06/21/07 — 'The Boot' of their own

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'The Boot' of their own

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 21, 2007 1:46 PM

At first, Parker Harris and his friends just wanted something to do.

Then, they turned 16, and needed a place to go.

Now 19, the Eastern Wayne High School graduate Parker hopes a dream that started with 70 teenagers crammed into his mother's living room will become The Boot, a coffee shop music venue along Center Street.

With his parents and friends in his corner, the young man addressed Goldsboro City Council members Monday evening and spoke in favor of his conditional land use request for the teen lounge downtown.

It's a business that makes sense, he said.

"It's an untapped market," he said. "Completely."

But more importantly, it represents a solution for local teenagers who have gathered for years in parking lots, along neighborhood streets and in department stores.

"We used to go to Wal-Mart and play tag," Harris said. "And it was seriously a fun night if you got to go and play hide-and-seek."

With a laugh, his friend, Brandon Williams, agreed.

"We seriously did," he said. "As soon as people got cars we were there."

By the middle of high school, it was becoming clear that late nights at Wal-Mart were a waste of time, even worse than boredom, Williams and Harris said.

So with live music as their guide, they began planning and executing shows.

In December, after convincing his mother he would keep things under control, Harris and his crew hosted Winterfest, a live music event -- in the family living room.

"We were in a band and there was nowhere around to play," he said. "One night, I was talking to my friend and he said, 'Man, you should have people at your house.' I had never thought about it."

Alyssa Weismann was at that party and remembers it as "pretty packed." But the amazing thing was how well organized and executed the party was.

No fighting, no drinking, no drug use or cigarette smoking. Everyone was respectful, she said.

With one successful show under their belts, the students began planning bigger events -- live music at the Knights Inn, trips to Wilson, Chapel Hill and more.

Harris' business idea was coming to fruition.

And then, on a downtown drive on afternoon, Williams took notice of the 'For Rent' signs along Center Street.

Why not rent one out and live the dream, he asked Harris.

And that is what Harris has now asked Mayor Al King and the rest of the City Council, he said -- to let him chase a dream, a coffee shop with a stage front and center for open mic nights and live performances.

"Being downtown, being around all the buildings, it's the only part of Goldsboro where it actually feels like a city," he said. "It's not that I have my life figured out, I just know what I like to do. This is something I want and know I can do."

Harris said he knows the questions they might ask: Isn't he too young? How can a 19-year-old run a business? How will he maintain control of the crowds?

Ms. Weismann said she hopes her friend's age does not influence the decision.

"I think that we should be given an opportunity and when we prove you wrong, we should be given as much respect as any other person who wants to start something for this community," she said.

And Harris hopes votes aren't cast because of "preconceived notions" about youths at play being disrespectful and reckless.

"Kids who do that kind of stuff, that's a small percentage," he said. "It kind of gets blown out of proportion."

Action will likely be taken on the land use request at the council's July 9 meeting.

Ms. Weismann hopes her hometown's elected body grants Harris permission to give his dream a shot - for his sake and for the sake of "bored" Wayne County teenagers.

"You don't really see flocks of kids walking up and down the streets," she said. "I know that right now we're moving to a rebuild the city movement. We want to bring downtown back to the way it used to be. But right now, there's nothing for kids to do there. I don't understand why people do that. I don't understand why they come up to you if you're young and think, 'Oh, it's just a bunch of kids."