Downtown Chapel Hill: Then, Now, Always virtual ARtWalk


The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, in conjunction with the UNC General Alumni Association and UNC Arts Everywhere, invites you to look at the past and present of our downtown as we all envision our bright future.

Stop along Franklin St. favorites to see what was and what is what makes our main stretch such an important part of the University’s identity, the student experience, and the community’s culture.

Scan one-of-a-kind logo markers depicting small business favorites and take a look at the foundation of our business district’s success. Remember long-gone favorites, learn new information about connections between the old and new, and celebrate the tenacity of our current business owners who have survived the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take a walk with us down Franklin St. past & present

Moving East to West (beginning at McCorkle Place, facing the street, and ending at Merritt Mill) stop and take a look at as you enjoy our community, support your favorite places, and remember all that you do and did love about Chapel Hill’s most storied businesses.

Time-Out (now at 201 E. Franklin St.)

  • This corner of Franklin and Henderson Street is the home to many different businesses now and previously served as the home to many others, which are each classics in their generation of Tar Heels. 

Hector’s (pictured) was known for its late-night cheeseburgers on a pita and its “Famous Since 1969” slogan. East End Martini Bar opened in 2006 and the downstairs bar “Deep End,” became known for Country Nights thanks to $.25 beers. 

The famed 24/7 Time-Out and its legendary chicken biscuits moved to this location in 2014 after its original location in University Square on West Franklin was torn down and Carolina Square was built. Despite the move, Time-Out is still serving its signature biscuits and delicious southern comfort food favorites.

Ye Olde Waffle Shop (173 E. Franklin St)

For 48 years, “Ye Olde,” was cherished for fast, friendly breakfast and customizable waffles. With its small setting and snug booths, the restaurant’s atmosphere created a sense of community among loving and loyal customers. Jimmy and Linda Chris opened the restaurant in 1972 and the business remained family owned and operated, with daughter Melissa Peng at the helm until it closed permanently in 2020. 

The family raised nearly $1,500 for UNC Lineberger Cancer Center by auctioning off the remaining Ye Olde merchandise in December 2020 in loving memory of Jimmy. 

Sutton’s Drug Store (159 E. Franklin St.)

  • To some, the defining icon of Chapel Hill restaurants, Sutton’s Drug Store was founded in 1923 as a pharmacy and a lunch counter, a typical combination in that era. Pharmacist John Woodward bought the store from original owner in 1977, and after his retirement, sold it to Don Pinney who has now worked there for over 40 years. While the pharmacy closed in 2014, the restaurant continues, known for its breakfast, burgers, and the photos of patrons on the walls that include UNC legends through the decades.

Photo caption reads “Franklin Street, circa 1971, shows how much the famous strip has changed in the last 30 years. Only two establishments seen in this photo, Sutton’s Drug Store and The Shrunken Head Boutique, can still be found downtown.” Original photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Rams Head Rathskeller (now Gizmo Brew Works at 157 E. Franklin St. #100)

  • Few past restaurants are as well-remembered or discussed as the Rams Head Rathskeller. Ted Danziger opened the restaurant in 1948 in the basement below his father’s candy shop. The “Rat” was known for its themed rooms — including the Cave Room with its fake stalactites and its creative food such as the Gambler (or Double Gambler). The Danziger’s sold the restaurant in the 1990s and the restaurant closed in 2008. Gizmo Brew Works opened in the space in 2019.

The Shrunken Head (155 E. Franklin St.)

  • The Shrunken Head was opened by Shelton and Mary Edna Henderson in Jacksonville, North Carolina as a head shop selling incense and rolling paper with some clothing. They moved the store to Chapel Hill in 1969 and decided to switch to all Carolina apparel after the 1982 men’s basketball championship. Now open for 53 years, The Shrunken Head was the first all Carolina apparel store in Chapel Hill and is still run by the children of Shelton and Mary Edna.

Julian’s (Original location, marked at the current Bank of America at 144 E. Franklin St.)

  • The Julian’s legacy began when Maurice Julian opened a men’s clothing store in the location you see here. 

Maurice’s brother Milton opened Milton’s Clothing Cupboard in what is now Ms. Mong’s. Maurice’s children inherited the business in 1993 after he passed away. The Julian’s’ influence expanded beyond Chapel Hill when Maurice’s son, Alexander, became a world-renown fashion designer. He created the now iconic UNC argyle when Dean Smith asked him to redesign the basketball uniforms in 1993. Julian also designed the original Charlotte Hornets uniforms. 

Julian’s relocated to its current location across the street at 135 E. Franklin St. in 2007.

Carolina Coffee Shop (138 E. Franklin St.)

  • Opened in 1922, the Carolina Coffee Shop not only has a claim as the oldest restaurant in North Carolina, it is also the oldest continuously operating business in the state. The building previously held a post office and the University Athletic Shop before opening as the Carolina Confectionary in 1922. The Confectionary changed its name to Carolina Coffee Shop in 1928. Coffee Shop has changed ownership multiple times since, and is currently owned by a group of UNC graduates including Olympic soccer gold medalist Heather O’Reilly.

Flower ladies (in front of CVS at 137 E. Franklin St.)

  • The flower ladies grew their own flower and sold them on Franklin Street from the 1920s to the 1990s. Other street vendors selling albums, drug paraphernalia and other goods in the 1960s resulted in store owners pressuring the city to pass an ordinance against street vendors. The flowers ladies moved to the alley by the Varsity Theatre and later into what is now The Central building that houses CVS. This photo shows Chancellor Robert House purchasing flowers.

Town Hall (Franklin Centre at 128 E. Franklin St.)

  • This building has been a theater for much of its existence. It opened as the Pickwick Theatre’s third site (after being at 105 East Franklin and then 103 East Franklin, Jed’s and Starbucks today respectively). It was reopened in 1935 simply as “The Pick” and also served as the town’s courtroom during this time. Since closing as a theatre permanently in 1946, this location has been renovated multiple times. It opened in 1951 as Robbins Department store. After the store closed in 1969, it was the Town Hall music venue and then Mad Hatter’s restaurant through the 1970s. A remodel in the 1980s gave it its current layout and name as “Franklin Centre.” It currently houses multiple businesses. 

Long-time UNC apparel store Johnny T-Shirt opened here in 1983 after the remodel. Cosmic Cantina, Salon 135, and Who’s Next Barber Shop are also currently at Franklin Centre.

Varsity Theatre (123 E. Franklin St.)

  • The Sorrell Building was built in 1927 and has housed a theater there from the beginning. This was the site of the original Carolina Theatre. When that business moved across the street to 108 East Franklin in 1942, the theater here was renamed The Village. It was then renamed The Varsity in the 1950s. It is now the only movie theater in downtown.

Intimate Bookshop (now Chapel Hill Sportswear at 119 E. Franklin St.)

  • While this building was built as a mattress factory and also held Berman Department Store, it is most famous for the Intimate Bookshop. The Intimate Bookshop’s history dates back to 1930 when Milton “Ab” Abernathy began selling books in his dorm room in 1930. He then opened it in what is now Bonchon. The shop attracted visits from William Faulkner and Langston Hughes during its heyday. It moved to this building in 1956 after Abernathy sold it in 1950. In 1965, Wallace Kuralt, brother of journalist Charles Kuralt bought the building and continued the bookshops legacy. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1992, and finally closed in 1998.

Chapel Hill Sportswear is in this space now. 

Carolina Theatre (108 E. Franklin St.)

  • In 1942, the Carolina Theatre moved from the location that currently houses the Varsity Theater to this location. Due to its racial segregation policies, the theater was heavily picketed in the 1960s. In 1971, it was renovated to hold two screens known as the Blue auditorium and the White auditorium. In 1994, the theater moved to the corner of Franklin and Columbia under Top of the Hill. It eventually closed in 2005 and its last movie was March of the Penguins. This 108 E Franklin location has since housed a The Gap and a Walgreens.

Pepper’s Pizza (107 E. Franklin St)

  • Famous for its late night pizza and its unique toppings, Peppers Pizza originally opened up at 127 East Franklin (where Waffle House is now) vacated after owner David “Pepper” Harvey moved his SchoolKids Records across the street in 1987 to 144 East Franklin and decided to open a pizza joint in the old record store. The restaurant moved to 107 East Franklin in 2006. Pepper’s was also known for its eclectic interior with its famous mannequin torso reading “Please Wait To Be Seated” and its 19 paintings of North Carolina musicians painted by Chapel Hill muralists Scott Nurkin.

Spanky’s (101 E. Franklin St)

  • Spanky’s was actually founder Harrions “Mickey” Ewell’s second restaurant in Chapel Hill after his first, “Harrison’s” was opened in 1975 at 149 East Franklin. Spanky’s opened in 1977 on the northeast corner of Franklin and Columbia and became one of Chapel Hill’s most iconic establishments with its caricatures of famous UNC alumni. Ewell later founded Chapel Hill Restaurant Group with current owner Greg Overbeck and others. The group now owns and operates 411 West and Squid’s in Chapel Hill as well as three other restaurants in the Triangle area. Spanky’s was rebranded as Lula’s in 2018 before closing in 2020.

CHRG also owns and operates 411 West Italian Cafe at 411 W. Franklin St.

Top Of The Hill (100 E. Franklin St.)

  • This location was a gas station from 1930 until the late 1970s. Its convenience store was eventually known as the Happy Store and was known as a prime beer-buying destination. Because of the traffic issues created by cars exiting the station, the building was torn down and this prime Chapel Hill real estate remained a vacant lot for nearly two decades. In 1994, a new three-story building was built on the location to house a new iteration of the Carolina Theatre, First Union Bank, and Sunglass Hut. After hearing that the restaurant on top might be opened as a national chain, then UNC law student Scott Maitland founded Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. 

While the storefronts and offices beneath the restaurant have changed, Top of the Hill has become a staple of the Chapel Hill and UNC experience and now includes Back Bar, the Great Room, and TOPO distillery (at 505 W. Franklin St.)

Old Gas station (now Blue’s on Franklin at 110 W. Franklin St.)

  • This area holds two main stays behind and to the side of the building pictured here while the building itself has housed a car dealership, gas station, coffee shop, restaurants, Kinkos and a parsonage all before Blue’s On Franklin opened in 2020

On the backside of the old gas station building, He’s Not Here (112 ½ W. Franklin) opened in 1972 and Yogurt Pump (YoPo at 106 W. Franklin) opened in 1982. 

Fowler’s Food Store (Blue Dogwood Market at 306 W. Franklin St.)

  • Fowler’s Food store opened in 1933, moved to this location in 1949, and housed groceries, a full service butcher shop, and a walk-in cooler known as “Big Bertha.” After closing in 1990, the store was broken up into multiple store fronts. 

The Blue Dogwood Market recently rebranded its bar “Big Bertha” in honor of the famous cooler.

SchoolKids Records (405-C W. Franklin St.)

  • The longest running records store in North Carolina, SchoolKids Records first location was in what is now the Waffle House next to the Varsity Theatre. It then moved to the south side of East Franklin Street in what is now Bank of America next to the Methodist church. While this location closed in 2008, former SchoolKids employee Stephen Judge purchased the business and its Raleigh location in 2012 and brought the store back to Chapel Hill in this location in 2016. Judge purchased the storefront just east of SchoolKids and will expand the store with a bar in that location.

Mama Dip’s (408 W. Rosemary St.)

  • Mildred “Mama Dip” Council opened Dip’s Country Kitchen (pictured here) in 1976 at 405 West Rosemary Street. Today, it holds Tonya’s Cookies, owned by Council’s granddaughter. After receiving praise from the New York Times, the restaurant continued to become more and more popular, and in 1999, Council built Mama Dip’s Kitchen at it’s current location. After she passed away in 2018, her family took over the restaurant and multiple family members have opened their own restaurants.

Italian Pizzeria III (508 W. Franklin St.)

  • The “III” of Italian Pizzeria III comes from the fact that it was opened in 1980 by the original owner after he opened up his first two in Durham. In 1996, Angelo and Vincenzo Marrone came from Italy to take over their uncle’s Chapel Hill iteration. The Marrone brothers are renowned for their huge, welcoming personalities and their love for soccer and Carolina sports.

Crook’s Corner (610 W. Franklin St.)

  • Originally a service station in the 1920s, after World War II, it became Rachel Crook’s Fish and Produce Market. It later became part of the auto dealership across the street. It was originally opened as a barbecue restaurant honoring Crook’s name in 1978, and in 1982 Bill Neal and Gene Hammer renovated it into the classic southern cuisine restaurant famous for shrimp and grits. Bill Smith became the second famed chef at the restaurant in the 1990s until his retirement in 2019.  Chef Carrie Schleiffer took over the James Beard-named American Classic restaurant in 2021 before the restaurant announced it was closing in June.

Photo of Crook’s Corner in the DTH from 1991.

The Team

  • Joe Petrizzi of the UNC GAA (Content and photo curator)
  • Jeremiah Bradshaw (Marker logo graphic designer)
  • CARVR and UNC Summer of Code team
    • Micah Haycraft (Lead Developer)
    • Jackson Hardee (Co-developer)
    • Husam Shaik (Project Manager)
    • Jiayi Xu (Project Manager)
    • Brandon Clark (Mentor)
    • Christian Cambizaca (Developer)
    • Caroline Flman (Developer)
    • Tianyi Peng (Developer)
    • Evan Revis (Developer)
    • Lesli Villa-Solorzano (Developer)

For more information on the first Virtual ARtWalk in Chapel Hill, click here.

To hear from the business owners who told the stories of their adaptation process throughout the past 13 months, click here. The GAA hosted these events at $5/person with every dollar being donated to the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership (501-c3). Our organization used all donations to purchase street-side to-go space markers and to pay local musicians for Saturday night performances this spring and summer, making our downtown a more inviting environment to supplement the recovery of our beloved businesses.

This art walk is the second of its kind in our downtown (thanks to UNC Arts Everywhere and the CAVR AR/VR Students). This experience also (grad) caps off a seven-part series from the GAA, which told the stories of all different types of businesses beginning in November 2020 and finishing up in April 2021.

Hear from the owners and managers of Shops by clicking HERE.
Join the conversation with owners of Bars by clicking HERE.
Learn more about our Art and Music Venues by clicking HERE.
Get insight from the owners of quick bite restaurants & coffee shops by clicking HERE.
Support our Black-owned businesses by clicking HERE.
Enjoy memories with the operators and owners of our sit-down restaurants by clicking HERE.