the business of family Morgans Mercantile

Courtesy Morgan’s Mercantile

                “Walk through that door there and have a seat in my office, and I’ll be right back with you in a minute,” the man said as I walked into the furniture store. “I got my best salesman back there working and I’m sure he’ll be glad to help you until I get back. It’ll only take me a minute. Can I offer you a water or Pepsi or something to drink?”

                “I’m good but thanks.”

                “Sounds good,” he said as he walked off towards the back of the building.

                It no longer looked like a hardware store. The C&G Supply Center sign outside had long been replaced with Morgan’s Mercantile. There was no island in the front with a u-shaped countertop for three salesmen – a rotating cast consisting of my dad, grandfather, uncle, great-uncle, cousins, brother, and the man who might as well have been family and knew as much about selling jewelry as he did lumber. 

But always my dad and grandfather.

In its place, there was a series of recliners. Grey. Black. White. One even had a navy blue pillow with the word HOME stitched on it.

                A door on the right opened into a hallway past the bathrooms – how many times had I mopped those bathrooms as a teenager? – and towards the back office. Years ago, it was my grandfather’s office.

                A small boy with brown hair looked over his shoulder from a small, plastic, orange and black workbench where he carefully hammered an oversized plastic nail with an equally oversized plastic hammer.

                “Hey,” I said. He waved and turned back to his workbench.

                The file cabinets, hardware catalogs, and dark paneling of my grandfather’s office had been replaced with white walls and a large desk in the middle of the room. For a moment, I saw him sitting on the other side of the desk looking over his glasses at me – using an adding machine with one hand and writing a hardware order with the other. I closed my eyes and heard him…

                Don’t forget y’all are coming over for supper tonight. And yes. I’m making pear cobbler.

                I felt a hand on my shoulder. “I hope I didn’t keep you too long and my little man didn’t hit you with the hammer.” I tried to speak; it just didn’t happen. “And I guess you probably know what was through those doors,” he said as he gestured to the door behind the desk in the office. “It used to be two offices, but we opened it up into one.”

“Yeah. The second one was my dad’s.” 

the business of family Morgans Mercantile
Courtesy of Phillip Gillis

That second one… where I learned how to draw my first house plans on the large, solid oak drafting table and wrote papers on Shakespeare for high school English and even occasionally had a panic attack with my head between my knees. 

I felt my father over my shoulder…

Now make sure that the T-square is attached to the side of the desk and your lines are square.

                And then my mother…

                I can help you with the writing but I’m not so sure about chemistry…

                I laughed and realized the small child had stopped his work and was looking at me as his father walked in the office.

                “Sorry,” I said. “It’s just… You know…”

                “I get it. I feel like you need the grand tour of the store.” The boy dropped his hammer and ran up to his father. “And I guess little Jack needs to come with us.”

                The hardware aisle now sold sofas and chaise lounges. The middle aisle where we measured feet of chain and well wire was lined with dining tables. The plumbing section was now covered with headboards and wardrobes. The front wall that once held hammers and power tools was now occupied by bookshelves.

                The back corner where my cousins and I used to hide in steel racks above doors and plywood was opened and filled with beds and lighted mirrors.

                We blinked and little Jack was up a ladder and stretched out on the top of a bunk bed. I heard my cousins and my brother…

                OK. This time, you’re it. Count to 33 and then come find us.

                “I guess you haven’t even seen out back.”

                “Nope, but I’d love to.”

                A new facade was there, but the heart was beneath it.

the business of family Morgans Mercantile
Morgan’s Mercantile from the corner of Virgilina Rd and Main Street in Roxboro, NC. Courtesy Morgan’s Mercantile

The molding racks where we climbed…

Y’all get down before one of you falls and gets hurt!

And the insulation shed…

Boys! How many times have we gotta tell you it is not safe to play in here?

The former concrete shed filled with pallets of 80-pound bags of concrete that now was storage…

                I loaded the last bag. It is YOUR turn.

                The concrete had been gone for almost 20 years, but I swear I could still see it and hear it and smell it and even taste it.

                I could see the trucks being loaded.

                I could hear Radio Roxboro coming out of the speakers.

                I could taste lunch from Pete’s Sandwich Shop.

I could smell the fresh cut lumber.

                I could feel it all.

“I’m not gonna lie. The first time I saw the black billboard for Morgan’s Mercantile on 501, I had a moment. I knew that my family’s store was gone, but then I realized it was also back in use and alive again.” I stopped. “I bet you I’ve been asked a thousand times ‘What’re they doing with C&G?’”

                “Yeah. Us, too. We kept trying to decide what type of business to start with the building. I mean, it has the character and small-town charm, and we even thought about maybe even trying it as a hardware store again, but then we realized something.”


                “It’s not about it being a hardware store. Everybody still calls it the old C&G building, and that’s your family’s story.”

                I felt my grandparents over my shoulder. Skinner was outside selling jewelry from his car. Uncle Darrow was shaking his false teeth in his mouth, making every small child holler. Dorsey was scooting around. Billy was nose down in boxes of inventory and plumbing supplies. Dwight T was driving around in the old ton truck listening to the Temptations. Lynn was painting signs. Uncle Doug was letting out a loud “Nephew!” Mr. Ed was at the back counter with a soda in hand. My cousins, brother, and I were sweeping the concrete floors and loading lumber and picking up nails and stuffing envelopes for statements and hitting rocks with sticks out back. And my parents…

                We love this business, but we love y’all more.

                “This is about a business passed from one family to the next,” my new friend said. “It’s an old mercantile that used to be a hardware store and now happens to sell furniture.”

“Yeah,” I said with a smile. “I always tell people ‘I was raised in a hardware store.’ Maybe one day little Jack will write a story and his last line will be ‘I was raised in a furniture store.’”

Morgans Mercantile

50 Virgilina Rd
Roxboro, NC 27573
(336) 915-3004