Our Heritage Revisited

All Things Downtown

by Amy Pierce // July - August - September 2019

“Our Heritage” is reprinting and updating earlier articles as a way of introducing a ballooning newcomer population to Wake Forest history and culture.

“On dimestore Saturdays our piggy banks came down. And Mama would dress us up and walk us all downtown. Brother bought sweet candy corn,a paddle ball and a water gun. I gave my nickel to the drugstore man for an icy Co-Cola in a pointy cup, held in a silver stand.”

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in two small southern towns and to have lived for the past several decades in another. The above verse, taken from my song, Anthem, reflects my very young days in the mid-1950s in Jackson, North Carolina, a little town surrounded still by fields of cotton and peanuts. In those days, I was thrilled when crop dusters appeared at the dimming of a summer day to suddenly drop out of the sky and skim low, really low, across timber-bound fields, the foggy pesticide fanning out from the back of the little plane before it pulled up at the last possible moment, barely clearing pines and hardwoods before heading off to some other farmer’s field.

Downtown, though, was always the favorite destination for my brothers and me. As the song says, “Mama would dress us up and walk us all downtown.” Well, people don’t dress up any-more to go downtown. However, downtowns remain destination points in communities still fortunate enough to have them, and Wake Forest is one such community. In fact, this town has the distinction of being a North Carolina Main Street Community. The designation, awarded by The North Carolina Main Street Program, helps “small towns to recognize and preserve their historic fabric, and … build on their unique characteristics to create vibrant central business districts…” Through hard work and local investment, Wake Forest boasts a vibrant downtown filled with candy, coffee, and ice cream shops; wine and beer establishments; cafes and restaurants; shops galore; a book store; art studios; spas and salons; music studios; antique and vintage shops; and much, much more.

Though you and I can’t visit all of Downtown in this article, take a stroll along S. White Street and its surrounding roads with me for a peek into some of what can be discovered here, beginning with the Grand Daddy of them all – 100+-year-old Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs. Named for the late Sonny Joyner, the eatery’s nuclear red, “famous hotdogs” have been the favorite of generations of students, faculty, and just plain townies since the joint opened in 1916. Here’s where you can still find icy Co-Cola (southernese for Coke) in those rare little six-ounce bottles.

Downtown is where you can still buy candy that triggers a sense of nostalgia. You can treat yourself to a creative flavor of a delicious ice cream scoop that is full of local, natural ingredients. You can shop for hometown, handmade art and gifts or discover some unique vintage and retro finds from days gone by. You can linger in the many cafes and coffee shops that are scattered around, or perhaps you’d rather grab a nice cold beer to cool you off a bit on these hot summer’s days. Or maybe you’ve got a few minutes on a Saturday morning to pop on over to the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market. And be sure to stop in the family-owned, 70-year-old B & W Hardware store, where you can get that “old-fashioned” hardware store experience you had as a kid ... and enjoy some free popcorn while you shop! The smell will certainly take you back in time.

No matter what, it’s always fun to walk around Downtown, and these are just some of unique places you’ll find when you do. And if you’re like me, you’ll probably find yourself swearing under your breath that you won’t buy anything this time. But then… well, “Just this one thing.” And before you know it, you’ll be going home with a pale pink Fiesta cup or a pair of button-flap long johns, wishing, though, that you could’ve bought the circa 1950s black desktop telephone.

If walking around Downtown sounds good to you, too, stop off for a couple of hot dogs all the way, a bottle or two of Co-Colas to wash ‘em down, and then grab a handful of candies. Then just do what all southerners love the most … go ridin’ around. If you get far enough out of town one late afternoon, you might even see an old crop dust-er drop out of the clouds. Tell him “hey” from me.

Special thanks to Jennifer Smart and Beverly Whisnant.

Amy Pierce

Lives in Wake Forest's Mill Village, where she is a writer, minister, and spiritual counselor.