and trans patrons in Uptown and other nearby neighborhoods.
Most importantly, they found the glue that allowed them to create that community: a large neighborhood full of old apartment buildings and houses in various states of decay, available for rental and purchase prices that were more than affordable.
Not unlike other neighborhoods and cities across the country, the Queer Community moved in, spruced things up and the property values shot up. Then the rest of the city wanted a piece of the cool.
In less than two decades gentrification took hold and most residents started to look elsewhere for other affordable places to live that had a sense of character. Rental prices were going up, and the homeowners were being offered sums of cash they never anticipated. That’s when the LGBTQ community found Plaza Midwood and the exodus began, sometime in the mid 1990s. Older homes could be bought for a song and rental properties were plentiful and inexpensive.
In Plaza Midwood today, as you make your way from Five Points — that intersection where Louise Avenue crosses over Kings Drive, 10th Street and Central Avenue, you’ve entered what most residents consider Plaza Midwood. From there to the end of the Big Q Strip — arguably somewhere around Kenilworth Avenue — you’ll find a plethora of new high density condo and apartment construction, mixed together with earlier construction, some dating from the 1920s up to the 1970s.
While the general region has largely come to be referred to as Plaza Midwood, it’s actually a mix of neighborhoods that — depending on an individual’s viewpoint or CDA (Charlotte Date of Arrival) — can also include Morningside, Commonwealth, Country Club, Windsor Park and Sheffield. All dot one side or the other of Central Avenue.
Plaza Midwood is now into its third decade of queer evolution. A lot has changed, and the forces of gentrification, once again, want their piece of cool.
The most apparent change evidenced by the popularity of location is the architectural landscape. Entire blocks of old houses and small apartment buildings have been replaced with that newer construction, which is usually multi-use and allows for more people, more amenities and easier access throughout the area itself and other parts of the city.
For example, if you choose not to drive but work on the other side of town or somewhere in Uptown, getting there isn’t that hard. Snag one of those rentable scooters or a bicycle and make your way to a Central Avenue bus headed in town or the Lynx Light Rail. It’s just a couple of blocks off Central Avenue down Hawthorne Avenue. Not only does your trip allow for some cardio, it’s also a chance to enjoy the urban outdoors and take in some sightseeing. The Light Rail Line can take you to places in Mecklenburg as distant as the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and down South Blvd. to 485, with a sizable number of stops for your convenience in between.
So what about the amenities? Some have been with us for awhile, others are new to the scene and still more are yet to come.
White Rabbit books, located near the corner of Central, Louise and Kings, is a specifically gay-owned and operated retail store offering gift items and hard to find specialty goods of LGBTQ interest. For the sake of full disclosure, it also houses the offices of qnotes.
Moving along Central and some of its various side streets, you’ll find LGBTQ-popular and established restaurants like The Diamond, Fuel Pizza, Dish, Zada Janes and House of Pizza. Newer arrivals in the dining out scene, but also popular with the queer community, are restaurants like Midwood Smokehouse, Workman’s Friend, Pure Pizza and Moo & Brew.
If spirits (the alcoholic version) are your thing, there’s a number of good go-to spots in the area, and some serve food, too. Among them are Petra’s Bar & Venue & Taproom, Whisky Warehouse, Snug Harbor, Pilot Brewing, Legion Brewing and Catawba Brewing. All are LGBTQ welcoming, and many have nights that are aimed specifically at an LGBTQ clientele.
While aspects of old and new will always remain side by side on the architectural plate, there are developments ahead that will result in even more change for Plaza Midwood.
One of particular note is the old Dairy Queen building, located at the corner of Central and Pecan. The neighborhood collectively mourned when the landmark closed its doors, but it’s actually still around. It just relocated a bit further out to a shopping center near the corner of Central and Eastway.
The original DQ building still remains. And it’s about to take on a new purpose as an intown Charlotte location for the popular Davidson restaurant Milkbread.
The strip shopping center located in the 1300 block of Central Avenue, currently called Central Square, is about to undergo a much more major overhaul. Eventually to be known as Commonwealth, Crosland Southeast and Nuveen Real Estate, purchasers and developers of the 12-acre property, will keep much of the historic aspects intact while adding on new structures that will include residential, retail, restaurants and office space. The agreement reached by the two companies to acquire the property also included the acquisition of Midwood Corners, another small strip shopping center at the corner of Central and the Plaza.
While the specific designs for Midwood Corners have yet to be announced, the reported plan is to keep it pedestrian-friendly and reflective of the diverse character in the area. Crosland expects to purchase further property at the old Eastland Mall site in anticipation of the light rail plans to further extend out Central Avenue.
If handled incorrectly by current LGBTQ property owners, it is possible Plaza Midwood’s queer identity could evaporate.
Remember those folks mentioned earlier in this article that left Dilworth for a wad of cash and lower purchase prices in another area they could make their own?
That doesn’t have to happen again.
Along with the transplants from Dilworth to Plaza Midwood came newer and younger generations who bought into the area when real estate prices hadn’t exploded just yet. Think about it for a moment – those first time buyers of the 1990s, in their 20s and 30s at the time, are now in their 40s and 50s, and some, likely even in their 60s. Most homeowners are living in houses that are already paid for.
While property owners could make a substantial profit if they decided to sell, where would they go? There’s not really anywhere else in the city to go with similar qualities. Real estate in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County is pricey all over. Why leave an active and attractive neighborhood full of plenty amenities for the ultraburbs, which can literally be as far away as South Carolina?
There’s no question plenty of residents are unhappy about some of the rapid fire developments in the area. Some of the new construction is resulting in the destruction of older buildings and other changes across the board that could potentially create a new face of Plaza Midwood and other parts of 28205.
But nothing stays the same forever.
The population has grown in the Queen City by leaps and bounds. Real estate prices across Mecklenburg County have skyrocketed. And Plaza Midwood, along with numerous other parts of the 28205 zip code, will continue to grow and change over and over again.
A point of interest here to take note of: absent in the district are specific gay bars. It’s a trend happening in larger cities around the country. New generations are comfortable sharing night spots and bar stools side by side with patrons of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
That doesn’t mean 28205 is losing its gay identity in the way Dilworth did. It just means it can and should take on another interpretation of it, depending on decisions made by current LGBTQ property owners.
Embracing the change, but aspiring to maintain the history will be the key to preserve the Plaza Midwood identity.