Tar Heel Downtown brings fans, business to Franklin Street
A sea of orange Miami and Carolina blue fans flooded Franklin Street Thursday evening before the football face-off.
It was the first year the Tar Heel celebration and ESPN live broadcast moved from on campus next to Kenan Football Stadium to the center of downtown.
Franklin Street was closed off from Columbia to Mallette streets, and Alex Lee, an 18-year-old UNC biology freshman, and three of his friends played cornhole in what would usually be the busy right traffic lane. It was Lee’s first big event he’s participated in on Franklin Street.
He said he was hoping to help change people’s opinions about UNC football fans. “The wine and cheese crowd,” his N.C. State friends will say.
“That’s the worst,” Lee said. “Part of that, they’re just talking crap.”
Red Solo cups and Bud Light cans lined the windowsills of Greek houses off Columbia Street. One young man spun around, his forehead against a baseball bat, as people chanted. One! Two! Three!
He straightened himself out after multiple spins, a tornado of blue, then fell sideways onto the lawn as passersby howled.
Chapel Hill Sportswear off East Franklin Street had a booth set up amid the madness. They had Tar Heel shirts, teddy bears and hoodies for sale underneath a blue tent.
“Now it’s getting busy,” said Joan Stynes, assistant manager. “I’ve been at the store all day and it’s been very busy there.”
Time-Out Restaurant, a local haunt that serves fried chicken, crumbly biscuits and mac and cheese, but best known for their chicken n’ cheddar biscuit, had a few students inside, sitting in the booths. A member of the restaurant management refused to talk because of the time crunch, saying while walking a stack of money to the back, “It’s like asking a player how he’s doing in the middle of a basketball game.”
Inside Gigi’s Cupcakes on Franklin, which just opened three weeks ago, the display cases were filled with Miami cupcakes, swirled in orange frosting and topped with green sprinkles. A few rows to the right, Carolina cupcakes lined the shelf in light blue with a little ram’s head in the center.
“Just to help everyone celebrate, everyone tailgate and make it a little more sweet,” said Chris Arcara, Gigi’s Cupcakes regional marketing director, behind the cash register.
Outside, a few specks of orange made their way through the crowds. Anne Paquet followed her son, 4-year-old Jonathan, and her husband, Jason. Anne said she used to live in Miami, and rooting for the university has always stuck with her.
Even though she said she’s seen a fair amount of Miami fans intermingling in the Carolina crowd, she said there haven’t been any problems.
“Everyone’s really nice around here,” she said.
Walking down Franklin, Taylor Libby and Robin Cyr, both UNC employees, wore matching ram backpacks and Carolina stickers on their faces. They wore true UNC ensembles, down to the headband.
This was Cyr’s first Carolina game, and she’s worked at Carolina for two years. She is currently the associate vice chancellor for research.
“It’s a whole different view of Chapel Hill that I’ve never experienced,” Cyr said of holding the Tar Heel celebration on Franklin Street.
“It’s a sea of black and blue.”