ARTS & CULTURE; COMMUNITY
By Diana Newton
Old abandoned gas stations dot many a country road around here – the kind where old men used to gather by the wood stove to “swap lives” and smoke by the hour. One of these was the old Texaco station known as Tripp’s Store on Mount Carmel Church Road in Chapel Hill. When she was a little girl, Tracy Kilpatrick’s grandfather allowed her an occasional stop there for candy. Decades later, Kilpatrick recognized that with some ingenuity, the empty old station still had the potential to bring people together. In 2019 she bought it with the idea that folks would stop in and discover an easygoing, welcoming space that could be used flexibly.
Tracy Kilpatrick is a longtime casting director for television and feature films, including an Emmy win for the HBO mini-series “John Adams” in 2009. Her first idea was to hold acting classes in the store. At that same time, Danielle Lyn, a talented young woman whom Kilpatrick had previously cast several times, decided to leave the exhaustion of looking for work in New York City. After helping Kilpatrick do some casting work in New Orleans, she moved to Chapel Hill. Together they founded the acting school Connecting The Actor To Truth. Since then, Kilpatrick has become “like an adoptive mother” to Lyn as the pair merge creative ideas to connect the community and the store.
Pivoting during the pandemic and union strikes
When an opportunity to hold an art show at Tripp’s Store was presented in 2019, the pair painted the outside with bright colors and sayings and began cleaning out the inside. But the pandemic roared in, followed by strikes of writers’ and actors’ unions, disrupting possibilities for several years.
With commitment and adaptability, Kilpatrick and Lynn have continued to allow Tripp’s Store to evolve since reopening. Outside, they set up a Little Free Library, then another one just for children’s books. They added a Little Free Pantry to help stave off food poverty. Next, they envision a Little Free Art Gallery joining the mix of generosity for those who pull off the road and can fill a need from their Little Free shelves.
They also created their own line of upcycled clothing known as Authentissimo, which Kilpatrick hand embroiders. She finds satisfaction in reworking items that are made “from the good stuff,” such as denim and linen materials. Unlike today’s throw-away, mass-fabricated clothing, they were built to last.
Entering Tripp’s Store today is like walking into a comfy living room that doubles as an emporium. The walls are covered with folk art paintings and eclectic finds – from a painted telephone to a penguin statue covered with bottle caps to a PeeWee Herman doll peeking over the back of the sofa. Kilpatrick also curates a selection of vintage clothing, hats, and jewelry.
Customers do wander in – coming and going from the hospital, on outings from Carolina Meadows, or driven by curiosity about what might be in that funky little building by the road. Sheree Spence of Cary saw a reference to Tripp’s Store on Facebook and invited her friend JoAnne Bryce to come along. Spence said, “We wanted to do something bright on a winter’s day.” Byrce added, “So here we are, having an adventure!”
Lyn and Kilpatrick have developed symbiotic roles. Kilpatrick is the creator and curator; Lynn is the digital dynamo. Despite the store’s laidback appearance, their digital footprint is strong on social media and e-commerce. As Lyn points out, “It is no longer a question of why we’re here and what we’re doing. We’re taking events into Carrboro, inviting people to help stock the food pantry and bring books and materials they’re not utilizing for art so they can share and help foster community, especially after the pandemic.”
Recent Instagram and Facebook posts for Tripp’s Store announced the inauguration of Art Club, where local artists can meet under the heated tent at 401 Main in Carrboro, get creative and have fun. Tracy explained, “Often artists are so singular that they don’t actually have the opportunity to share what they’re working on or maybe be inspired by someone else. It’s being part of something. If they want to draw, doodle, play their spoons, whatever, they can.”
As Art Club gets traction, it will likely grow and evolve, just as the collections of colorful stuff and colorful people stopping at Tripp’s Store have.
Diana Newton is a coach, facilitator, filmmaker, writer, artist, yoga teacher and general Renaissance woman. Her documentary film, The Ties That Bind, is available for streaming on UNC-TV. She lives in Carrboro and is a UNC alum.