Q is for Queen City: Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, NC also grew as a function of alcohol: “Prior to 1978, single drinks could not be served in North Carolina. People who wanted a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant would have to bring their own bottle.”

There are a number of cities nicknamed Queen City; I knew about Cincinnati, OH, and a few others. However, I’m going to talk about Charlotte, NC, in no small part because I have been there several times.

Back in 1973 or early 1974, my father lost his job with Associated Building Contractors in Johnson City, NY, next to Binghamton. He saw this an opportunity to go wherever he could find a job anywhere in the country. He looked everywhere from Syracuse to San Francisco. Ultimately, he found a position at J.A. Jones Construction in Charlotte, as the safety coordinator. He went down first, then my “baby” sister Marcia, and finally my mother. Both of my parents were born in Binghamton, but Mom was less than enthused about moving to the South.

My father, while liking Charlotte well enough, referred to it often as a “big old country town,” where a train might stop traffic within the city limits. It was big and getting bigger, in large part because of annexation. Cities in North Carolina and other predominantly southern states were allowed to annex unincorporated territory adjacent to them as long as the municipalities met minimal criteria of “urbanness”, two people per square mile, and provided police, fire, and water services. This action was taken to require those living on the fringe of the city to be added to the tax base, a luxury most Rust Belt cities can’t do because of fairly fixed borders.

There were annexations in 1972, 1974, and 1977. I was in graduate school in Public Administration at UAlbany in 1979-80, and actually did research on the effect that the rapid growth had on the city. What I’ve noticed since, though, is that the growth has continued: “Until 1978, Charlotte – like many other mid-sized southern cities – was struggling to grow, reeling from the decline of the textile industry. But that year, Charlotte began its transformation into the second-largest banking center in the United States. The city’s population has more than doubled, from 315,474 in 1980 to an estimated 751,087 in 2011.”

It also grew as a function of alcohol: “Prior to 1978, single drinks could not be served in North Carolina. People who wanted a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant would have to bring their own bottle. Bars simply didn’t exist.

“After state voters passed what became known as the ‘liquor by the drink’ law, Charlotte’s hospitality industry began to grow. Around the same time, the first wave of northern immigrants arrived… In 1978, IBM moved 1,000 families from upstate New York. That was the first big influx.” Before that, “You couldn’t buy pasta. You couldn’t buy a bagel in Charlotte. The IBMers really began to change the community.” True enough; the pizza was TERRIBLE when my parents moved there.

Transportation has also played a part. The airport has become a hub. Charlotte now has light rail; when the family relocated there, the bus system was, to be generous, inadequate. This is still true once one gets out of the core downtown, though: “It’s also very easy to get lost: everything looks very similar.” That’s comforting to read because it almost always happens to me. Charlotte is changing all the time.


ABC Wednesday – Round 13