Carr Mill, located on Weaver Street in downtown Carrboro, was always a hub for business and community in Carrboro and Chapel Hill — just not in the way it currently is. Business owners are now reshaping the history of the Mill from a center of big industry to a center of community retail.
The mill was founded by Tom Lloyd at the end of the 19th century and named “Alberta.” Carr Mill employed many local people, and the railroad tracks running by the Mill brought supplies and resources to the local college. Yet, leading into the later parts of the 20th century, the mill industry began to dwindle and so did the use for the Alberta building.
The Mill sat unused and underappreciated for many years until it was to be torn down in 1975 by a Charlotte developer who was going to build a Harris Teeter. The people of Carrboro objected to tearing down an important piece of town history.
“(The developer) had plans to tear the Mill down, and the people from the town went to the developer and said, ‘Hey, let’s save the Mill,'” said Nathan Milian, president of N.L. Milian & Associates and landlord of Carr Mill.
The developer agreed to change his plans to tear it down and the Mill was saved — the rest is history.
The Mill was then sold and turned into a space for offices and retail stores. The Harris Teeter was ultimately built nearby.
Almost immediately, businesses, many of which still operate today, began filling the spaces and Carr Mill took its place as an economic and cultural hub in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community once again.
“We’re the village center,” Milian said. “I think we’re the economic engine of downtown Carrboro.”
While Carrboro no longer needs the massive factory for textiles and cotton to provide employment and economic growth, the Mill is now a hub of shops, specialty stores and restaurants. Especially now during the summer months, the Mill takes on the role of a gathering and cultural center for the people of Carrboro with its outdoor spaces. The mall marks a new page in the Mill’s history and at the center of it all are the business owners operating out of Carr Mill Mall.
The mall hosts over 20 locally owned, community-oriented small businesses, each offering unique items, services and experiences. While restaurants like Crossties Barbecue, the one right on the train tracks, are hard to miss, the businesses on the inside are not as visible to passersby.
Oasis Cafe has been at Carr Mill Mall for four years and offers tea and coffee in a quiet, relaxing space. Leah Edwards, who works at Oasis, said people are often surprised to find a cafe tucked away in Carr Mill Mall. The Carrboro coffee and cafe scene can be competitive, but Edwards believes that Oasis offers something special being inside Carr Mill.
“I think we’re this hidden away, little pocket that people pass by and say, ‘Wait, who are you, how long have you been here?'” Edwards said. “But once people do discover (Oasis), they love it.”
While Oasis is serving coffee, all around the Mill the retail industry is also present. Love & Peace Boutique offers ethically sourced, handmade clothes and goods, many of which are from Nepal, Thailand and India.
“(Love & Peace Boutique) carries a lot of different things you won’t find everywhere you go, so it is kind of unique in (that) way,” said Nina Chellani, co-owner of the boutique.
Right across the hallway from Love & Peace Boutique is The Fragrance Shop. Walking in, the store is lined with fragrance bottles, all of which are pure perfume extract without any alcohol or fillers, according to Jennifer Mann, the manager and the daughter of the shop’s owners.
The Fragrance Shop, originally from Miami, boasts almost 50,000 followers on Facebook. They decided to move to Carrboro from the Charlotte area earlier this year because the aesthetic of Carr Mill fit right in with their store’s image.
“We just loved the whole area, and the feel of the mall itself just fit in with the style of the store,” Mann said.
Some visitors to Oasis are not old enough to drink coffee and may not be interested in clothes or perfume, but Ali Cat Toys offers something for both young shoppers, their parents and even UNC students to enjoy.
Irene Kesselman, owner of Ali Cat, said her shop helps plan birthday parties and wrap presents for working parents, and the store is always shaking it up.
“We’re constantly changing our stock, so we are bringing new and exciting things all the time,” Kesselman said. “We carry everything from baby to adult games and puzzles.”
These are just a handful of the diverse stores and restaurants currently operating in the Mill.
For many at Carr Mill Mall, each business contributes to the larger culture and a sense of community within the mall and for the town.
“The fact that it is an old mill, an old cotton mill, that has been renovated brings a lot of character to the town,” Chellani said.
Elmo’s Diner became an early business to open shop in the new Carr Mill Mall and has become a staple of the Carrboro restaurant scene. On its busy days, like during brunch times, many of the other stores benefit from the waiting line to get into the restaurant — each business contributes to the large culture.
“Especially on Sundays, when everyone is waiting in line at Elmo’s, they’ll come down (to Oasis) and order lattes,” Edwards said.
This isn’t unique to just the establishments that offer food and drink — Kesselman said her toy store benefits from the variety of business in Carr Mill Mall.
“I think it is an incredible destination because it is really a walking community and the parents like to make a day out of it, they’ll come here, they’ll play, maybe read a book and they will go get a slice of pizza and do their grocery shopping on the way home as well,” she said.
Weaver Street Market, one of the two grocery stores at the Mall, might be the most visible store in Carr Mill. It offers food, beverages and even Jazz Brunch! Weaver Street Market also owns the seating area facing Main Street and the rest of downtown Carrboro. Whether it is a normal weeknight or a day of events at the co-op, on any given evening, the outdoor seating area is filled with locals and visitors looking to spend time outside
While Carr Mill Mall contributes to the culture of the town, it also brings in tourism as people come to the see the old Mill, now listed in the National Registry of Historical Sites. Much of the weekday traffic is local, Edwards said, but on the weekends people from all over come to visit the Mill and her shop. Further, Mann said the Mill benefits from UNC, as many parents will stop by while visiting their children at school.
For Milian, all of the businesses, local folks and tourists coming together is what ultimately makes Carr Mill Mall special to the entirety of Carrboro.
“We provide services, we provide a place for people to come for entertainment, you know, we provide a sense of pride for the people of Carrboro for helping basically create a vibrant downtown,” Milian said.
“Downtown Carrboro is vibrant because of Carr Mill.”