Over the last 6 years we have encountered lots of challenges… Unfortunately, they have now caught up with us. Southern Star will be closing its doors at the beginning of March 2020.
This part of our story is…. we did not start with a enough capital to weather the storms. Matt and I (and many others) put our heart, sweat, tears and yes, even blood into this place. It just simply wasn’t enough.
The main storm we were just not able to weather in the end was our lease agreement. The lease we signed was originally with a “flipper” landlord out of Atlanta, we later found out. They were only interested in getting businesses in to turn the property over and sell to the highest bidder. Well, they did that… and in the process, started a chain of events that we were ultimately never able to recover from. Not only did they ignore certain upgrades and maintenance outlined in the lease agreement, they were incredibly negligent when it came to repairs. One business above us was weekly, dumping water into our space from their washing machine. We could not get the landlord to fix the problem. So as a result, we had regular water falls in our foyer. On 1 occasion, we were in the middle of an open house where our clients were inviting their friends to see the space for the first time. Additionally, in our first 6 months open, we had a major ice/snow storm that ripped part of the siding from the building and downed a major electrical conduit across our fire escape. It took them 6 months to fix the fire escape and ultimately did so because I called the fire chief and inspectors out to get on top of the landlord to take care of it at the risk of our business being shut down for non-compliance.
As you may already know, our business plan called for a large part of our income to be in weddings and events. We sunk thousands of dollars into advertising for this part of our business that ultimately was a waste, since every time someone drove down the hill to find us, they would inevitably turn around because the siding was flapping in the wind. We ended up having to pay a lawyer to force the landlord to take care of that issue and our agreed upon upgrades and maintenance from our lease, they never completed. This was the experience of our 1st year, hemorrhaging money. Once these items were fixed, things started to go well for about 6 months… until the year of poo.
The landlord leased another space above us to a business that ultimately tied their plumbing into ours. In case you were wondering, that is against city code, but the landlord allowed it anyway and somehow got it to pass inspection. The landlord did not require them to fix it and did nothing to fix it themselves. As a result, we had regular sewage back ups in our space. They started out to be monthly occurrences, that ultimately became weekly and then about every 3-4 days. Every 3-4 days we were mopping raw sewage and calling plumbers to snake or jet the drain pipes. The debt continued to swell. During this time the landlord was on the verge of selling the property. Ultimately they did sell the property, without fixing the plumbing problems. This ordeal lasted almost a year… which is why we refer to it as the year of poo. By this point, we are not quite 3 years in to our business. We stopped advertising completely, for fear of a bride walking into the space while there was a sewage back up.
Our new landlord did take pity on us. They came in and fixed the issues, and allowed me to renegotiate our lease as a result of the business lost over the prior 3 years. Unfortunately, the damage was done at that point. We were never able to recover. The last 3 years have been a mad fight to survive. We incorporated alcohol, became a private club, hired more teachers, increased our prices… we did everything we knew how to do. It just wasn’t enough.
No one is more sorry that we are. It is super painful, especially for me… to see all the time, money and hard work we put into Southern Star and then just close its doors. But, we also can no longer ignore that we are out… out of money, out of fight, out of time. The most unfortunate part is that we have increased income every year, but it just isn’t enough to cover the debt incurred in the beginning plus the enormous amount of money it takes to operate and maintain an 8800 sq. ft space.
We are in mourning, as many of you are or will be. Many of you know my story of beginning Southern Star and how I feel it was following a call from God to open this place. I still believe that… I have met so many amazing people through this experience. Many doors have opened, relationships started, people introduced to dancing and the joy that brings as a result of Southern Star. I have absolutely no regrets, but I can no longer ignore that God is now leading me in a different direction…. I believe He has a plan.
I will continue teaching dance… This is why I was put on this planet, (I have no doubt) AND … why I opened Southern Star in the first place, was to give myself and others a beautiful place to dance and learn. Sadly, I have gotten away form teaching in this process, because of all the other things that were necessary to keep the business running. I am looking forward to getting back to my super power, teaching dance. I hope to see you on the floor again soon!
I do have a space less than a mile away from Southern Star to teach and occasionally hold dances. As those details become more solid, I will share. Those with current memberships will be able to attend my dances for the remainder of 2020 for free. Please stay tuned to your email announcements for those details! Thank you for your patronage, for your love and support. I am still blessed beyond measure, thanks be to God and perhaps a little spoiled, thanks be to Matt. (Okay… fine…. a lot spoiled!) 🙂
Our Story; The beginning…
Southern Star was the brainchild of Shari Huggett-Milton. For years, Shari had been suppressing ideas of opening a “community center” of sorts for the dance community. Dance being her first real love, Shari has been teaching Ballroom, Latin, Country and Swing styles for around 27 years. That career has blessed her beyond measure with so many wonderful friends, several successful businesses, skills, fur babies and let’s not forget the most recent love of her life, her husband, Matt Milton. While Shari, over many year’s, envisioned the idea of Southern Star, she knew it would be a lot of work and determined, she didn’t want to work that hard. So, she continued to suppress the idea, but God had a different plan.
Having come to her faith later in life than most, Shari began to see that God had placed a calling on her life and that calling became Southern Star. Once she decided to embrace her calling, it was a simple thing to do… still a lot of work and challenging, but simple just the same. It took us 2 years to find the money and then the location. After that, it was 6 months to build out and now we’ve been open for 6+ years… growing every year as we continue to follow God’s path for us.
Southern Star is a unique and welcoming place to all. Our culture and philosophy is simple… treat others as we would like to be treated, with honesty and integrity. To offer elegant and sophisticated space and services at an affordable rate and to encourage others to be the best version of themselves in whatever they do while enjoying the journey.
Shari began studying tap, jazz, and ballet at the age of five, performing in many shows throughout her youth. Her teaching and competing in Ballroom & Latin Dancesport started in September of 1992 at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Durham, NC.
Shari stayed at the Durham FADS for roughly 2 years learning and honing her teaching, dancing and sales skills. In 1994, she transferred to Winston Salem, where she excelled in both dance and sales, winning a Freddy Award in 1995 for top female teacher in sales for the Southeastern Region of FADS.
In 1996, Shari moved to the New York City area to study and train with top coaches and dancers in the field. Since then, she has won numerous awards regionally and nationally in her professional career, including Regional and Professional Rising Star Finalist and Open Professional Semi-Finals in American Smooth and International Standard.
Some of Shari’s other accomplishments in the Manhattan area include appearances on the popular soap opera “All My Children” and appearances with Julio Iglesias on the “Today Show” and CNN to promote his “Tango” album.
In April 1998, Shari returned home, to North Carolina, to pursue the dream of opening her own studio: Carolina Dancesport, Inc. While owning and operating her successful dance studio, she was the primary female teacher, as well as trainer of her staff in both sales and teaching abilities. In her studio, Shari created an environment for students and staff that was welcoming and enjoyable. During that time, she created many successful specialty and holiday parties, coordinated huge productions and recitals and showcased her ability to bring the dance community together for many special events.
Shari also continued to excel in worldwide dance competition. Having competed exclusively in American 9 Dance (Rhythm and Smooth) and International Standard, she expanded her knowledge and competitive career in 2000 to include Country Western Couples. After winning countless Grand Champion Titles in the UCWDC Couples Division I, she went on to capture the 2003 UCWDC World Championship Title in that division. Shari continued to compete at the UCWDC Masters Level (the highest level possible), winning several titles. She is a certified UCWDC Judge at the Masters level, judging the highest levels in both Line Dance and Couples Divisions.
In 2002 she embraced a new career with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Having spent many years in the dance business doing make-up on students and colleagues for shows & competitions, it seemed a natural progression of her creativity. Shari once again excelled in this type of sales environment earning countless top sales awards. In December 2005, she earned one of her most notable awards, the use of a Mary Kay career car. Just 6 months later, she progressed to Independent Sales Director, a leadership position in the Mary Kay Company; all this along side of her dance career.
After seven years of successful dance studio ownership, Shari simplified her life. In January 2005, Shari passed her dance studio on to her staff, Robertas Maleckis & Inga Sirkaite. It became Dance Plus, LLC, and now Elite Ballroom currently located in Morrisville and Shari is pleased to know that the legacy of good dancing she started in the Triangle Area, is still going.
In 2007, Shari started teaching and competing in West Coast Swing after friend and colleague, Darlene Long-Cree moved to China, and asked Shari to step in while she was gone. She had a great time dancing and teaching at Loafers Beach Club for the next 5 years. Shari achieved All-Star Status in WSDC Jack & Jills, which she did in just one year.
Her latest passion and focus has gone to opening and operating Southern Star Ballroom Center, an 8500+ square foot dance & event venue, in North Raleigh in January 2014. This is now her primary location for teaching classes and private lessons and enjoys collaborating with some of the Triangle Area’s most decorated and talented professionals.
Most recently as a result of Southern Star, Shari has sensed a pull toward working with more and more kids. This path has lead her to design and teach the Etiquette and Social Dance program at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh for the last several years. She is excited about potentially expanding this program online and to the general local market. Stay tuned for LEAD… An etiquette program designed to teach young people worthy skils; Leadership, Etiquette, Attitude & Dance.