History, Hipsters and What the Heck?
There’s no jaywalking in Jamestown
By Nancy Oakley • Photographs by Amy Freeman
“Let me carry that.” Amy is reaching out her left hand, her right grappling cameras, lenses and a backpack.
“You’ve got your hands full,” I say, pausing. “Don’t you trust me with the light saber?”
“Do you know how much that thing costs?”
Then I realize I’m holding the cylindrical carrying case containing the precious wand upside down, so the case’s lid, precariously held in place by a single Velcro strip, points toward the ground.
“Oops,” I mumble.
“One time, I caught Peter waving it on the dance floor at a wedding we were shooting,” she adds, snatching the case as we amble toward the crosswalk of Jamestown’s Main Street while the afternoon begins to fade.
Laid up with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the other half of Team Freeman is hardly in any condition to “wander mindlessly,” so as his stand-in, yours truly finds herself exploring “new gigs, fresh digs and fun swigs” in Jamestown. We started our excursion at Triad Marketplace, the latest occupant of the old Shubal Coffin House — or as many refer to it, “the Yellow House.” You can’t miss it, with its bright ochre-colored, board-and-batten siding and wraparound porch. Or its own historical marker explaining that around 1855 Dr. Shubal Coffin had built his house overlooking the new railroad tracks “to enjoy improved access and visibility afforded by train travel.” And perhaps several years hence, to load wounded soldiers straight off the train directly into the medical practice of said doctor with the macabre surname.
At least that’s a conjecture of Steven Beck, owner of Triad Marketplace, whose address, 109, is heralded by a sleek wooden sign out front spelling out in skinny black letters: “OneOH9.” It’s a teaser for yet more, singular items inside. The “parsed-out” series of rooms, as Beck describes the space, accommodates all manner of locally made wares — jewelry, clothing, home décor, pottery — and in its large, sunny front room downstairs, a showroom for Beck’s line of handmade furniture, Black Dog Wood Creations (so named for Beck’s and wife, Chelsey’s fondness for black Labs), as well as a small café. A landscaper by trade, Beck had long made furniture on the side and approached Triad Marketplace when it was situated in a strip mall off of Greensboro’s Lewiston Road. In time, the store’s previous owner Deanna Privette, a Summerfield artist, expressed her desire to sell the operation. Was Beck interested? “The answer was: ‘I’ll take this on, but basically, I’ve got to move the business closer to home, closer to where I’m from, where I’ve got more ties and connections to get this thing going,’” Beck recalled.
He had also noticed how Jamestown was growing and attracting younger folks like him. With Privette coaching him on the ins and outs of retail, Beck reopened the business in the Coffin House last September. Its inventory for locally sourced goods is a must (and Privette helped him curate those, as well). “It’s got to have a local footprint,” he insisted. And that includes the farmhouse-style tables, benches (cut down from local church pews) and consoles that come out of his own sawdust-covered workshop down the road. He confesses to “not having formal training; I just go with what I like, what looks good.” Chelsey’s brainchild? The sleek prints, such as the address number out front, and several like it, bearing witticisms and homespun wisdom, and GPS co-ordinates of heartfelt locations — from customers’ homes to alma maters — all them set inside Steven’s wooden frames. They cover the walls of the large downstairs room that abuts the café, whose simple menu advertises coffee, kombucha, wine, beer, bbq, chicken salad, soup. “The café is sugar-free and gluten-free,” Beck offers, explaining its origins: “Me being a dude, there’s going to be dudes coming in with kids and moms to do some good shopping. And they’re going to be like, ‘There’s nothing here for me; I’m going to be bored to death.’ And I’m like, ‘What better way o incorporate everybody than use food or drink?’” And a flat-screen TV, to boot.
It all part and parcel of Jamestown’s “small-town feel,” that attracted Beck and his clientele who also want proximity to the Triad’s larger cities — and another entrepreneur, Bridgid Murphy, owner of Cakes by B’s Blue House Bakery. She and her husband, Bob, had bounced around to various restaurant management jobs in the Arlington, Virginia, area before landing in N.C. Jamestown’s quaintness appealed to them, and they opened the bakery just three years ago. A cozy spot owing to its bead-board interior smelling of coffee and flour, the bakery sells everything from croissant sandwiches to dog treats and attracts a loyal following, mostly students, who quietly pore over laptops. “Everything’s made from scratch,” said Bridgid, who proudly explained that husband, Bob sources the sourdough locally for their bread. “It adapts to where it’s created,” she added. But as you’d expect, the popular items are the sugary treats in the display cases. I sampled a thick, chewy shortbread cookie while Amy ordered a coffee and asked which is the best-seller. “Anything with devil’s food,” Bridgid replied, pointing to a large square of chocolate crowned by a white rose made of vanilla buttercream frosting. “Some people share it; others dive right in,” she continue. “That’s why we call it ‘What the Heck?’”
Though it’s tough to tear ourselves away from Comfort Food Central as we’ve dubbed it, Amy and I were eager to peruse eye candy of a different sort, which is how we came to arguing at the crosswalk.
“Nothing coming,” I say, one foot in the street, oblivious to the orange hand of the traffic sign.
“No, wait!” Amy admonishes.
“Oh good grief! You’re so rules-y!” I rejoin.
“I am!” She admits in a torrent of giggles. “I am a rule-follower.”
“And I’m a jaywalk-er, jaywalk-er, watchin’ cars brake for meee,” I sing, in between my own unsuppressed giggles. It’s the kind of silly, easy conversation between colleagues, whose bonds of friendship have been forged during so many adventures, from the sweltering heat of Old Salem in July to the teeth-chattering cold of a January photo shoot, all amid frantic deadlines.
We dutifully wait for the light to change before crossing Main Street.
And the wait is well worth it, once we set foot inside the fragrant domain of Susan Stringer, aka The Soap Lady. Where does the eye alight first? On the rows of glycerin soaps, lotions and potions, the colorful sun catchers or lawn ornaments? Stringer guides us toward her most recent wares: delicate soaps shaped like flowers — roses, daisies and succulents. ‘They’re my newest ones,” she says, unwrapping a small cake smelling of clover and aloe. At only $10 each, they’ve become popular bridesmaid gifts, she adds. Stringer goes on to explain how she started making soaps 25 years ago, some sold under private labels at High Point Market. “The shop is for fun,” she laughs, before mentioning her ancestral roots in Charlotte and reminiscing about growing up in the Sedgefield area. “Did you grow up here?” she inquires. Indeed we did, I in Greenboro, Amy in Asheboro. And we all have a good laugh, we three Carolina girls, tossing around our native “y’all’s.”
By the time we leave, the sun is sinking and our tummies are rumbling. There are so many options to sate our appetites – Blue Moon Oyster Bar, Simply Thai or Will Ragsdale’s new operation, Black Powder Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant and catering company in the longtime location of Hughes Oil Company. The restaurant’s name acknowledges Jamestown’s past as a manufacturing center for long rifles. We could always grab a bottle from Potent Potables back across the street, and one of the salty, crunchy eats proffered by the red food truck parked out front. One whiff from “Baconessence” as it’s called, makes us both weak in the knees and for a fleeting moment we nearly succumb to temptation. But our hearts win the battle with our senses.
“Southern Roots?” Amy asks.
“I was hoping you’d suggest it,” I say, recalling the restaurant’s sinful bread pudding I once shared with Seasons editor, Jim Dodson. (Oops! Sorry, to let the cat outta the bag, Jim. Guess Wendy’s onto your dietary transgression now.) The simple interior is inviting, with its large, basketlike chandeliers and the downtown lights twinkling through the large picture window where we settle in. Owner Lisa Hawley, whom many credit with launching Jamestown’s renaissance, approaches with a bright smile and warm greeting. She regales us with tales of moving and a recent beach trip as we order: an iceberg wedge for Amy and a crab cake app for me. But like everything else on Southern Roots’ menu, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about this crustaceous creation that sits on a fried green tomato on greens and is topped with slaw with cranberries, plus a sprinkle of roasted almonds, all of its flavors fused with Thousand Island dressing. And to wash it down: a refreshing cocktail made with Effen Cucumber Vodka and tonic, garnished with a pretty watermelon radish and slice of cucumber.
“Cheers!” I raise my glass.
“Cheers,” Amy echoes.
“Well done,” I say. “Today was a darn sight easier than others. Remember the doghouse shoot . . . in the thunderstorm?”
“That is the most scared I have been driving a car — ever!” Amy exclaims.
We lapse into easy laughter again.
“Hey look at the moon,” she observes, her photographer’s eye taking over. “I love it when it’s coming through the clouds like that.”
I glance up to see the orb gradually brightening in the sky. “It’s almost full,” I note. “Is it the Pink Moon or the Flower moon?” I wonder aloud. It doesn’t matter — Pink or Flower, Harvest or Wolf — its presence blesses a satisfying day and the efforts of two comrades-in-arms, the meticulous rule-follower and the irreverent rule-breaker, each inspired by the simple pleasures of this historic little town, now awakening from its slumber to blossom once again. h
Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of Seasons and its flagship, O.Henry.