CHARLOTTE, NC – Welcome back to the CLT Life column, your source for great places to visit and exciting things to do in the Tri-W and surrounding areas. Featuring everything from retail and restaurants to local parks and neighborhoods, The CLT Life’s mission is to give you a first-hand look at the best spots in town.
This week, the CLT Life host Jimmy Grappone traveled to Common Market at Plaza Midwood, an exciting and eccentric bar, deli, and convenience store with a truly unique atmosphere. From beer and sake selections that rival any locale in the greater Charlotte area to the awesome collection of vintage memorabilia that lines the walls, there is no place in Charlotte quite like Common Market, and there is certainly no one quite like owner Blake Barnes. The following is an excerpt from The CLT Life host Jimmy Grappone’s interview with Barnes on the origins of Common Market and how they got to where they are today. Be sure to visit the Tri-W News YouTube channel for the full interview, and for information on a special promotion from Common Market.
The CLT Life: Hey Charlotte, it’s Jimmy here with the CLT Life. Today I’m in Plaza Midwood, at the original location of Common Market. We’re going to go inside and talk to owner Blake Barnes. He’s gonna tell us how he came up with the concept for this restaurant and what makes it great. Let’s go inside and take a look. First, I want to know about the name. Tell me, how did you come up with the name Common Market?
Blake Barnes: Well I’m slightly on the liberal side. I’ll just get that out of the way. It was on Commonwealth Avenue, and I was going to call it Commonwealth Market. Then I had a couple other ideas, and said, what about Common Market? Being a musician, thinking like, where are you going? I’m going to Common Market. That just had a good little pop and ring to it. So, the tagline on every single receipt is “Common Market, market for the people.”
The CLT Life: Tell me a little bit about your background. How long have you been in Charlotte, and running a business?
Blake Barnes: I’ve been in Charlotte, off and on, for the 53 years that I’ve been alive. My grandfather actually ran a butcher shop in downtown Charlotte, when it was downtown not uptown, way back in the day. I got into the music business, and was a touring musician. I played all the time. I hit my early thirties and said, you know, I really need to figure out something better to do with my life.
The CLT Life: A bit more stable, a little healthier?
Blake Barnes: Yeah, 50 bucks a day out in the middle of nowhere wasn’t really cutting it, so I started working for a company called the Laurel Market off of Cherokee Road. It’s a similar concept, but it was just a deli, just a small little grocery with a little bit of beer and wine. Once I got there, I was one of those guys that realized, if I can do this for him, why can’t I do it for myself?
The CLT Life: What has your experience been like in Plaza Midwood?
Blake Barnes: Starting early off, it was a very scary thing, because I’d never run my own business before. I was just as green as they come, and you know, I made a lot of mistakes right off the bat. I think Plaza Midwood, especially in those days, there were so many people that had alternative lifestyles, and they were willing to just try something new.
The CLT Life: I’ve been coming to Common Market for a while. I love a great place to get lunch and local beer. I love the craft IPA’s and trying them in different places. Tell me a little bit about how you curated or cultivated that menu, and also the beer selection.
Blake Barnes: One thing that I’ve done differently than a lot of specialty companies these days is listening to my customers. They have pretty much told me what to do. The food part, that was almost like an expensive way to get you to come in and buy the beer. That was my original thing. I almost opened up a hookah lounge, but I’m glad that I went with the food part. It just started taking hold, and then it started growing. I think my first day we did like $43, and I was like, “Wow, I am in trouble.” I kept thinking that over and over again, but then, it just slowly built, slowly built.
The CLT Life: Going back to being a local business, I always ask this question. Why is it so important to support local businesses?
Blake Barnes: Every employee I have can ride their bikes here, so I hire very locally. A lot of them are artists, musicians, and we are helping them work on their career. Then, like I said, it kind of gets back into that whole “there’s a center to the neighborhood” idea. Do you know what I mean? A lot of people coming in and out, a lot of people meeting here. So, yeah, I think that that’s kind of it. You’re keeping it local, man, keeping it real.
The CLT Life: You’ve been open for almost 20 years. If you just look five years in the future, what does success mean? Is it continuing on the same path?
Blake Barnes: Well, at the rate Charlotte’s going, it’ll be surviving and not being torn down. A place like Common Market, and there are other places like this in town, are like the true flavor of this city. Basically I’ve remained relevant by not doing anything different.
For more from Jimmy Grappone and the CLT Life, visit thecltlife.com, follow on Facebook at facebook.com/thecltlife704, and on Instagram at @theCLTlife704. Any questions or comments? Reach out to Jimmy Grappone by phone at (704) 318-4532, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org