Everybody’s got their favorite old store. Mine was a little gas station called Gresham’s Landing. It was little more than a wooden shack at the corner of Creedmoor and Norwood roads near my parents’ neighborhood, Byrum Woods. My friends and I used to walk down there for candy and soda on those long, sweltering summer days of childhood.
Gresham’s Landing made way for modernity in 1991. Today, two gas stations and a CVS Pharmacy sit on various corners of the intersection. But my nostalgic love for the ramshackle convenience mart is as strong as ever.
For those of you long-time Raleigh residents, another store may raise similar emotions: Virginia Crabtree, a women’s wear shop that opened in Cameron Village in 1952.
The store was named for Virginia Crabtree, who ran the original shop with her husband, Lawrence, until he died in the early ’70s. Then their daughter, Snookie Hall, and her husband took over and expanded the business to seven stores across North Carolina. Eventually, Hall and her husband shut down the stores and went into wholesale, and the Virginia Crabtree name disappeared.
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Now Mary and George Hall, the grandchildren of Lawrence and Virginia, have revived Virginia Crabtree in the Lafayette Village shopping center of North Raleigh.
“I think grandma and grandpa would have been proud that we’re doing this and that we’re doing it in the place that we’re doing it,” George said.
Lafayette Village resembles the Cameron Village of the 1950s in the sense that it values locally owned businesses, Mary said.
“We’ve been highly selective on who we let in,” said Paul Bronson, one of the developers of Lafayette Village. “We put in only independent operators where you meet the owner, not the manager. So they have skin in the game.”
Inside the new Virginia Crabtree, you find a women’s wear boutique decorated with old photos, including some of Lawrence and Virginia.
George and Mary decided to get into the business after their parents returned from living at the beach to take care of Virginia as she was ailing.
“We still owned the name, and we just thought it meant something,” Mary said.
But it meant more than they could have imagined.
When I visited the new store, a crowd of people gathered by Mary and George met me to reminisce about the old Cameron Village store and the people who ran it.
Gloria Creech, 64, worked at the original store in the ’70s and ’80s. She said that back then, it was fairly unusual.
“The clothes. I loved them. They were special,” Creech said. “There weren’t that many types of those stores. It’s not like now, where you have all the outlets and everything else.”
Judy Roberts, 70, worked for a competitor in Cameron Village when Virginia and Lawrence ran the original store. But it was a friendly competition.
“She was always dressed immaculately,” Roberts said of Virginia. “I never saw her that she didn’t look the part of owning a store of the caliber that store was.”
Tanya Shelton, 67, used to shop at the original Virginia Crabtree. She lived across the street from Mary’s family in Raleigh, and her daughter was Mary’s first friend. When it came to women’s clothes, the Cameron Village store was her home away from home.
“I could always find classic suits and classic clothes and beautiful sweaters,” Shelton said. “I didn’t do a lot of shopping. I just went there because I loved them and knew them.”
Her memories of Virginia and Lawrence are tinged with nostalgia.
“I remember that she was such a Southern belle, lady, absolutely beautiful, and he was so handsome, and they just adored each other,” she said.
Though Snookie Hall, 66, is not an owner of the new Virginia Crabtree store, she is proud of her children.
“I love the fact that they’re carrying on the legacy,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing to do.”
But if people want quality at a good price, Hall says the new Virginia Crabtree is the place for them.
“The economy has made all of us a little more careful,” she said. “So we’re looking a little harder, we’re shopping a little stronger, and they look for good value. That’s what the kids are looking for.”