That began to change in 1998, when a local organization started recruiting artists and musicians to open galleries and stores in the vacant properties. It worked. The arts district drew visitors from around the city.
When she and Tyson opened Sweet Potatoes, Joiner says, they didn’t place a single ad. By the second day, they had filled their restaurant.
After my meal, I stopped at a local bead store for an impromptu jewelry-making lesson, then visited Inter-Section Gallery, an avant-garde exhibition space with artist housing on the second floor.
Illustrated haikus mimicking the sparse pen-and-ink Asian calligraphy hung from the walls. In one, a simple painting of a luscious peach is accompanied by these words:
A thumb and finger
slip into her mouth
the last bite
Afterward, I stopped for a coffee at Krankies, a local coffee shop/bar/music venue/art space housed in an old warehouse where musicians once squatted. Today, Krankies is a sprawling cafe that roasts its own coffee in a gas-fired drum roaster (handmade in Greece). But it hasn’t lost track of its Bohemian roots: Live bands play in the back yard, and the shop routinely releases compilation CDs featuring local artists.
On my second day, I decided to hunt down the city’s more historical offerings.
I started at Dewey’s Bakery, which opened in 1930 and draws its inspiration from the city’s German and Moravian roots. The bakery is famous for its sugar cakes and cheese straws.
“It’s all about showcasing the spices,” explained Dewey’s president, Brooke Smith. “Moravian baking highlights its coveted ingredients.”
Next, I headed to Old Salem. After snagging some brochures from the visitors center, I wandered over a covered bridge into the town, a 100-acre historic district.
Becolumned brick houses dot the streets around the central square; costumed interpreters are sometimes on hand to forge arms or explain how early settlers used their gardens for food and medicine.
I also stopped by “God’s Acre,” the colloquial name for a Moravian graveyard, a reverent homage to the city’s three centuries of history. Identical flat white stones mark every grave; in keeping with tradition, men are buried on one side, women on the other.
The Old Salem Museum and Gardens offers a handful of lively exhibits and artistic creations crafted by early residents of the town.
It’s one more reminder of the town’s artistic history. Perhaps not so much has changed after all.