We got to chat with the ultimate Durham lover, Sheila Amir, the creative entrepreneur, and mastermind of The Bulls of Durham project. We got the low-down on her current Kickstarter project which is trying to raise funds for a living history book backed with a strong community component. We love when we see such a passion project come to life and all of us at Unscripted are rooting for this project. #BackTheBulls
12 hours in Durham, what would you do? Soak up the magic! Breakfast at Bull Street – you saw that coming. Walk around Sarah P. Duke gardens. Grab snacks at the Co-Op and head up to the new Cocoa Cinnamon on Chapel Hill Street. Sit out front and watch the world go by for a minute. Head over to Morgan Imports and try to understand how all that awesome is in one place. Head across the way to Bright Leaf and window shop. Stop in and say hello to Julie Steinhauer of Bull City Olive Oil. She’ll pair the snacks from the Co-Op with something in new in her store that she just got in and is already about to sell out. Stop over at the Museum of Durham History. Then float around downtown and American Tobacco Campus discovering the city brick by brick. Depending on how busy they are, stop at either Bar Virgile or Alley 26, the two top contenders for best old fashioneds in town. Toast to the best city in the world. Huh. I eat and stare at Durham A LOT.
What hidden gems do you recommend to those visiting Durham? First and foremost, say hello to my little friend, my favorite bull on the Chapel Hill overpass as Jones Street intersects it. There’s something about him that gives the legit Durham vibe. I love him! Go for a walk in Sarah P. Duke gardens and get lost a bit. You’ll find seating where you can have a minute with nature and reset. The best things in Durham are all a bit off the beaten path. Top of the Chapel Hill Street parking garage. I don’t even check to see if there are availaBULL spots before I get up there anymore. I arrive early and take a minute to soak up the views of the city before doing my thing. Most importantly, get on foot and go bull spotting. When you’ve found 20 or so bulls, you’ll have a pretty good feel for the city.
What are your favorite spots in Durham? Bull Street Gourmet and Market. If you want to get specific the table across from the coffee fixings. Beyu Caffe across from a Bulls of Durham interviewee learning everything they’ll share with me. The Durham Co-Op. It’s a great place to get groceries, a meal or see the thought and care that Durham puts in the details.
Describe Durham in 3 words: Genuine. Inclusive. Home.
What brought you to Durham? Fate. I fully understand that sounds cliché. It does every time I say it or write it, but it’s the truth. I’m right where I’m supposed to be – the Bull City. I call Durham the love of my life. I came out to visit a friend for a week. I was here all of 5 minutes on that fateful day of September 8th, 2015 (not that I keep track) that I would be spending the rest of my life with Durham. A month later I packed only what fit in my Prius and drove across country to be with the love of my life forever. Best decision I’ve ever made. Looking forward to celebrating my second Durhamaversary this October 20th.
What is “The Bulls of Durham” project about? In short, giving it a go at putting the indescribable Durham magic into 250 pages of pictures and words. The original intention was to find all the bulls in the city and find out the story behind them. Who made the bull? Why did the proprietor decide to put Bull City in the name? What’s the backstory, pre-Costner to the Durham Bulls? Pair all of that with the history of the city to create a living history book that arches from the Bull City’s origins until today. Then I sat down with THE Dr. Desiree Palmer and Dr. Audrey Kemp of Bull City Dental for my second interview. I end every interview by asking who the interviewee thinks would be a good contribution to the project. Dr. Palmer casually recommends, “call Bill.” I asked what Bill did and she replied, “He’s the Mayor.” While it took a couple weeks for me to lasso up the bravery to call Bill, I came upon the understanding right then and there that the true bulls of this city are the people who move and shape Durham into the best city on earth. Let the record show, Bill did take the time to sit down with me and he was as cool as everyone said he would be.
Who have you interviewed? To date, 86 people. It’s become this elusive thing to try to get the list, but the reasons I never list everyone is that I know I’d inevitably leave someone out and I’d feel awful about that. It’d also be a solid Bull City brick of name dropping. And my publisher would like me to answer, you’ll have to buy the book to find out. On the project’s 1 year anniversary (again, not that I’m keeping track) I got to interview fourth generation Durhamight Joshua Gunn who is father to a fifth generation Durhamight, rapper, VP up at the Durham Chamber. He is also quite possiBULLy one of the nicest humans you’ll ever meet – that’s Durham. I like how the Universe lined that up. My first interview was Anne Niemann, owner of Bull Street Gourmet and Market. She’s been the project’s biggest supporter. Thanks to that fateful interview I got to interview her husband Tom Niemann. I’ve gotten the privilege of interviewing Steve Schewel, Pierce Freelon and Farad Ali – all very nice, thoughtful, well-educated men running for Mayor. Not only did I get to interview Michael Goodmon, he let me sort through literally hundreds of American Tobacco historical artifacts that had recently been brought in from auction. One of my first interviews was Susan Herst of Urban Durham Realty. I had reached out to One City Center, back when it was a two-story deep excavation site, to learn more about it. Who called me back was the great granddaughter of the 1911 Mayor of Durham, Susan. She is incrediBULLy kind and a wealth of Durham information. I used to text a friend after each interview, “I know I say this about every interview, but I just had the best interview for The Bulls of Durham!” Around the 50th interview I realized that was probably getting annoying to him and knocked it off, but it was no bull. Legit, the people of Durham are the most incrediBULL humans you’ll meet.
What’s been the most exciting part about the Bulls of Durham project? Getting to meet so many amazing humans and for a little while, getting to see this city through their eyes. To me time is the most precious thing you can give someone – the most valuBULL, non-reknewaBULL resource we have. The great people of the Bull City have given me 100s of hours of their time. I’m getting Bull City feels just mentioning it. This whole thing has been a big, beautiful adventure. From sitting across John Harmon, The Real Laww as he’s known, at Cocoa Cinnamon on Geer Street and him being the first person to tell me, “you’re Durham.” To Neal Carlton and Johnathan Pascal of Vega Metal Works giving me a prototype that was still rough around the edges, metal shavings included. It was like they were handing me my heart. To Cora Cole McFadden telling me her amazing story and then telling me “We’re so happy to have you here in Durham.” Or Joye Speight coming to my home for her interview. Joye Speight, y’all! I guess, feels and happy tears aside, the most exciting part of this project is getting to be a part of the fabric of Durham.
Best piece of advice on being successful? Ask for what you want in this life, the worst someone can say is no and then you’re free to move onto the next yes. Note, if you’re in Durham you’ll get a lot of yeses, so pack snacks, take naps and always be ready to go.