Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles about new businesses that have opened in former crack houses on South Lee Street in the city’s entertainment district.
SALISBURY — From crack houses to an upscale cigar shop and casual dining restaurant, two 140-year-old cottages on South Lee Street have re-emerged after a five-year effort to save, restore and reuse the structures as viable businesses.
Located in the city’s entertainment district near the back of City Hall, the Victorian cottages were eyesores and magnets for illicit activity. The Salisbury Police Department knew the troubled properties well.
The houses gave a poor first impression of the city.
“Those houses were some of the first houses you saw coming down Lee Street to City Hall,” said Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc. and a former City Council member. “… People jokingly called them crack houses, but there’s nothing funny about it.”
The cottages have been transformed into The Perfect Smoke at 213 S. Lee St. and Emma’s of Salisbury next door at 209 S. Lee St., near the strategic downtown corner of South Lee and East Fisher streets, across from the Norvell Theater.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. bought the house that became The Perfect Smoke, using the revolving property fund sponsored by F&M Bank. The Salisbury Community Development Corporation purchased the cottage that turned into Emma’s.
Randy Hemann with Downtown Salisbury and Chanaka Yatawara with the Community Development Corp. worked together to come up with a plan for the properties. The goal, Lewis said, was to use government grants to help get the homes into private hands for redevelopment.
Salisbury landed a $42,000 Main Street Solutions grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce to help pay for the $125,000 rehabilitation of The Perfect Smoke building. Another $70,000 Main Street Solutions grant helped Emma’s move into the matching cottage.
The rejuvenation of the East Fisher Street area, including the award-winning transformation of a pool hall into the Norvell Theater, was instrumental in landing grants and attracting business owners to take on the cottage renovations, Lewis said.
Owner Darren Moody says his cottage is the perfect fit for The Perfect Smoke.
“It was a very good choice,” he said. “I just like the whole package.”
Moody looked at several locations in the Kannapolis area, where he lives, but kept coming back to the cottage. He bought the former home from Downtown Salisbury for $95,000.
The only upscale cigar shop between Greensboro and Charlotte, The Perfect Smoke features a 100-square-foot humidor in the middle of the shop — a former hallway now enclosed, lined with cedar and maintained at 70 percent humidity and 70 degrees.
“I liked the way this place was laid out, making the humidor a central part of the business,” Moody said.
Moody’s cigars range from it’s-a-boy novelty stogies to a brand that retails for $28 a pop. He offers about 30 different brands of hand-rolled cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras.
David Canupp of Charlotte, who’s been smoking cigars for about 30 years, said The Perfect Smoke is the best cigar shop he’s frequented.
“It’s head and shoulders above the others,” said Canupp, who was smoking a $9.95 Coronado by La Flor on a recent afternoon. “Anybody can come in here and sit down and feel at home and accepted.”
While some cigar shops are stuffy and elitist, The Perfect Smoke is welcoming and comfortable, Canupp said. The patrons are friendly and down-to-earth, and Moody offers an excellent selection, he said.
The shop’s one-year anniversary last month attracted more than 200 people, most of whom were smoking. Moody said his $7,000 extraction system, which pulls smoky air out of the cottage and pumps in fresh air, keeps the shop from becoming smoke-filled, even with a large crowd.
Moody turned four rooms of the former house into lounges, each with a different theme — hunting and fishing, golf, trains and library. Moody offers coffee and soft drinks, as well as climate-controlled lockers for members. He just leased his last one.
“I’m feeling very good about the business,” he said. “I’ve got a great client base and we still have new faces that we will convert over to regular customers.”
Like other new downtown businesses Go Burrito, Gritz and Nashville Nights, The Perfect Smoke features a mural by artist Mike Wigal.
Moody’s wife, who is a cardiac nurse, helped him decorate the shop. Gray Stout was the architect for both The Perfect Smoke and Emma’s, and Tim Klaus of Talk Enterprises served as general contractor for both projects as well.
Moody tipped his hat to assistant manager Jeff Watkins, his only employee, who also works at Noble and Kelsey Funeral Home. The Salisbury native “knows absolutely everyone” Moody said.
“A lot of our success is due to Jeff,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.