For more than 30 years, Charles and Anna Oates served hot dogs and sausage dogs to hungry customers in Southeast Raleigh.
But this week, the couple is packing up Scooby’s, a small convenience store on South East Street that was known for its grab-and-go food.
“The main thing was the hot dogs and sausage dogs,” said Anna Oates, glancing at her husband of 60 years. “He put a lot of love in it.”
Over the weekend, hundreds of customers came to Scooby’s and waited in long lines for their last bite of food meticulously picked from the steamer, dressed and wrapped by Charles Oates.
“This is overwhelming,” said Chas Oates, 53, the couple’s elder daughter. “All this love – I don’t think any of us expected this.”
Charles Oates, 82, a man of few words, looked up from his hot dog artistry and said, “We’ve had that love all along.”
Scooby’s is in Winters Square, a building that was bought in June by investors for $5.9 million. The sale included Wintershaven, a federally subsidized apartment building for senior citizens and disabled residents.
Much of Southeast Raleigh is changing as downtown thrives. Some long-time residents can no longer afford to live or run a business in the historically African-American communities they have always called home.
For many people, the store’s closing represents the negative effects of gentrification.
“I hate it,” said Detra Hicks, 48, who lives nearby and treated her 10-month-old grandson to “his first-ever hot dog and his last Mr. Oates hot dog” over the weekend.
“I live this every day,” Hicks said. “Eventually, I’ll probably have to go, too.”
Anna Oates, 83, said she and her husband made a pact long ago: If the rent went up, they’d close down.
“We’re leaving on our own,” she said. “Health and age come into play a lot, too.”
Charles and Anna Oates met as children, when Anna traveled from Virginia to visit her grandmother in Winston-Salem. Charles lived next door, and Anna gave him the nickname “Scooby.”
They’ve been married 60 years and have two daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
In 1983, the couple opened two stores in Southeast Raleigh, on Hill Street and Martin Street. They closed the Hill Street store in the late 1980s as drugs gained a bigger presence and Anna Oates didn’t feel comfortable being there alone.
They stayed on Martin Street for 23 years, until the city bought the building. The parcel still sits empty. Scooby’s then moved into Winters Square.
In its final days, Scooby’s was filled with memories, including a display of baby photos on the wall. There were reunions of old friends, signaled by squeals of delight.
There were also some newcomers who had heard about all the fuss and wanted to get a taste of Mr. Oates’ food.
“Best hot dogs and sausage dogs anywhere around,” said Deborah Johnson, 61, who discovered the store while delivering Meals-on-Wheels in the neighborhood. “Reminds me of my childhood – old-fashioned. ... To see mom-and-pop stores like this disappear, it’s very sentimental.”
Patrick Wright said he has gone to Scooby’s once a week for 40 years. It wasn’t just about the food, he said. The Oates couple were “good to the public.”
During one visit, Wright said, he realized he was out of cash. Anna Oates jotted down his credit due on the inside of a Newport cigarette box.
“They’re going to be truly missed,” Wright said Sunday. “It’s about the love and the care over the years we have given to them – and the love and care they have given to us.
“It was well worth the hour-and-a-half wait for my sausage dogs.”
Derrick Simon waited too as Anna Oates counted 2-cent peppermints one by one.
“I’ve been getting peppermints here since I was 13 years old,” said Simon, 38, holding a paper bag stuffed with the candy.
Anna Oates said she’s looking forward to getting some rest now that she’s retired. Charles isn’t sure what’s next for him.
“To tell the truth, I really don’t know,” he said.
Lori Wiggins writes stories about Southeast Raleigh for The News & Observer. If you have a story idea, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.