Winthrop students see glimmers of hope in the Changes on Cherry Road

Cupps opened last month across the street from Winthrop's high-rise residence halls.
Cupps opened last month across the street from Winthrop's high-rise residence halls.

When students return this month for a new semester at Winthrop University, they'll find signs of progress on Cherry Road close to campus.

Old standbys such as Scandal's and The Money are still around, but they've been joined by three newcomers -- as well as the anticipation of an organic foods store.

• Cupps coffee shop opened in July across from the school's high-rise residence halls, hoping to attract coffee and gourmet food lovers.

• Next door, Taco Bueno opened in May as a cheap-food option popular with the college crowd.

• Down the street at Evergreen Lane, Luigi Pizza & Spaghetti House soon will open in the old Steak n' Hoagie shop.

The highest-profile addition, however, is at least a few months away. Earth Fare plans to open in the old Harris Teeter location at Winthrop Commons early next year, after as much as $1 million in renovations. The store has not yet made an official announcement, but sources have told The Herald a deal is close.

The hope is that these additions will contribute to Winthrop's quest to cultivate a college-town atmosphere and shed the "suitcase school" label that has dogged it for years. Many students complain of having few places to hang out around town. Others say they drive to Charlotte for entertainment.

"There have been times when I've wanted to go off-campus, but I didn't want to waste my gas," said rising sophomore Nathan Evers. "If it's any good, we'll definitely be going to it."

One place students won't be going is the Dawg Pound, a bar planned in the former Time Out restaurant across from campus. Winthrop student Stefanie Johns acquired the property in 2005 as a Christmas present from her father, Columbia businessman B.J. Johns. But last summer, B.J. Johns died after an illness, and the plans fell through.

Now, weeds are growing in the parking lot, and the building remains shuttered. Johns' family is trying to lease it to another restaurant or bar.

"We haven't really been able to get any interest other than phone calls here and there," said Theresa Johns, Stefanie's mother. "Something needs to be done with it."

No car, few options

Harris Teeter's departure in November left students without a place to walk to for weekly shopping, creating a particularly frustrating problem for those who don't have cars on campus.

"When Harris Teeter closed, it was kind of like, 'Where are they supposed to go?'" said Kristin Malone, a rising senior. "They would have to wait until their roommate wanted to go shopping -- if their roommate had a car."

That's why students are likely to welcome Earth Fare, the Asheville, N.C.-based organic grocer. Stores typically include food and salad bars with a seating area.

From a long-term standpoint, Winthrop leaders envision the nearby Textile Corridor as a future destination for students. But restaurants and shops won't be ready for at least another two to four years.

That's why the businesses open now are aiming to deliver more immediate benefits.

"I've had at least five people come in and say, 'We wish there was a coffee shop here when we were students,'" Cupps owner Chuck Robinson said. "And we've had a lot of support from professors. They're pretty happy we're targeting students and selling not just junk, but pretty decent food."