Many people who live in Durham now don’t remember the days when our downtown was a sleepy no-man’s-land with empty storefronts and lonely sidewalks.
These days, the sidewalks are bustling. People live right inside the downtown loop (or just outside of it). Folks are walking to work in the morning and to restaurants and bars in the evening. And more people than ever are working downtown, even if they don’t live there. In 2016, Yvette West and her family decided to add an essential piece to Durham’s changing landscape – a full-service urban market. Downtown Durham’s very own bodega.
When I walk into Bulldega on a sunny, pre-spring day in February, I’m met with a lively energy: Ali Farka Toure on the speakers, fresh coffee brewing, and colorful produce from local farms being arranged in stacks. With exposed brick walls and six-foot windows, the 2,500 square foot space feels open, but still packs in a lot of inventory. In a sunlit corner at the back of the shop, I sit down with William Drake – Bulldega’s official produce manager and one of the unofficial idea men - over a cup of locally roasted coffee. Will fills me in on the many hats Bulldega is wearing in downtown Durham.
First, Bulldega is a local grocer in what was once essentially a food desert. Today, if you live downtown and need the ingredients to whip together tonight’s dinner – say, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, eggs, pasta, and artichokes (oh, and some toilet paper because you just ran out), you don’t have to get in your car and head out to some superstore on 15-501. You can simply walk down the street and get everything you need in one (very charming) spot.
Second, Bulldega is a purveyor of local goods. Need some tasty microgreens and a juicy tomato for tonight’s salad? Bulldega has ‘em, and they were grown at Green Panda Farms (in Siler City) and Sunburst Tomatoes (in Nash County, NC). Bulldega also carries Bull City Candles, Fillaree (zero waste sustainable soaps), Brood Sodas, Home:bucha Kombucha, Full Flower Herbs, Guglehupf pastries, and Joe Van Gogh coffee – and that’s just naming a few! This urban market is all about keeping dollars in Durham by supporting local artists and entrepreneurs.
Finally, Bulldega is a community meeting place. Take in the work of local artists during Third Friday Durham, mingle over wine at Bulldega’s weekly wine tasting (each Friday from 5pm – 7pm), or chat with friends and neighbors over your morning coffee and pastry. And because Bulldega’s storefront is on City Hall Plaza, they’ve become City Hall’s unofficial coffee shop, which makes their coffee delicious, local, and civic-minded.
Bulldega is Durham’s new front porch – a spot where visitors and residents alike can get a feel for the real Durham, created by the folks who’ve seen it’s revival from the very beginning.
From my front porch to yours,