A tough move brings a happy result
Who is the happiest woman in Chapel Hill these days?
Drop by the upscale woman’s fashion shop, Fine Feathers, at University Mall to see the smile on the owner’s face.
Not University Square where Betty Kenan opened Fine Feathers almost 40 years ago and where it became a destination stop for customers throughout the region. It is University Mall, where the shop relocated on April 1.
How and why did an anticipated move so full of trepidation turn out to make the owner so happy?
First a little history.
Fine Feathers got its start one day in 1976 when Betty Kenan’s late husband, Frank, made her an offer. Frank Kenan, then the owner of University Square, knew that his wife had been the successful manager of a Montaldo’s shop, one of a chain of stores famous for quality and style. He knew his wife would like to open her own store.
When he told her, “I have some space I could rent you," her reply was immediate.
Betty Kenan said, "I'll take it."
She didn't even know what the rent was, but she had an idea that Frank Kenan would be fair with her. It worked out to be a good arrangement for both of them.
Before Frank Kenan died in 1996, he told Betty, "If you ever want to sell University Square, offer it to the University.”
In 2008, Frank Kenan’s family made the sale to a foundation arm of UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I began to think about moving when we sold the building,” Betty Kenan said. “The transition from being an owner to a tenant was hard. Even though Gordon Merklein at UNC-Chapel Hill and John McColl with the new developer did everything they could to accommodate us, I have never had any business anywhere that we did not own.”
“At the time of the sale, we thought that we would remain at University Square while it was renovated, or reconstructed in parts. But we learned that the plan would change so that the entire project would be demolished.”
After 40 years, Fine Feathers would have to move.
“We came kicking and screaming.”
But she acknowledged that in recent years, “it was sad for me at University Square, especially since my husband Frank Kenan died. So often when I was working in my office Frank would tap on my window and say, ‘Let's play nine holes.’ Or ‘would you like to get a bite?’ So I hated being in the office sometimes, especially when I did not hear that knock. So I did not go to the office in the store as much.”
But once the move was made, things began to brighten. Maybe it was the new Cree LED lights that she insisted upon. “I think we get a truer test of color, although it cost more. And I believe in Cree, the firm that makes them.”
And, she says, “People at the University Mall have been lovely, and we are happy, as are our customers. For one thing it's easier for many of them to get here.”
“I did not know how much I love this business,” she told me. “Maybe I am too old to work so hard, but it has been six days a week for me since the move. None of my friends believe I'm doing this.”
Nor can they believe how happy she is.
D.G. Martin’s regular weekly column appears on The Herald-Sun’s editorial page on Wednesdays and online at http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/opinioncolumnists/martin.