Why CMS bus drivers are sidelined (free version)

Plus: Remembering Alex Trebek's 1984 visit to Charlotte; Region sees intense flooding; Ballantyne's Earth Fare reopens; Sandwich chain closes 4 restaurants; Give a shout-out to your favorite charity

Good morning! Today is Friday, November 13, 2020. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C.

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New federal law allows paid leave for childcare if schools are closed; Businesses juggle operations with workers’ rights

CMS this week delayed the start of in-person middle school until Jan. 5, citing a shortage of bus drivers. A new federal law allows certain employees with children to receive paid leave if schools are closed.

by Tony Mecia

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools seems to face an unusual dilemma: To reopen middle schools, the district needs bus drivers. But under a new federal law, many bus drivers and other workers with children can stay home and draw guaranteed pay … because schools are closed.

The issue of expanded Covid-related leave came into focus this week, as the school board voted Tuesday to postpone the reopening of middle schools for six weeks, until Jan. 5. An unexpectedly high number of bus drivers have gone out on approved leave in the last few weeks, district officials said, and replacing them is difficult because training and certification can take two months.

CMS transportation officials didn’t specify at the meeting the reasons why so many bus drivers are out on leave, and a CMS spokesman was unable to provide additional details on Thursday.

But descriptions at the meeting of CMS’ challenges and interviews with employment experts suggest that many of the bus drivers are taking leave allowed by a new federal law designed to help workers who need to stay home with children whose daycares and schools are closed.

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Charlotte history for $800: What happened when Alex Trebek brought ‘Jeopardy’ to Charlotte in 1984? Radio host Bob Lacey remembers.

Alex Trebek had been the host of “Jeopardy!” for barely a month in October 1984, when he and a version of his show rolled into Charlotte to take the stage at the Southern Women’s Show at the former Civic Center at the corner of College and Trade streets.

Bob Lacey, current co-host of the “Bob & Sheri” morning radio show on 107.9 The Link, was then co-host of a popular WBTV show, “PM Magazine,” with Moira Quinn.

Lacey had shared stages with famous personalities oodles of times, so he didn’t think twice when he was told he’d be sharing hosting duties with Trebek in front of a live audience of a few hundred people, as well as a TV audience. (Trebek was already well known to TV viewers because he’d hosted other game shows.)

The gig wound up being a little tougher than Lacey anticipated, but one that left him with a good story to tell and a deep appreciation for Trebek that still stands.

Trebek, who hosted more than 8,200 episodes of “Jeopardy!” over 37 seasons, died Sunday at the age of 80. He announced in March 2019 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“What comes to mind most was how nice Alex was. He was just an absolute gentleman,” Lacey recalled Monday during a phone call with The Ledger. “He was really slick-looking — I mean that in a good way. He had a beautiful suit on; a very dashing looking guy.”

Here’s what else Lacey remembers about the experience:

I didn’t prep for it at all. I was familiar with Jeopardy, like everybody is, and I thought, ‘You’re going to go in front of a few hundred people and just sort of host it with him.’ I was wrong. The show is a lot more confusing when you’re the host than one might think.

As I recall, we had three contestants and there were several hundred people that were in the audience. We introduced the contestants, where they were from. Then he sort of bowed and said, ‘Take it away.’ At that point I found out very quickly that it was not an easy show to do.

The whole thing of ‘put your answer in the form of a question’ - I never gave it a thought. But when you have to do that with each of the contestants, it’s a little trickier than you might think.

To make a long story short, I started just blowing it. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going, how many points each person had, were they asking it the right way? …

I sailed the ship right into rocks. Everyone was confused. He backed it up and started taking more of the lift and that made it easier for me to get through it. But at the end of it, he smiled and shook my hand and thanked me and I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re thanking me for. I should be the one thanking you.’ It was a real thrill.

Lacey can’t recall exactly what prompted Trebek’s appearance in Charlotte, but he has a hunch it was because “Jeopardy!” wanted to forge a contract with WBTV to air the game show.

Quinn didn’t share the stage with Trebek, but recalls meeting him that day, and remembers him being “just as lovely as can be.”

“He was absolutely charming, and delightful,” said Quinn, now chief operating officer and senior vice president of communications for Charlotte Center City Partners. “It was so unbelievably amusing and fun to watch him and Bob interact.”

Trebek’s visit came during the second year of the Southern Women’s Show, which would now be in its 37th year if Covid hadn’t canceled it this fall.

Joan Zimmerman, who along with her husband Robert founded Southern Shows Inc., including the Southern Women’s Show, says Lacey and Trebek “secured the love and loyalty of that audience for all time.”

“What I remember most about Alex Trebek is how gracious he was,” Zimmerman said, “how he told us that our show was a winner, and that if he could impress these hard to impress ‘Southern women,’ all would be well with his world.” —CB

Major flooding engulfs region, causing rescues, major damage, deaths

Heavy rain caused severe flooding across the Charlotte region Thursday, including this area near the intersection of Morehead Street and Freedom Drive. Little Sugar Creek reached record-setting flood levels, and firefighters had to evacuate hundreds of people, including 143 students and staff at a University City charter school. At least six people were reported dead as a result of the flooding: four in Alexander County and two in Statesville. More than 4 inches of rain fell across the area. (Photo courtesy of Myles Gelbach.)

New plans for nursery site on Rea Road

After a failed attempt to build a self-storage facility on the site of a popular nursery near Olde Providence in south Charlotte, a new developer is back with plans for the site on Rea Road.

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The Ledger’s shout-out for local charities

The end of the year is approaching, a time when people traditionally open their wallets and donate to the charities they value. About 1/3 of all charitable giving takes place in December.

This year, The Ledger is going to help give some recognition to hardworking local charities that are laboring under often-difficult conditions to make Charlotte a better place. And when it comes time for people to donate, maybe they will learn about a few they didn’t know about — and direct some of their money to local nonprofits that could use it.

The paid version of this newsletter this morning included details on how we are planning to work with our community of paying subscribers to highlight the many positive contributions local charities are making to our area. We will send out the full list of reader submissions in a special edition of The Ledger on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Membership has its privileges: This opportunity to spread the good news of local nonprofits is yet another benefit of joining the community of Ledger subscribers. We like to think we do a good job of providing Charlotte with original, local, business-y news. But we’re also working to build a community of people who care about our city and want to see it succeed. That’s why we promote things like this, hold our annual 40 Over 40 Awards and online social events and, of course, publish this national-award-finalist newsletter.

We’d love to have you join us. Subscriptions are $9/month or $99/year (which includes a second email address, collected after sign-up), and you can cancel at any time:

Earth Fare’s resurrection continues, in Ballantyne

Earth Fare reopened its store in Ballantyne this week, nine months after the company filed for bankruptcy protection and closed all its locations. With demand for groceries growing during the pandemic, former executives and investors have been buying back pieces of the company and reopening many of its former locations.

In brief

  • B.GOOD restaurants closed for good: All four Charlotte-area B.GOOD restaurants, including one in uptown, one in Birkdale Village and two in Ballantyne, have closed permanently, company officials told The Ledger. The restaurants closed at the start of the pandemic in the spring and never reopened. The Boston-based company “made the difficult decision to permanently close all four B.GOOD locations in the Charlotte market due to challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” chief marketing officer Hadrien Delande wrote in an email. The chain specializes in burgers, sandwiches and bowls with healthy ingredients.

  • Hard times for bank jobs: Bank employment is expected to fall by 10% by mid-2021, job searches are taking longer and openings are limited — and many people who find new jobs in banking are having to take pay cuts. One notable exception to the hiring woes is in mortgage operations, which are adding staff to handle more applications. (Bloomberg)

  • Tech town: More than 80,000 tech jobs were posted in the last year in Charlotte, which was named the #5 “Tech Town” by the industry group CompTIA. The number of technology-related jobs is expected to grow by 8% in the next five years. The median salary was nearly $92,000. Arch-rival Raleigh was #3 on the list. (WRAL)

  • Rezoning in Wilmore🔥: Commercial real estate firm Abacus Capital filed a rezoning petition to build up to 325 residential units, either single family or multifamily, and 61,000 square feet of commercial space at an 8.7-acre site between Toomey and Tremont avenues in the Wilmore neighborhood southwest of uptown. (Biz Journal)

  • Olde Meck owner looks back: Olde Mecklenburg Brewery owner John Marrino tells the Observer’s Theoden Janes about the the run up to and the aftermath of the PR nightmare that was Mecktoberfest in September, when crowds ignored social distancing and the brewery drew the scorn of health officials and social media. Marrino says business fell by 50% after Mecktoberfest and has been slow to recover. (Observer)

  • One entertainment venue opens and another closes: The creators of escape room business Exit Strategy are launching a new “all-immersive” venture called District 57 just west of uptown. It’s designed to transport guests to a post-apocalyptic setting where they tackle a 30-room challenge course called “the Grid” to test mental and physical dexterity. Meanwhile on the east side, entertainment venue Coliseum V is closing one year after opening. The business featured action games such as archery tag and laser tag, virtual reality units and a self-pour bar. The owners are having a yard sale on Saturday. (Biz Journal)

  • Long odds for legal weed: As more states around the country legalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses, that prospect seems unlikely in North Carolina, where citizens cannot place referendums on the ballot. About 74% of voters in Mississippi approved medical marijuana last week. (News & Observer)

  • Novant raises minimum wage: Novant Health is raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour, a change that will affect more than 2,000 employees, including 1,300 in Charlotte. North Carolina’s current statewide minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Earlier this year, Charlotte’s Atrium Health increased its minimum wage to $13.50 per hour from $12.50 per hour. (Biz Journal)

  • Help for restaurants: North Carolina restaurants are now eligible for a state program that offers up to $20,000 in rent or mortgage relief, Gov. Roy Cooper said this week. (News & Observer)

  • Construction awards: The Associated Builders and Contractors of the Carolinas on Tuesday announced the Charlotte-area winners of its Excellence in Construction Awards. The three finalists for general contractor project of the year included: AM King for the TrueCore Insulated Metal Panel Manufacturing Facility; Brasfield & Gorrie for the Mission North Tower and Edifice Inc. for the St. Joseph College Seminary. Twelve general contractors were recognized with 13 first place, seven second place awards and two honorable mentions. 


Tuesday’s article on the school board’s decision on middle schools gave the wrong name for school board member Margaret Marshall. (We erroneously referred to her as “Elaine Marshall,” who is the N.C. secretary of state.) Apologies.

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith