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WFAE's reporters, editors, producers and hosts worked tirelessly throughout 2021 to tell the stories that mattered most in the Charlotte area. Here's a look at some of our best work.

These were some of the Charlotte area’s most interesting business stories of 2021

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Gracyn Doctor
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Gracyn Doctor
Adrienne and Emmanuel Threatt released the Hope Tank to help their neighbors experiencing homelessness.

Charlotte’s the business hub of the Carolinas. Each week, WFAE airs BizWorthy, an interview-style roundup of big business news with our friends at the Charlotte Ledger. But we also give a public radio-style feature treatment to business and development updates on a regular basis. Here are some of the best business stories from WFAE this year — ranging from major developments to fun stories about entrepreneurs.

This Charlotte couple’s mission is to give hope daily

The number of homeless residents in Mecklenburg County increased during the pandemic. Hope Vibes aims to help people experiencing homelessness with basic needs — like showering and washing clothes — through the Hope Tank. The mobile resource goes out into the community each month and houses two full-sized bathrooms and three sets of washers and dryers outfitted in a box truck. Read the full story.

Charlotte’s Innovation Barn finally opens, promoting a circular economy

After three years of planning and construction, the city of Charlotte and an environmental group in September finished converting an old city garage into what is planned to be an incubator for environmentally sustainable businesses. WFAE’s David Boraks took us inside the $5 million Innovation Barn and a plan to create jobs while promoting businesses that reuse waste materials.

How one restaurateur survived the shutdown two weeks after launching his businesses

The service industry had it hard at the start of the pandemic. Between early restrictions on in-person dining, alcohol-sale curfews, capacity limits and general anxiety from consumers about eating out, it was hard for many restaurant owners to catch a break. That was certainly the case for Felix Godward, who opened his food stall, Felix’s Handmade Empanadas, at Charlotte’s bustling Optimist Hall just before COVID hit and North Carolina temporarily halted in-person dining. At first, he struggled and laid off employees. But then, thanks to customer support and social media, his businesses started booming due to takeout orders.

Charlotte's streetcar operated off-schedule more than half of the first 100 days it was open

Charlotte Area Transit System’s Gold Line streetcar might be a public project, but it was still a massive business endeavor. Not only that, but it’s meant, theoretically, to move people going to and from businesses across uptown. And it’s supposed to arrive every 20 minutes. But the $150 million transit line is often on 30- or 40-minute intervals, WFAE’s Steve Harrison reported in December.

The business of love: A look at weddings in the time of COVID-19

The Wedding Report estimates the wedding industry will lose $47 billion in sales over 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. Weddings were canceled, leading the flower business to take a hit, too. As 2021 began, everyone was trying to recover. But it was — and in some ways still is — an uphill battle. In February, reporters Gracyn Doctor and Maria Ramirez Uribe highlighted the challenges — and triumphs — of the local wedding industry amid the pandemic.

Plaza Midwood’s Book Buyers writes new chapter after being forced to close an old one

It’s a familiar story: Another business is turning off its lights in Charlotte’s popular Plaza Midwood neighborhood and seeking refuge further east due to redevelopment. Book Buyers, a family-run eclectic used bookstore, has to leave its longtime location by the end of January. WFAE’s Sarah Delia stopped by and told us what makes the shop special to so many people.

This Charlotte entrepreneur used COVID-19 to reinvent her business

The first part of the pandemic, especially, was hard on many small businesses. About 200,000 businesses shut their doors permanently in 2020. Sussa Goins, of Charlotte, operated one of those businesses, a catering company, that didn’t make it through 2020. But she’s glad it shut down, because she launched a bakery a few months later that’s given her a new passion in life. Read her story.

This entrepreneur launched a Charlotte business — during the pandemic and after a devastating loss

As we’ve just gone over, a lot of businesses shut down during the pandemic. But a lot of them opened, too — about 900,000 more in 2020 than the year before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. One of those businesses was launched by Wilman Ortiz, who moved his family to Charlotte from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017. After a couple of years working for someone else, he took English lessons, got a commercial driver’s license and bought some trucks. Maria Ramirez Uribe told us how Ortiz forged his new path.

A new Charlotte ramen bar offers what the owner calls 'Japanese soul food'

Restaurateur Jahzmin French has brought one of the newest restaurants to uptown Charlotte, the Jinya Ramen Bar. As a Black, woman restaurant owner, she sees her business as another way to introduce brown and Black people to Asian cuisine. In November, WFAE’s Gracyn Doctor gave us a look inside the eatery.

Bulldozers cleared land for development — but for an urban farm, not apartments

A group called the Carolina Farm Trust started work in February on what it called an "urban farm" in Huntersville — its fourth in the Charlotte area. It's part of a campaign to bring farming back to Mecklenburg County and rebuild appreciation for farms.

Charlotte-area record stores benefitted from a surge in vinyl during the pandemic

A Recording Industry Association of America report shows vinyl sales jumped nearly 30% in 2020 over the previous year, and that for the first time since 1986, records outsold CDs. WFAE’s Marshall Terry visited two Charlotte-area record stores to see how sales have been during the pandemic.

Want to stay up to date on the biggest business news in Charlotte? Tune in to WFAE’s “Morning Edition” on Thursdays for BizWorthy, a weekly segment in which we catch up on business and development with our partners at the Charlotte Ledger. 

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