Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Spirit Of Bob Fowler

The original founder of Fowlers would be proud of Jennings Brody.  From a family of traditional grocers, he founded Fowlers in its former downtown location at the far southwest end of Brightleaf Square, two blocks from where it has been reborn in Peabody Place under another name today.  Bob Fowler displayed a genius feel for how to make a store gourmet while keeping it genuine, authentic and inviting to everyone.

I feel fortunate to have visited with him many times during my former life as a community/destination market executive.  Listening to him helped me more rapidly gain a feel for what makes Durham, North Carolina so unique, a sense that far too many in that field fail to grasp as they approach communities as generic “plug and play.”

After Fowlers sold and moved to a new location, it lost its way and failed.  Resurrected as Parker & Otis by Ms. Brody, the store exhibits the authentic feel and sense of Bob’s original store as though he was still perched in the “crows nest” office from which he kept a close eye on what mattered to his customers.

The sense of how to mix the old and the new as Jennings does cannot be mimicked by those without it, even if as she was, they are tutored in Foster’s Market by one of the best.

People in communities with a strong sense of place such as Durham are sensitive to the difference between knock-offs and the real thing.

In the words of Scott Russell Sanders from his essay about what makes a place real, “what all of us long for, I suspect, is to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…we hunger for integrity and authenticity.”

Fortunately, people from or drawn to Durham know exactly what he means and have found such a place.

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