East Franklin Street’s Evolution: From Edward to Enterprise


By Laurie Paolicelli

Edward Danziger was a noted confectioner before arriving in the U.S. in 1939.

Since 1793 when it was founded, the only thing that hasn’t changed in Chapel Hill is its name. Imagine, for instance, what Chapel Hill was like before the Danziger family arrived in the early 1940s. Danziger brought a taste of the Old World to Chapel Hill and launched a fine-dining empire that educated local palates and championed civil rights. Danziger was a noted confectioner before arriving in the U.S. in 1939. He owned a candy factory in Vienna and five stores throughout Europe but left the businesses to avoid possible internment in a Nazi concentration camp. “Papa D,” as he was known here, arrived in Chapel Hill thanks to a $500 grant from the local Quaker community, and Danziger’s Old World Candy Shop opened on East Franklin Street, selling house-made confections, pastries, coffee, and sodas. Later they opened the Ram’s Head Rathskeller, better known as “The Rat.” The town would never be the same again.

Fast forward a few decades and East Franklin Street is poised for another reinvention: an enterprise zone with Chapel Hill and UNC working together on a new wet lab that will prepare this college town for the future.

UNC Chancellor Guskiewicz and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger announced a joint development strategy, led by Innovate Carolina, UNC’s department for entrepreneurship and economic development, and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

Their plan includes thousands of square feet of new offices and commercial lab space on East Rosemary Street, rising just behind Sutton’s Drug Store, the Shrunken Head Boutique, and the Franklin Street post office. UNC’s admissions office will move there, and its 50,000 annual guests will visit the office building on the south side of Franklin Street near the Carolina Coffee Shop along Porthole Alley. Downtown streets and sidewalks will get an overhaul in 2023 to accommodate more pedestrians, green space, outdoor dining, and retail shops.

Matt Gladdek, who oversaw Durham’s downtown development plan before coming to Chapel Hill, pointed to the growth of commercial “wet-lab” space in Durham as a key element for business investment there. Wet labs are specially engineered facilities that can safely handle chemicals, tissue cultures and other biological materials that are requirements for companies in the life-sciences industry.

Low-cost lab space, with shared equipment and short-term leases, has contributed to the growth of biotechnology startups working on everything from more accurate cancer detection to better water purification. Durham has more than a million square feet of off-campus commercial wet-lab space. Chapel Hill has none. “A lot of those people are locating [in Durham] to have proximity to Duke and Duke faculty and access to well-educated people who will work in those jobs,” Gladdek said.

“That’s what we want to see in Chapel Hill.”

Entrepreneurial energy is the future of downtown Chapel Hill,

“Downtown just really didn’t have the bones to support the University’s aspirations for innovation,” said Dwight Bassett, Economic Development Director for the Town of Chapel Hill. “The old Bank of America tower has been gutted, and its exterior is now sheathed in sleek glass panels. It will house co-working space where entrepreneurs can rent desks or small offices by the month, and where University leaders hope national firms might open offices to be closer to Carolina faculty and recent graduates.”

The old Bank of America tower, gutted and its exterior now sheathed in sleek glass panels, will house co-working space where entrepreneurs can rent by the month fully equipped desks or small offices and where university leaders hope national firms might open offices to be closer to Carolina faculty and recent graduates. University officials have pitched the idea of alumni setting up shop in the co-working space or having a remote office when they visit Chapel Hill.

The planned lab space on East Rosemary Street is designed to put larger-scale facilities within walking distance of campus. BioLabs, the private company that will manage much of the space, already runs similar facilities in Princeton, New Jersey; New Haven, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Durham.

UNC Admissions, currently housed in Jackson Hall on the eastern edge of campus, may help sustain a more diverse mix of stores and restaurants. It will be quite the place. But it’s true: the Danzigers of 1940 would not recognize the Franklin Street of today. Every generation leaves its mark. Regardless of what it looks like Franklin Street remains as iconic in the university world as Wall Street is in the world of finance, or Abbey Road is in the world of musical history. 

Change happens in ways we may find strange, and resist; then, in recollection, realize how our lives were made bigger because of them. The Danzigers forever changed the way Chapel Hillians thought about food itself. The Rat and the Candy Shop are gone, but what has remained is the aura of history itself. Buildings and place names may disappear, but the memory of those who knew them lives on. Time is fragile and enduring. Today’s Chapel Hill leaders will forever change the way Chapel Hillians gather on Franklin Street. We look forward to it, because the future is all we have.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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