The city’s first electric cash register is for sale. So are tools that were likely used to build the state Capitol.
Then there are bags full of collectible coins and stamps; vintage Christmas decorations; and typical hardware goods – doorknobs, spray paint, PVC pipes.
On Saturday, historic items and leftover merchandise from the Briggs Hardware store, which closed earlier this month after 150 years in business, will be sold at auction.
It’s a chance to buy a piece of Raleigh’s history. Briggs Hardware opened on Fayetteville Street in 1865, just after the Civil War.
The store, which provided building materials, was a mainstay downtown for 130 years until it moved to Atlantic Avenue in 1995.
On Friday, representatives from the North Carolina State Capitol Foundation huddled over a folding table at the Briggs store, trying to determine the age of carpentry tools.
The Briggs family helped build the Capitol building in the 1830s, and the state is interested in acquiring some of the tools that were used, said Kara Deadmon, a museum specialist with the North Carolina State Capitol.
“I can’t think of any state Capitol built around that time that has any of its construction materials,” said Raymond Beck, who was the historian at the Capitol for 31 years before retiring in 2008. “It’s a rare opportunity.”
The Briggs family also built many homes in the Oakwood and Mordecai neighborhoods near downtown Raleigh. The family was involved in local politics, too.
J.E. Briggs, who served as mayor from 1951to 1953, helped extend Glenwood Avenue into downtown and created Downtown Boulevard, now known as Capital Boulevard.
Marc Scruggs, a sixth-generation member of the Briggs family, served on the Raleigh City Council from 1995 to 1997 and again from 1999 to 2001.
In the 1970s, the family opposed the city’s decision to
close Fayetteville Street to traffic and turn it into a pedestrian mall. They argued the setup would hurt business because customers could no longer pull their trucks in front of the store to load lumber and other items.
Fayetteville Street eventually reopened to traffic, but the decline in business drove Briggs Hardware from downtown, said Evelyn Murray, also a sixth-generation member of the family. She managed the store on Atlantic Avenue until it closed.
The recession led to the store’s ultimate demise, family members said. Builders weren’t able to pay off their accounts during the downturn, Murray said.
It’s like losing a tradition. This is going to be a huge hole in the fabric of the city.
Raymond Beck, historian at the Capitol for 31 years
Beck, the historian, said he has kept Briggs Hardware in mind for years as the business weathered economic downturns and other challenges. He wanted to be part of preserving its history once it closed.
“It’s like losing a tradition,” Beck said. “This is going to be a huge hole in the fabric of the city.”
But Briggs Hardware isn’t going away completely.
Murray plans to open a smaller, more modern version of the store in downtown Raleigh in August.
The store will carry the Briggs name, but the rest of the family won’t be part of it. Murray said she bought the rights to the name before the original store closed.
She hopes bringing a store back to downtown will spark a retail revitalization.
“As much as I love all the restaurants, downtown’s not downtown without retail, and it won’t be a thriving community without retail,” Murray said.
Murray can’t return to the original site where her ancestors built in the 1860s, at 222 Fayetteville St. The family sold it when the store moved to North Raleigh, and the City of Raleigh Museum uses the building.
The new store will offer some of the old-fashioned services of the original. Murray plans to keep a handyman on staff who can help downtown businesses with repairs. She also wants to establish a delivery service to take supplies to construction sites and anyone in the downtown area.
But there also will be more modern touches, to help ensure this version of Briggs Hardware doesn’t fall behind the times.
Murray will start using iPads and new technology to take payments and keep track of sales.
At the old store, she allowed contractors and builders to buy on accounts that were sometimes left unpaid. It was one of the reasons the store took a big financial hit, she said.
Murray won’t do that anymore.
“You have to change with the times,” she said. “That’s been some of the problem over the last decade – we were too scared to change.”
Bidding on Raleigh’s history
The Briggs Hardware auction will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at 2533 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh. Historic items will come up for bid at 10:15 a.m. Bids can be placed in person and online at www.rogersauctions.com.