The iconic Dairy Queen that closed last year in Plaza Midwood has found a new home, and it’s just a five-minute drive out Central Avenue. It will re-open in Eastway Crossing, a shopping center that’s become a landing spot, of sorts, for local small businesses that have been priced out of other areas.
The Dairy Queen’s local operator, Sherman Walters, signed a lease last week for a roughly 1,000-square-foot space at 3054 Eastway Drive, in a white stucco strip mall with a teal roof in Commonwealth Park. The goal is to open May 1, Walters says.
The Walters family had run the Dairy Queen at Central and Pecan avenues for nearly four decades before a developer bought the property in 2018. The little drive-in restaurant first opened in 1950; the Walters family bought it in 1970. (They also run the Dairy Queen on Wilkinson Boulevard with the hard-to-miss eskimo sign on its roof.)
Since closing the Plaza Midwood location, Sherman Walters has been searching for a location relatively nearby that his devoted customers could easily access. The Eastway Crossing spot is about two-and-a-half miles east of the old Plaza Midwood location, and less than two miles west of the old Eastland Mall site. That property is being redeveloped to make way for a Major League Soccer team headquarters, retail, and residences.
Walters signed a 12-year lease. He wouldn’t say how much he’ll be paying in rent, but he did say it’s comparable to what he was paying before his old location was sold.
“You’ve got a lot of tenants (in Plaza Midwood) that are very worried about where they’re going to be,” Walters says. “This center is just their natural progression.”
Walters isn’t the only operator to pick Eastway Crossing over the redevelopment and rising rents in other fast-changing parts of Charlotte.
Tommy’s Pub, a neighborhood dive bar, operated for more than four decades on Central Avenue, near what’s now Pure Pizza. Today, new apartments stand in the old Tommy’s Pub spot. Tommy’s opened at the Eastway center in 2017, near the US Foods restaurant supply store.
VisArt, one of the last independent video stores in town, moved from Elizabeth to Eastway Crossing in 2015. Previously, it had operated for 30 years at 1945 East 7th Street, in the shopping center where Burn Boot Camp and Sandwich Max are.
Last year, Armada Skate Shop moved to Eastway Crossing from its former spot at the corner of The Plaza and Commonwealth.
About a year and a half ago, friends Gina Stewart, Penny Craver, and Brenda Gambill opened EastSide Local Eatery at Eastway Crossing next to VisArt. With Gambill as its chef, EastSide specializes in vegetarian and vegan fare, plus juices and coffee.
You may recognize Craver’s name; she’s the former co-owner of Dish who sold the Plaza Midwood restaurant last year to the owner of Sweet Lew’s BBQ.
Craver and Stewart were in a rock band together in the 1980s; today Stewart and Gambill play in a band called Doubting Thomas together.
The three liked the fact that the shopping center has plenty of parking, and they liked that they could walk there. They also were drawn to the overall vibe of Eastway Crossing, says Stewart, the former general manager of the Common Market in Plaza Midwood.
“The things that are coming here are (run by) like-minded people,” Stewart says.
“We love Tommy’s Pub. A big part of our decision was having VisArt here. They were really trail-blazing in deciding to come here, because nothing was here (before 2015.)”
Clifton Castello says he’s noticed a growing number of established businesses opting to relocate in favor of cheaper rent. Castello is the president of the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association, which works to provide support and resources to businesses in the neighborhood.
“Each of the businesses has their own unique circumstances. They’re making a choice around their business’s survival,” Castello says. “A small business only has so many resources.”
For many longtime Charlotteans, the Plaza Midwood Dairy Queen was not just another fast-food chain.
The restaurant, in a 765-square-foot white concrete building with a blue-and-white striped awning, was a neighborhood mainstay. It opened at a time when Dairy Queen was in the midst of a national expansion.
Until it closed last fall, the Dairy Queen was a draw for everyone, no matter their income level, local historian Tom Hanchett noted. For $2, you could walk up and get a vanilla cone.
Developer Aston Properties bought the Dairy Queen’s 0.3-acre property on Central for $1.05 million in October 2018. Aston hasn’t found a tenant yet to fill the old DQ spot, the developer says.
Stanford Garnett, who represents the landlord at Eastway Crossing, says he didn’t set out to create a haven for displaced businesses. The strip mall offers amenities that small businesses crave: affordability, visibility, and increasingly, proximity to other hip establishments.
Adding to the center’s attractiveness, Garnett says, is the fact that the center has undergone millions in renovations in recent years.
“We are not cherry picking (tenants),” Garnett says. “We’re not kicking down doors and pulling Plaza Midwood apart. This has really come from the tenants, and not from the landlord.”