Thursday, November 30, 2006

History of Hillsborough Street

With all the activity on Hillsborough Street today, many would be surprised to find out that the busy road is over 216 years old. The original corridor was established in 1792 as part of Raleigh's original design. Hillsborough Street is one of the four roads originally designated to radiate outward in the cardinal directions from Capital Square. It remains today as the only thoroughfare with an uninterrupted path to the Capitol. The early 1900s saw the development of the street into what it is today, as the expansion of North Carolina State University allowed for businesses to srping up along its northern border. Hillsborough Street has always played an important role in NCSU campus life, beginning with the trolley line on the street that connected the campus to downtown Raleigh. Since then, hundreds of businesses have come and gone on the street, and it has also served as a focal point for celebrations by both the city of Raleigh and NCSU. Today, the look of the street continues to change as NCSU and the city evaluate its status, but barring any major overhauls Hillsborough Street will continue to serve an important role in Raleigh life.


Hiking season is here

Pack your bags. Strap on your boots. Blaze a trail. It’s time to go hiking.
Every year as North Carolina State University’s graduation draws near, an old Hillsborough Street tradition starts to take shape. The tradition- The Hillsborough Hike.
This is no ordinary walk through the woods, however. This hike takes place on the last day of classes and involves graduating students attempting to make it from one end of Hillsborough Street to the other while stopping at every bar along the way and consuming one alcoholic beverage from each. Last year the event included food and music as well as the closing of some streets that intersect Hillsborough.
“I think that it is a great way to have one last hurrah and hang out with all your friends before you graduate. This is also one of the few times when there are a bunch of students out on Hillsborough Street at night,” Justin Jones, a senior in criminology said.
The tradition has grown over the last few years. It is no longer an event drawing out only the graduating seniors. Underclassmen have begun to take part in the event.
“I think all underclassmen have earned the right to participate in the Hillsborough Hike. This event should be for everyone. The university needs to stop taking away all our traditions and just let us have a good time,” Drew Wall, a sophomore in education said.
This last day of classes this semester is set for Dec. 8, so the flurry of hikers should begin to fill the street that Friday evening. Last spring semester, Durham radio station G105 covered the Hillsborough Hike, but there is no word yet if they will be there for this semester’s event.

A mere pony ride at El Rodeo

El Rodeo, at the corner of Chamberlain and Hillsborough streets, used to be my favorite Mexican restaurant. The wait staff was friendly. The chips and salsa were almost too good; it was easy to fill up on them before the meal. The chicken enchiladas tasted fresh and moist, and the rice was just spicy enough and very tender.
What happened? The place closed down after a fire, and when it reopened, the superb cook and familiar, smiling faces of the usual waiters were gone. I guess everyone moved on to other jobs.
On a recent Monday night the place was crowded, but my group was seated after a few moments. The best part of the dining experience was that the waiter was prompt with menus, water, chips and salsa. The worst part? The black beans tasted like grainy pellets of pure salt. Running a close second to worst was the basket of brown, overcooked chips. At least we weren’t already full when our dinner arrived. Not that it mattered much, because the best of the food was mediocre. Besides the black beans, my plate held mildly flavorful rice, a rubbery chicken enchilada and a decent spinach enchilada. The sauce was O.K.
The prices were just a little steeper than I’d remembered but still reasonable—or would be if the food tasted better. The average meal was about $7.00. A separate dessert menu offered fried ice cream for $3.25, plus cheesecake chimichanga and flan, but we’d had enough.
While we waited for the waiter to return with our check, I looked at the specialty drink menu. “Best Margaritas in Town” it claimed. That must be why the place was crowded. A “Regular” costs $7.25, and “Top Shelf” is $7.75. I wondered what difference 50 cents would make. Maybe I’ll return sometime and check it out—and then go somewhere else to eat. LJB

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Homelessness on Hillsborough Street

One of the last things I want to include, which was not reported on but is a real issue, is the homelessness on Hillsborough Street. During the day, I don’t notice the homeless people too much, but at night, it is a different story. Last year, I parked my car in the staff parking lot behind the bank where I worked, and I often got caught walking back to campus alone at night. On a number of occasions, homeless people would approach me and ask for money. Ironically, I would be walking out of the bank and tell them I didn’t have any on me, which was mostly true. I heard the most off-the-wall stories, and a lot of times I knew they must be made up. “I’m in town from New York and my car just broke down…do you have any money?” one man said. I tried to help them out as much as I could, but I had a hard time helping out people who said they wanted money for food when I could smell the alcohol on their breath. Otherwise, if I had money on me, I would always try to help them out a little bit. I remember being very afraid as I walked into the parking lot one Saturday night. I was going to get my car, when I noticed a man was sitting under a tree with a brown-bagged Budweiser. As soon as he saw me, he got up and started walking toward me. I just ran to my car, drove away and pretended I didn’t see him trying to approach me. “When we run for crew training in the wee morning hours, I see homeless men just laying on the benches beside the road,” Caroline Williams, a sophomore in Nutrition Sciences said.
The City of Raleigh has aligned with Wake County, Triangle United Way and the Wake Continuum of Care “to develop and implement a strategic action plan with the goal of ending and preventing homelessness.” The Greater Raleigh area accounts for more than 11.5 percent of people who are considered “at risk” by living below the poverty line. The project “Ending Homelessness: The 10-Year Action Plan” aims at improving impoverished conditions by the year 2015. For more information please visit:


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bell Tower provides symbol NCSU can identify with

On the far eastern side of North Carolina State University's campus sits its main symbol: the Memorial Bell Tower. The bell tower was initially built to honor the NC State alumni who perished in World War I, though it wasn't started until 1920. The Great Depression stalled efforts on construction, and it wasn't totally completed until 1937.

The 115-foot monument contains 1,400 tons of stone set on a 700-ton concrete base, and exceeded $150,000 in cost. Although 33 NC State alumni died in the war, the memorial plaque inside the base of the tower has 34 names written on it. One alumnus had wrongly been reported killed in action. His name, G. L. Jeffers, was changed to G. E. Jefferson to symbolize unknow soldiers at NCSU and elsewhere.

Just recently, red floodlights were installed around the bell tower. These illuminate the bell tower in red light on nights of events special to the University. According to the Chancellor's website, these include commencements, major athletic victories, honors convocation and the presentation of NCSU with various awards. The bell tower remains the primary symbol of NC State and a memorial to its own fallen soldiers.

Action postponed on Hillsborough Street plan

Once again, the Raleigh City Council has delayed voting on further funding for the redesign of Hillsborough Street. At its meeting this afternoon, the council had a full agenda and requested that Jeff Moore, a designer at the firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., simply present a brief response to some of the questions the council raised about the project at its last meeting.
In answering the question “What is the city getting?” Moore named: a safer street, increased parking, streetscape improvements such as lights, and the likelihood of increased economic development as Hillsborough Street becomes more of a destination.
A list of cities across the country, as well as the fact that Raleigh already has 35 roundabouts, was included in his response to questions about other areas that have implemented similar traffic controls. He gave statistics indicating many fewer accidents and increased economic tax revenue in Golden, Colorado, and other municipalities. Council member Jessie Taliaferro requested a more balanced report at the next presentation that includes information about similar projects that haven’t worked well.
“How will traffic flow be improved by the reduction in the number of lanes in each direction from two to one?” Moore used a video clip taken on Hillsborough Street to illustrate how in many instances as the street is now, traffic flow is reduced to one lane while buses stop for passengers and when vehicles have long waits to turn left onto side streets. With the new design, there will be ”pull out” areas for buses, and traffic will not be impeded. Roundabouts will eliminate left turns because traffic will flow around and to the right onto side streets. The redesign will “preserve the capacity of the corridor,” Moore said.
The council and audience had a good laugh at the firm’s video simulation of the traffic pattern at the existing Pullen Avenue roundabout. Vehicles were moving smoothly at constant speed when a virtual pedestrian suddenly crossed at a crosswalk and the approaching car seemed to stop just in the nick of time. Certainly, real drivers and pedestrians will need to pay attention in order for safety to be enhanced.
The council will discuss and intends to take action on the Hillsborough Street plan at its next meeting, Tuesday Dec. 5, said Mayor Charles Meeker.


A different vision for Hillsborough Street

The other day, I was brainstorming how Hillsborough Street could conquer new markets. Hillsborough Street merchants have shown their commitment and interest in providing eateries and retail service shops. Most stores on Hillsborough Street have customer traffic generated by students from North Carolina State University. In order to bring in new market segments, Hillsborough Street has to offer more than just a place to go eat. Development plans for Hillsborough Street’s future are still underway, but an item that should be on the Raleigh City Council’s agenda is way to develop more parking areas. Before this can occur, merchants need to put in different types of stores that would attract outside customers. Parking at other University campuses’ main-street-attractions can be found on neighboring streets. In contrast, behind NCSU’s main thoroughfare, Hillsborough Street, cars from the residential housing district occupy the streets. Currently, the only places students can rent to live in, are houses. Often times, house rent is beyond what the average student is willing or able to pay. Affordable apartment housing would be another wonderful way to venture beyond what is already offered on Hillsborough Street.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Head on down to IHOP

Where can you go to find a hot cup of coffee, steaming hot pancakes and all the college football gossip you can handle? Just make your way down to IHOP, an acronym standing for the International House of Pancakes.
I recently had the opportunity to eat breakfast at the IHOP on Hillsborough Street. I must say that I was impressed. The only trouble that I had with the place was the ability to find a parking spot. As soon as I walked in the door, I saw that all the seats were full. I did not know if I wanted to stay but the host said that the wait would only be about 10 minutes. He was right. With about 10 seconds to spare, I was off to my booth. The waiter attended to me quickly and had my drink order out in about two minutes. For my meal, I ordered the Breakfast Sampler Plate. It was in front of me in about 10 minutes. The food was cooked to perfection. I like my eggs a certain way before I can consider them just right and I can honestly say that these were just right; they were sunny side up and just a little runny.
My Wolfpack hat must have given me away. I had three different people reassure me how bad it was that we lost to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We also discussed how good Ohio State University was and how there was no one else in college football that could compete with them. One man even said that they could probably beat several NFL teams. I had to agree with him.
When I was finished, I looked at my bill and noticed that it was about $8, which is expensive for me for breakfast. Come on though. Where else can you go on Hillsborough Street first thing in the morning for great food and great times? I was thoroughly impressed with IHOP and would definitely recommend it to any North Carolina State University student.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Piccolo Gelato

Silvia D’Italia Gelato Café anchors the Electric Company building at the northeast corner of Hillsborough and Pogue Streets. On a warm evening during the middle of the week, one customer was at the counter when my two companions and I walked in about 8:30. We surveyed the 24 flavors of gelato, an Italian frozen dessert similar to ice cream but denser and more strongly flavored. The serving clerk said 50 flavors are made, but they are not all available at once. Some have ordinary names like chocolate, strawberry or peanut butter. Others are more exotic delights to tickle one’s taste buds: mango, hazelnut and lemon ice. A few are difficult to pronounce, such as zabagione, which is a mustard-colored concoction also known as wine custard, and stracciatella, or Romeo and Juliet, which is white cream with slivers of Italian dark chocolate.
I chose the seasonal pumpkin spice; my buddies selected hazelnut and chocolate hazelnut. Each is delicious, but the prices are a bit steep. A piccolo (extra small) costs $1.99, and a large, which I can’t imagine being able to finish—not because it is a huge amount but because the stuff is so rich—will set a poor customer back nearly four dollars.
The café’s menu also includes reasonably priced Italian sandwiches called panini, as well as salads, coffees and cocoa, and assorted cold drinks, including a variety of Italian sodas. There is even a kid’s menu with peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese or ham and cheese.
The café walls are painted in warm shades of peach, orange and muted yellow-tan. Funky lights that look like flying saucers hang over the gelato bins and another case, which holds trays of cookies, cheesecake and muffins.
Seating is limited inside, with two small, round tables and an L-shaped counter with bar stools. Outside are several metal tables and many stackable plastic seats. The clerks working that night were attentive and efficient but not talkative. The place was clean, with a health rating of 98.5 posted behind the counter.
Three things about the experience struck a minor chord. A small Sticky Note on the cash register informs customers that there is a $5 minimum for credit or debit purchases and that purchases under $5 will be charged a 40-cent surcharge. Also, the freezer fan roared on and off every couple of minutes, making it difficult to converse. The café’s hours are somewhat odd. It is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m., and Sundays noon until 10:30 p.m.
I plan to return to Silvia D’Italia Gelato Café to try a sandwich or a salad, and I doubt I’ll be able to resist a piccolo gelato. LJB

Hookah on Hillsborough

Just across from the D. H. Hill Library is a small, inconspicuous red building. While its look might imply a run-down old restaurant, Marrakesh Café is far from that; it’s a hookah bar, and with the closing of Maanjri Lounge earlier this year, it’s the only one on Hillsborough Street. A hookah is, according to the Marrakesh website, an “ancient water pipe invented by the Turks over 500 years ago.” A small amount of flavored tobacco is inserted at its top, and at the bottom a chamber of water acts as a cooling filter. Pipes extending from its middle are used to smoke the tobacco. Unlike cigarettes; however, nicotine intake is minimum, since the water filters most of it out. As a result, hookah smoking is considerably less dangerous and addictive than regular smoking.

Marrakesh is set up with the Middle Eastern origin of the hookah in mind. The walls are adorned with many Arabic decorations and ornamental lights hang from the ceiling. Customers sit on low cushions and smoke from hookahs set on small tables. The lights are dimmed, and on busy nights the air is thick with smoke. Contemporary dance music from the Middle East usually plays loudly from the speakers overhead. Marrakesh offers a variety of tobacco flavors, from apple to licorice, though most are fruit-flavored. For $6.00, two people can share one hookah. In addition, Marrakesh also sells a variety of Turkish foods, as well as personal hookahs.

The café is open from ten in the morning until midnight or later on every day of the week besides Sunday, on which it opens at 5 p.m. and closes at midnight. Overall, it doesn’t get too busy until after 9 p.m. When it does get busy; however, it’s not uncommon to see the floor completely packed. Marrakesh features a belly dancer every Saturday night at 10 p.m., which is typically the busiest time of the entire week. While most of Marrakesh’s customers are Middle Eastern in ethnicity, it’s not uncommon to see people of all backgrounds enjoying the atmosphere of the place.


Hillsborough Street is Memory Lane to some

For years, Hillsborough Street has been a landmark associated with North Carolina State University. For many who have attended school here, it is much more than that.
Karen Poehler, a 1985 graduate from NCSU said, “Every time I come back to State I always have to go to Hillsborough Street and eat at Two Guys restaurant. I loved to eat there when I was a student at State and I love to eat there now. The atmosphere hasn’t changed much.”
Although Two Guys remains a popular restaurant on Hillsborough Street, many others have come and gone over the years. Brothers, a restaurant that used to rest beside Two Guys, was shut down a few years ago. Last year, Q-Shack, a popular student hang-out, was shut down and replaced with Raleigh Joe’s. A popular new feature that Hillsborough Street has to offer is the cereal restaurant Bowls.
“When I came down here for parents’ orientation in 2005, I hardly recognized the place. Most of the businesses that were here when I went to school were gone. Hillsborough Street has really changed since I went to school at State,” said Rick Livingston, a 1982 NCSU graduate.
Not only the restaurants and businesses make Hillsborough Street what it is. University events have helped shape the history of the road as well.
“The campus and the street were one big party when I was down here after we won the national championship in 1983. That is one night that no State fan will ever forget; especially those of us who were down here at the time,” Poehler said.
With new traffic ideas and new establishments moving in each semester, Hillsborough Street is facing some major changes. However, to NCSU students, Hillsborough Street will forever rest in their minds synonymously with the university.
“I have had some good times with my friends on Hillsborough Street. East Village and I Love New York Pizza are great places to hang out with friends. I will always remember my times on Hillsborough Street as part of my overall college experience,” said Josh Kirbo, a freshman in electrical engineering.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Skip the classifieds and head for 'The Street'

Depending on the interests of particular students, there is a good mix of jobs available for students right on Hillsborough Street. There are a lot of opportunities available for students to work in restaurants as waiters and hosts. To name a few, there is Melvin’s, Applebee’s or higher end places, such as Porter’s and Frazier’s. “I enjoy working on Hillsborough Street because I can just walk there right after class, and I don’t have to deal with parking or traffic,” said Daniella Wartner, a waitress at Melvin’s. The array of jobs on Hillsborough Street offers more than just a place for students to earn money. There are many jobs that coincide with a field or industry and majors offered at NC State University. For example, I work at the State Employee’s Credit Union across from NC State’s College of Management building even though I am not majoring in finance or accounting. A graphic design major could work for Progressive Graphics Inc.; a Construction Engineering major could work for Sparrow Construction Inc. So, whether you need a place to spend your time out of class, or you are in search of valuable work experience, you can start by looking on Hillsborough Street.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Homecoming parade a disappointment

Crowded streets, screaming spectators, sunny skies- these are the sights and sounds that normally accompany a parade. However, this year’s homecoming parade proved to be quite the opposite.
I had a great view of the entire parade from the bed of a Ford F-250 pulling my club’s float. The view that I took in was troubling. The street was not as crowded as it was in previous years. The skies were not sunny- because it was dark outside. I understand the reasoning behind having the parade at night from an effects standpoint. I understand that the organizers thought it would be cool to have lighted floats in the parade. This is all well and good, but did you think about the effects this would have on the crowd? No one wants to sit in the cold… at night. I applaud whoever thought to bring bleachers to line the sidewalks. The only problem with those was that they were empty.
Another thing about this year’s parade that troubled me was the poor advertising prior to the event. Some local radio stations said that the parade was supposed to be on Thursday. I had people in a panic calling me all day Thursday wondering what was going on. Where did the radio stations get Thursday from?
This year’s parade was larger than ever as far as the number of floats participating. Maybe next year, let’s try to have the largest parade in terms of people coming to watch. Make homecoming a little earlier in the year when temperatures are warmer and the time has not changed yet so it will not be dark when the parade takes place; and if you are going to advertise, do it correctly. I mean, come on; aren’t parades supposed to be for the people watching them?


Bookstores on Hillsborough Street offer alternatives to students

Trying to save money on textbooks? Many NC State University students are buying new and used books on Hillsboorough Street. Of the many shops and restaurants across from NCSU's main campus, two offer books with prices comparable to the University bookstore. These are "Packbackers" near the Dan Allen Drive and Hillsborough Street intersection, and "Hillsborough Street Textbooks" across from Ricks Hall. Some students claim that they can find better prices for textbooks at these stores than on campus. However, a comparison of several textbook prices shows that, overall, no one store has better deals than the others. Packbackers offers online textbook ordering, whereas Hillsborough Street Textbooks does not. While both stores offer a variety of merchandise besides textbooks, Hillsborough Street Textbooks has a larger selection. Both stores will buy back sold books at the end of the semester. Ultimately, both stores, along with the campus bookstore, have mostly the same offers, but they continue to offer a variety of options when it comes times for students to buy textbooks.


Redesign discussion continues

The Raleigh City Council decided Tuesday to postpone action on the Hillsborough Street redesign plan until its next meeting Nov. 21, giving the council, the Hillsborough Street Partnership, and North Carolina State University officials more time to review the revisions that have been made by the project’s design firm since the public meeting that was held Oct. 4.
The project being considered includes two phases, corresponding to two sections of Hillsborough Street. Both plans include one lane of traffic in each direction, a raised center median, and parking on both sides of the street. Plan A affects the section between Gardner Street and Logan Court, with roundabouts placed at Horne Street and Logan. Plan B includes modifications from Enterprise Street to Oberlin Road, with a roundabout at Pullen Road and an extension of Pullen to Oberlin. The changes are designed to slow traffic and add buffer space for parking in order to increase safety and make the street more attractive. The council may approve one, both, or neither of the plans for further development by the design team.
Some council members expressed concern that roundabouts might diminish the street’s capacity for increased traffic. Other questions pertained to adequate parking and funding for the plan. Council member Thomas Crowder encouraged the council to recognize that this project is “not about roundabouts” but is a bold vision of the redevelopment of Hillsborough Street as a people-friendly public place that will draw not only NCSU students and faculty but people from in and around Raleigh to meet, shop, dine and enjoy the area.