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Benchwarmers owner plans restaurant, second-floor balcony

SALISBURY — Benchwarmers owner Todd Littleton said he plans a $500,000 makeover of the Mowery Building on East Fisher Street, including a new restaurant and second-story balcony.
The building stands in the heart of the city’s entertainment district on what some refer to as “brick street.” Littleton, who recently bought the building from Juanita Ramsey, said construction will start after the first of the year.
Until then, the exterior will remain wrapped in plastic. The brick facade on the historic structure, which was built in 1902 by John Mowery Sr., an African American tailor, started falling off in June due to water and termite damage.
The building, which housed Benchwarmers and two hair businesses at the time, was closed for several days while a contractor removed the entire facade and wrapped the front in plastic.
Now, the hair salon and barber shop are gone, and Littleton said he plans to put a 2,200-square-foot restaurant in their place. Demolition inside the salon, which closed Sept. 1, has started.
He said Ted’s Barber Shop, which closed a few weeks ago, plans to reopen soon in a different location.
“I hated to take over something that’s been there for so long, but I guess that’s what happens sometimes when you move forward,” Littleton said.
Plans include a 70-foot balcony across the second story. Littleton said he will move the exterior wall on the second floor in by 12 feet, giving him about 1,000 square feet of balcony space accessed by a row of sliding glass doors.
He also plans to move two ground-level storefronts back from the street, creating an inset patio to offer additional outside dining, similar to Sidewalk Deli.
Architect Jon Palmer is designing the plans, and Chad Vriesema of Central Piedmont Builders is the general contractor. Vriesema completed the Go Burrito building rehab last year and recently purchased the former Bernhardt Hardware building for redevelopment.
Littleton, who has between 12 and 15 full-time and part-time workers, said he hopes his staff will grow to about 35 employees when construction wraps up and the restaurant opens sometime next year. He hasn’t decided on a name or cuisine.
The building will include three entities — Benchwarmers, the restaurant and the Loft, a live entertainment venue currently operating above Benchwarmers.
The makeover will include new event space in the Loft for receptions, reunions and other gatherings, Littleton said, and the restaurant will service both the nightclub and the upstairs venue.
Littleton said he’s been working with a committee of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and expects to receive a certificate of appropriateness next month, which is the first step in the permitting process. He said city and county officials have been supportive.
“We’ve been vocal, and they know what’s going on,” he said.
When the facade fell off the building, Littleton said it was a mixed blessing. He’s no longer able to take advantage of tax credits, but he’s also not held to the same standards as someone restoring a 100-year-old building, Littleton said.
“Because we had to take the front of the building off, we are no longer restoring history,” he said.
That opened up the possibility of moving exterior walls and making other changes that may not have been approved otherwise, he said. Littleton said he’s also working with Victor Wallace to improve the alley between Benchwarmers and Cartucci’s.
Littleton said he won’t start construction until January because he will have to close for about two weeks and didn’t want his staff to miss the busiest time of the year — October, November and December.
He said he and his wife have been visiting downtown restaurants in places like Asheville and Charleston to come up with ideas for their new eatery.
“Right now, we’re just tossing stuff around,” he said. “I’ve never done a restaurant. I’ve done bars for two decades, and I can do that in my sleep. But this will take a lot more investigation.”
Littleton’s father co-owns Nashville Nights, a country nightclub in downtown Salisbury. His mother, who recently passed away, also founded the bar.
Littleton said he’s not competing with his parents’ business but enhancing the entertainment scene in Salisbury, which benefits everyone.
“We’re all fighting for the same dollar, but what Salisbury is trying to do is create a downtown destination,” he said. “We want (people) downtown, not just at one venue but downtown.
“If we continue to grow the entertainment market, whether it be art, music or food, everybody will thrive.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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