By Lola Oliverio, Proconian
Growing up in Carrboro, I can’t remember the first time I hung out with friends at the 300 East Main Street parking lot next to the ArtsCenter. This was my favorite place throughout my high school experience and I created countless memories there.
For the most part, the structure is a place to park your car while you catch a concert at Cat’s Cradle or enjoy a meal at Hickory Tavern. For many young people in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, however, it is the meeting place. Often teens hang out on the top floor, sit in their car, or people watch while chatting with friends.
Erected in September 2013, the parking lot has served East Main Square businesses for nearly nine years. The structure was built as part of the “Phase One” construction process that brought Carrboro to a Hilton Inn and began in March 2012.
“When you say ‘the parking lot,’ everyone knows what you’re talking about,” said Chapel Hill Secondary School senior Victoria Romanova.
The place has become a staple of teenage life in the Triangle. With five floors (including one on the roof), an elevator and a beautiful view of Main Street, it’s the perfect place to meet up with friends.
“People have fun there; they relax,” said CHHS sophomore Emerys Bowers.
Many teenagers skateboard, have photo shoots, or just chat with each other on the roof of the structure.
“It’s a great place to hang out with people in a nice and safe environment,” said CHHS senior Julian Brown. “I feel pretty comfortable there.”
Many love the place because of its informal and intimate atmosphere.
“It’s a nice meeting place because it’s relatively secluded but also laid back and public,” added CHHS manager Mia Kalish. “Plus, you can see much of the beautiful UNC-Chapel Hill campus from up there.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the structure became even more popular, as it was the only place many could see their friends.
“When my friends and I were unable to spend time indoors, we spent a lot of time in the parking lot,” said CHHS manager Tatum Chewning. “It’s a long way from Franklin Street so we would meet on the bridge and walk around downtown.”
The students say the Carrboro Police Department does not actively enforce loitering restrictions against teens who engage in innocent entertainment.
“The police have questioned my friends a few times, but usually they just ask what we’re doing and make sure we’re not drinking,” Brown said.
In 2021, Carrboro Cat’s Cradle Concert Hall built an outdoor performance space behind the arts center. During some shows, individuals can often be seen watching from the parking lot.
“It was really cool to experience a concert from up there,” said CHHS senior Linden Clemens. “I think it’s a good option for sold-out shows. It’s obviously not like being in the pit, but it’s still fun.
The parking lot may come across as an unconventional hangout, but it serves young people in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area quite well. It’s rarely empty, and there are often several groups of friends at the top of the structure. It’s a pleasant phenomenon and a lesser known aspect of youth culture in the region.
This article first appeared in the Chapel Hill High School Student Newspaper Proconian.