—article by Brian Howe
A Cosmic Connection
Wendy Mann and Luva Zacharyj remember the first time their eyes met. It was three years ago, when Luva arrived at Local 506 to talk about a job.
“She walked in the door, and it was like, ‘Hello, magic, we’ve known each other for lifetimes,’” remembers Wendy, a co-owner of the storied Chapel Hill nightclub. “It was very cosmic in that way.”
They’d led strikingly parallel lives. Both had grown up in Chapel Hill, and both had returned—after decades of crisscrossing the art world, from New York to LA to Miami—with ideas that were steeped in fond memories of the diverse, artist-friendly place their hometown was in the seventies and eighties.
The daughter of an artist, Luva, now 48, grew up around the New York art scene. Her family moved to North Carolina before she turned 10. She went on to become an arts and events curator, a vintage storeowner and a champion cocktail crafter and bar manager.
Wendy, 53, spent the end times of the twentieth century doing promotions for (and modeling and dancing at) famed New York nightclubs like The Limelight and Tunnel and immersing herself in performance art. They’re sure they must have met at clubs or parties.
So far, their delayed but instant connection has led them to spearhead a reinvention of Local 506 and create a thriving artists’ market on Graham Street, with big plans for festivals and block parties to come. They incorporated as Wendy & Luva LLC in January.
“We just became known as Wendy and Luva, Luva and Wendy,” Wendy says. “I mean, people knew us as individuals, but—” “We became an entity,” Luva finishes. And as women who’d both owned successful businesses, they wanted something all their own.
Their new company’s story is inseparable from Midway’s. You know about vintage stores, of course. But have you ever heard of a vintage block?
I, too, remember the first time I locked eyes with Wendy Mann, but she doesn’t. It was in a photograph.
I was at Attic 506 to write about it for Orange Crush. With Wendy and Luva’s Midway Market bustling outside, the block was a beacon of socially distanced life in the pandemic. Sammy Martin, a co-owner of both the building and the rock club, walked in, and we started chatting.
“You’ve got to meet Wendy,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Here’s what she looks like today.”
The woman in the picture floated in a cloud of black feathers, with intricate patterns drawn in black eyeliner all around her eyes. Moments later, she appeared on the stairs, as if striding into the sunny Chapel Hill afternoon from last call at a Chelsea nightclub in 1989.
Wendy and Sammy own the block of Graham and Franklin that starts at The Baxter and wraps around the corner to Mint, with spots like Beer Study, Syd’s Hair Shop and Rumors Boutique along the way. They bought it in 2008, with a group of other partners, and named it Midway.
But Wendy, who was busy with her private practice as a non-traditional therapist, didn’t take an active interest until 2014. That’s when she started freshening up the tenants, with a mind toward gender and racial diversity and mutual support, and curating a slice of downtown that was modern but also reminded her of “when Franklin Street was flower ladies and the saxophone player on the corner.”
“We’re getting people at Local 506 because Luva has rocked out turning it into a really amazing bar, which is great to pivot to before music comes back,” Wendy says.
“I think it’s a big contrast to the rest of Franklin Street,” Luva says. “You know when you enter the Midway block.”
Several years ago, Wendy and Sammy also bought into Local 506. “I didn’t really expect to be in this industry at this time of my life,” Wendy says. “But I had grown up coming to see the best bands here, and my heart couldn’t let this iconic space fall.”
After a dozen years running a vintage shop, Southern Swank, in Raleigh’s Father and Son Antiques, Luva had moved back into the bar scene. She was asked to the 506 to “manage and save the bar with her award-winning cocktails,” according to Wendy, and then became a co-owner. During the pandemic, they’ve been quietly transforming it from iconic rock dive to a place where cheap beer and craft cocktails coexist with accessible, unpretentious art and vintage.
“Luva is an herbalist who will grow rosemary and make the most amazing concoctions, and it’s great to see people enjoy that next to the Miller Lite guys,” Wendy says.
Taking It to the Streets
While it’s nice to gaze upon the street from the 506’s roof, it’s even nicer to get down there during Midway Market, which has come to Graham Street seven times since November. “It’s a creative art flea market that, right now, is free for vendors to set up,” Luva says. “It started really small one weekend and grew until it wrapped around the whole block.”
In 2019, the town invited Midway to close down part of Graham and join Festifall. It went so well that they started planning future block parties. Then COVID came. So they created their own outdoor market on Midway’s property, with permission from the town to move their vendors onto the sidewalks.
The market, which returns on the afternoon of Saturday, April 24, is part of a whole ecosystem of local creativity that Wendy and Luva are cultivating, which also currently includes using Local 506’s green room as a pop-up shop. Ms. Mastic’s Crystals & More is set up through March, with Durham’s Worthy Women lined up for April.
Wendy stresses that no résumé is required to show your work with Wendy & Luva LLC—as
long as “you’re kind, not racist, not misogynistic or homophobic, you’re in.”
“I had a concept about expanding spaces for artists and craftspeople, and bringing back that vintage Chapel Hill feel of when street artists were loved by business owners,” she goes on. “The opportunity came at Local 506, and then Luva came into my life, and that’s how it expanded.” And to think it all started in the blink of an eye.