They grew up in Fort Mill. Dreamed of their own shop in Fort Mill. Turned family into coworkers and clients into family in Fort Mill.
Then Fort Mill changed.
Now they are, too.
“Shock,” Hot Heads Hair Salon co-owner Monique Kilpatrick said of customer reaction to her shop closing. “Everybody's just in shock that we're having to move. We've cried over it. We’ve stressed over it. And then we just realized that God has a plan, always.”
Hot Heads, open a decade either at its current Tom Hall Street location or one right beside it, will close April 1. Kilpatrick will move to Beyond Measure on Carolina Place Drive. Her sister and co-owner Heatherly Holbrook, along with Alex Belk, are moving up the road to The Cutting Room on Main Street. Elisa Davis is heading to Halo Salon on Academy Street.
It wasn’t the end Kilpatrick wanted for her dream of her own shop. When they found out their building was being sold Kilpatrick and Holbrook looked elsewhere. They soon realized the deals they came to in the past, reasonable rent and month-to-month payments without a contract, were just that — Fort Mill’s past.
“We couldn't find any place to rent that was anywhere close to what we were paying,” Kilpatrick said. “We wanted to stay together, but the costs were just too high. We kind of got out (priced).”
She said none of the available options were under $2,500 a month and thus too pricey.
Hot Heads isn’t alone.
Commercial change is coming all up the Tom Hall corridor. Long-time Fort Mill Chinese restaurant Ocean Palace has been closed for a while now and still has “for sale” signs in the windows across the street. The land beside Hot Heads and its 415 Tom Hall St. building are for sale, while space is for lease across the street at Fort Mill Financial Center.
The mile of Tom Hall from Hot Heads to Springfield Parkway includes a house and commercial property for sale, property for lease, a home/office space for rent and signs for another property sold already, most at main intersections. The Tom Hall and Springfield intersection alone has a QuikTrip about to open, a site being redeveloped and zoned for a medical building and the recreation complex site run by the Anne Springs Close Greenway, which has been the topic of redevelopment discussion for several years.
Less than a mile more to the Lancaster County line brings five more commercial properties for sale, lease or under construction on a traditionally residential corridor.
It’s also less than a mile in the opposite direction from Hot Heads to Main Street, where commercial projects include a recent three-tenant building across from Hardee’s and ongoing redevelopment of several Main storefronts to office, commercial and restaurant uses.
Shaw Kuester with Kuester Management Group, the company behind multiple projects in the Main Street area, said there are a variety of factors bringing new business not just to Fort Mill, but throughout the Carolinas where his companies operate. A major port in Charleston and airport in Charlotte are big for businesses. One interstate, I-77, runs through Fort Mill while another, I-485, is accessible by two points nearby.
That’s before anyone even gets to the school district and area amenities like the greenway.
“Everybody in the country wants to be here,” Kuester said. “We’re taking calls as far away as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle.”
Commercial tax rates aren’t any cheaper here than in Charlotte, but there are employment tax and other incentives to cross the state line which factored into major companies like LPL Financial and The Lash Group choosing Fort Mill. As a Charlotte native who moved with his business here two decades ago, Kuester said he understands the appeal some business owners are finding now in reverse commuting, going against heavy traffic each day by living in Charlotte and working in Fort Mill.
“They can work in Fort Mill and it’s somewhat easier to get to Fort Mill, for now,” Kuester said.
As more large companies come, it only makes the area more attractive for smaller ones. Kuester said his group doesn’t currently have retail inventory and has little office opportunities, due to demand.
“It’s like Fort Mill is on a microscope, and everybody is focusing in here which is why this area is really on fire,” he said.
That fire made it a little too warm for Hot Heads, but Kilpatrick understands the situation. She expected change when long-time building owner Bob Hill died a couple of years ago. She doesn’t blame his family for looking to sell any more than other property owners in the area. It’s part of living in a vibrant, growing area, she said.
“Who wouldn't want the money if someone's offering it to you?” Kilpatrick asked rhetorically.
Still, it’s tough for a small town shop.
Kilpatrick has a friend at her new location who helped get her there, where Kilpatrick will be the ninth stylist on-board. All the Hot Heads staff are going somewhere big enough to take someone else on, even if for a rented booth. Large salons may be able to pay higher rents, but places like Hot Heads find it difficult.
"We're just a little shop,” Kilpatrick said. “We don't charge what they charge in Baxter."
She still loves Fort Mill. Lots of people do, or there wouldn’t be so much demand to live and work here. It’s part of the good and bad balance. Kilpatrick wishes the tradeoff for a burgeoning Fort Mill weren’t her business. It’s still a great place, she said, only a different one than the Fort Mill she knew.
"That was sad for me to see the small town feel — Fort Mill is growing and it’s changing — but that small town feel is gone, and we're gone with it," she said.