CHAPEL HILL — More than 20 people signed a letter last week asking University Mall officials to keep Roses or find another discount retailer to replace the longtime store.
The store opened with the mall in 1973 and will close in late June. Officials with Roses’ parent company, Henderson-based Variety Wholesalers Inc., said the rent went up substantially last year and was poised to increase again. The space also was being cut to accommodate another tenant, they said.
Robyn Marano, vice president of marketing for mall owner Madison Marquette, declined to address the Roses lease but said they are talking with potential tenants. An announcement could come in a few weeks, mall officials said.
Letter writer Rashii Purefoy said the decision to close the store has caused concern throughout Orange County.
Purefoy’s son worked at Roses for six years to buy a car and pay for school, and her granddaughter works there now, she said. As a young woman, she remembers Saturday trips with her family to the Roses on Franklin Street. They always sold the best popcorn and Spanish peanuts, she said.
“One of the women who will no longer be able to work at Roses as a result of this change will be losing funds she was using to provide for three children to go to college,” according to the letter, which was also sent to local media outlets.
It also acknowledges there are “injustices in the politics of the ownership of Roses.” Art Pope, state deputy budget director and Variety Wholesalers’ owner, has been criticized for marketing to minority and low-income communities, while backing policies that critics say damages those communities.
But the store has given seniors a safe place to socialize and families, rich and poor, an affordable place to shop, the letter said. Many of the nearly 40 employees don’t have transportation to jobs outside Chapel Hill, Purefoy said.
There are two Roses stores and one Maxway store in Durham, and additional stores, including a planned Roses Express, in Raleigh.
The decision to close Chapel Hill’s Roses also appears to be another sign that the town is becoming a mecca for high-end stores and services that many lower-wage workers can’t afford, the letter said.
“We urge you to consider commercial spaces that provide a welcoming gathering place for people of all backgrounds and income levels,” it said. “Without this, Chapel Hill will continue to lose the very people who have made this town the wonderful village many of us have called home for generations.”
Many popular stores have fallen by the wayside, from the ice cream and candy shops to Belk’s and, most recently, Dillard’s department stores, shoppers say. Another favorite, The Children’s Store, moved to nearby Elliott Road.
Many see the mall’s new and future tenants, including TrySports, William Travis Jewelers, Peacock Alley and Fine Feathers, as catering to a higher-income crowd. The next big tenant, Venezuela-based Silverspot Cinemas, is expected to start renovations soon on a $7 million, 13-screen luxury theater and restaurant, Tacos and Tequila. A contemporary Mexican restaurant, Plaza Azteca, could open later this year.
University Mall general manager Peter de Leon said he has been told to refer future questions to Madison Marquette officials. Marano did not respond to emails and calls requesting comment.