Back in the Day with Hollis Nixon

Hollis Nixon is stepping down from the NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association (NBA) Board at the end of December. She has volunteered for over fourteen years on the Board, serving as the President for almost the entire time. Back in the Day recently sat down with Hollis to recount her history with the organization, document some of her more memorable experiences, and get her thoughts on how the NBA will evolve in the coming years.

“No Queens Allowed”

Life in NoDa started inauspiciously for Hollis. She grew up nearby in Concord, NC and like many people from the era, her NoDa introduction came via Fat City Deli. “I had some friends in a band that was playing at Fat City, and I wanted to come and see them. That was the first time they played in the neighborhood.”

That band was the Avett Brothers. Their popularity grew, and soon they were booking New Year’s Eve concerts at the Neighborhood Theatre. Hollis sold merchandise for them and was falling for the neighborhood vibe. “It seemed very anti-Charlotte to me. From where I was from, my whole vision of Charlotte was South Park and Myers Park and Dilworth, which are all lovely, but it was very staid and conservative and I didn’t know this pocket existed until I was exposed to it. Then I fell in love with it.”

But the big step to move here around 2003 had a rocky start. She found a townhome at the Colony and was excited about the move. “I loved how NoDa was open minded and tolerant and all these weird events were going on. It was very different than what I was accustomed to, and I felt like the rest of Charlotte was accustomed to.”

“So the moving truck pulls in where I was going to move and across the street was a little cul-de-sac with single family homes. And the one directly across the street from my front door was having a party, and there was a huge pink flag made out of butcher paper that said ‘No queens allowed.’ And I thought, ‘Well, just damn it. I’ve just moved in with neighbors that hate the gays. I’m in the most intolerant neighborhood on the planet.’ I was really upset about it.”

The neighbor with the sign was Matt Ward, who was on the Board at the time. He soon introduced himself and said the Board needed some new blood and perhaps she would be interested in hearing about it.

She was so excited that he was friendly that she probably would have gone anywhere, but they settled on Cabo Fish Taco. She said they became instant friends, but she did ask him about the sign she saw on moving day. “He said he was gay and it was all a joke. They just didn’t want people to have attitudes when they came to the party.”

Speaking of attitudes.

“Challenge me, bitches!”

Hollis recalled when she joined the Board there was about as many Board members as non-Board members who came to the Association meetings. Her first agendas were to advertise the meetings and create branding with yard signs and magnets to get more people to attend. “That’s how we started getting more than eight people to show up to meetings.”

She was elected  Association President soon after joining the Board. One of her first big events as President was handling the Fat City Deli rezoning, which was complicated and controversial from the start.

The discussions became heated and personal, but the challenge didn’t drive Hollis away. It only gave her more resolve. “People at the time thought they could bulldoze us. They felt like we were an easy target. We were the hippy weird neighborhood and everyone was way too high, air quotes here, to make a decision. Then we started getting a good group of people together internally, and I felt like we could make this neighborhood a better place. And a cooler place. So I stuck around.”

Eventually the Association started tracking attendance and then bylaws were revamped. Every year was some sort of method to grow the organization. “We had to reestablish ourselves as a 501(c)(3) Federal non-profit. Now there are a lot of people joining today and say ‘there’s bylaws and polices and it all feels so bureaucratic.’  I tend to agree, but with the growing curves came growing pains.”

The growing pains were sometimes funny, however. One of her more memorable meetings featured a very beloved person who no longer lives in NoDa. “He was very passionate about an issue and was upset with someone’s comment and screamed out, ‘Challenge me, bitches!’”

Hollis can look back at the time wistfully now, “I’m pretty upset that t-shirts were never made as a result of this. It was one of those meetings that it was very hard to keep my internal composure because it was hilarious to me at the time it happened.”  She added, “It wasn’t directed to me so maybe that’s why I can laugh about it.”

“It’s inevitable that things will change, and I want them to.”

She has seen too many successes over the years to capture them all here, but Hollis looks at the work to preserve the Johnston and Mecklenburg mills as one of the most memorable. “This was an entire neighborhood asking for artist housing, for affordable housing, for adaptive reuse and for historic preservation. There wasn’t one voice saying anything differently. The entire neighborhood was fighting for one cause.”

Hollis with Krampus

Hollis can use that lens as a guide to the future. “I have very mixed emotions about it.  Some of this work can be undone so quickly and that stresses me out.”

She’s also seeing changes in some of the voices in the neighborhood. “This is the first time I’ve seen a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude. It terrifies me. It’s not why I moved here.  It’s not why I volunteered and spent the bulk of my time volunteering for this neighborhood. If I had known that this was the direction it was going in then I would have thought twice and I probably would have resigned a lot earlier. That is what is scaring me.”

But she remains optimistic on what the future can offer. “I’m very hopeful about the 36th Street opening and the light rail. There are a lot of things to get excited about. There are people excited about the neighborhood that are moving in here so it’s a great opportunity to get a younger generation involved.”

“It’s inevitable that things will change, and I want them to.” She added that people will have new ideas and initiatives and reinvent things we have done in the past. “That’s very exciting. We went from having petitioners ignore us and railroad us to now reaching out to us directly to get involved with the Association early on in the discussions. We did that by having a consistent voice that was willing to compromise and fight for what’s best for the neighborhood while still allowing for NoDa to evolve.”

As she looks ahead to her last time running an NBA meeting, “Am I going to cry in December? I don’t know, I’m not there yet. But I’m going to take a big break.”

“I’m thinking about gardening and canning and fixing this house back up.”