Franklin Street Stories


Cam: My name is Cam Hill. I just turned 55, I was born in Chapel. I was born at Duke Hospital, immediately came home to Purefoy Road, and I've lived here ever since. Now I live on Rosemary Street.

Interviewer: [0:17] What I've kind of been doing is talking about different periods of Franklin Street. You've said that you grew up here, were you at the high school that was actually on ...

Cam: [0:29] No, that closed before I got there. I wasn't at the elementary school either. Franklin Street for me, one of the things that I remember is when I was 10. I saved enough money to buy a football. I might have been younger than that, eight or nine. I remember that it cost $10.25, which was a lot for a football then. It was a great football. I bought it at McGintey's Sport Shop; which was, to me, the most interesting store on Franklin Street; which is where one of those t-shirt stores is now, but the same storefront is there. I mean, its one of the surviving storefronts.

Anyway, the guy that owned it was a guy named McGintey, Sam McGintey. My cousin was a friend of his, so he gave me a deal. McGintey went missing years later. He left his wife and family and just disappeared. I don't know, he turned up in Myrtle Beach or something a few weeks later. But that was then. Things that were on Franklin Street when I was little: Every Friday night we ate dinner either at the Ratskeller or at the Zoom Zoom, which were both Danziger restaurants with pretty identical menus. Pizza and lasagna and the single gambler.

[01:48] The Zoom Zoom is where Ben and Jerry's is now, and Bruger's Bagels. The Ratskeller just recently got sold and was on Aber Alley. So, I was downtown all the time. The thing that was downtown; I didn't go to either of the schools downtown but the First Public Library was downtown. It was in a wood framed building that is where the Baptist church parking lot is. After it moved to its next location at the corner of Boundary Street and Franklin, a head shop went in. A place called the Dandelion. They sold clothing, but they also sold pipes and paraphenalia and stuff. Which, as I got older, and the 60s happened, I graduated from high school in 1971 so the late '60s I was downtown a lot. That was probably when Franklin Street had the biggest impression on me.

[02:54] Chapel Hill was; I don't know if that's where we originally got the reputation as a liberal bastion, but there were a number of antiwar protests downtown. There were antiwar protests on a weekly basis downtown. There were things called "be-ins", which were sort of tamer versions of love-ins. They were just basically music and people gathering at Silent Sam, but for a junior high or high school student as I was it was pretty cool stuff. There was nothing to keep us from going across Franklin Street onto the campus and sort of being part of that, and that's what we did.

The wall in front of Silent Sam was a teenager hangout. I guess its no longer that way, its not, but that's what we do on Friday nights, we go hang out downtown on the wall. There were drugs, that's where people bought drugs and there was that kind of stuff. We did what teenagers do and Chapel Hill was a lot easier to do that there; I don't know if its easier, it was just different. But that's what we did. It was a small town. If the police caught us out late at night, doing things we weren't supposed to be doing, they just sent us home. They got to know us, it was pretty easy.

[04:21] The other things that always happened on Franklin Street, it started later than that, was sort of the basketball celebrations. I've been going to those since the '60s, and beating Duke always meant something. Carolina basketball has had success from before. '57 was the first championship in my lifetime. Through the '70s we came really close, we had Phil Ford. I really thought we were going to do it then but we didn't actually win until '82.

[05:02] I remember in '81 I got to go to the game at the Spectrum. Reagan got shot, it was on a Monday when Reagan got shot. I had a bad feeling, and we lost to Indiana which made it worse.Then I drove all night, and I drove onto Franklin Street, and the celebration, even though we lost, was still going on. Like eight hours later. It was a pretty decadent looking scene.

The next year we won it all, and that celebration was truly memorable in that regard. They all are. We had one again, like I said, this past Saturday night when we beat Duke, but the students were gone so it was about a sixth the size of what it usually is, but it was neat to be there.

Interviewer: [5:50] They still set things on fire. [laughs]

Cam: [5:52] I still don't understand what they did to set on fire. My whole participation level has changed completely. I'm more of an observer. I take my children; my older children go on their own and my 11 year old goes with me. That's just part of life here.

The other way that Franklin Street was huge for me was that I'm a builder, and in 1977, during the winter of '77, I had just turned 25. I got a job working for Milton Julian, doing some remodeling in his clothing store. That was on Franklin Street, there were two brothers, you're going to talk to Missy. She was Milton's niece.

[06:50] Anyway, Milton had this big old replica of the old well in his store. He wanted to rearrange his store and I got to move the old well around. I got to be good friends with Milton, and I did this work for him, and we re-did a bunch of stuff in his store. He said to me "You know, I head the Record Bar is moving from Henderson Street up to Franklin Street to the space the old Electric Construction Company." So I got in touch with the Record Bar, which was a chain of record stores out of Durham. I got the job and I ended up actually working for Record Bar for like seven months after that.

[07:37] I ended up doing all their work for the next 15 years. I built all their cabinets, I built a great many stores of theirs all over the country but the one at Franklin Street was the first one I did. After that, right then, I did the Record Bar downtown, I did something called Audio Buys, which is where... Lets see where that place is. Its one of those coffee shops.

Jack Sprat, is that still there? Yeah, that's Audio Buys. I did that, I did the original work for the nightclub upstairs which is called Pretty's.

[08:22] This is all in just one summer on Franklin Street, so I did a ton of work there. I remember when I was building Pretty's, I did some work with Bratsboro on the boiler system and I ended up, we made a miscalculation. We didn't know it at the time, which is what a miscalculation is. We flooded Sutton's Drugstore. [laughter]

I really remember that. John Word, who is somebody you should talk to, he called me and said "Cam! There's water coming through the ceiling!" So I went rushing down there, this is like six o'clock at night. I turned off the water, the trouble was it took quite a while for the water to stop coming through the ceiling. But anyway, I had insurance. John was nice about it, he understood. He called the insurance company, he only charged the insurance company $600 even though I flooded his whole store. Which is an amazing thing, John's a great guy. He's still at Sutton's and I've known him ever since.

[09:31] Anyway, then I went down the street and decided I wanted to open a restaurant of my own, so I leased a space. It was a condemned building. It was called Crook's Corner because there was a woman who had a fish market there, and in 1954 she was brutally murdered. She was abducted from the fish market and taken out old 86 towards Hillsboro, and they could hear her screaming, this was the story Roland Guinness, whose the best, told me.

[10:18] Anyway, it was a bulldozer driver for Nell Otear. But Nell Otear -- that's a construction company in Durham, one of the biggest in the world at the time; considered him such a valuable bulldozer driver they got him a good lawyer and he got off. That's the story.

So I opened a restaurant with my partner Ray Wittenburgh called Crooks Corner Barbecue. Everybody said that it was such a bad part of town that it was just winos. Nobody would ever come eat there. They came and ate there, they just didn't necessarily come back because we weren't a very good restaurant.

[11:00] Anyway, after I gave it up, I turned it over, Bill Neil and Gene Hammer took it over and they've run an incredibly successful, popular restaurant ever since.So that's been... '78, 30 years. Like I said, I was the person who built that. That part of town was pretty, I guess rough. It wasn't rough, it was just poor at that time.

About that same time I moved to the corner of Cambert Avenue and Merit Mill, and I lived there up until four or five years ago. So I was just off of West Franklin Street. Over the years I did lots of construction jobs there. The things that have changed about Franklin Street to the most part are that it used to be if the students on campus wanted anything they came to Franklin Street.

[12:03] Now, there's so many places to eat and so much stuff available over there that they no longer have to come. I mean, there was a stationary store on Franklin Street, called Leadletter Pickerts, and it was the only stationary store in town. They did a ton of business, but you can buy all that at the student stores now. So, it's less and less necessary for the students.

They seem to come down for entertainment, I mean the drinking, the bars, and all that are still there. I don't think the Varsity Theater draws many students, but they come and the rest of us still cater to the students. Its no longer as essential as it once was.

[12:47] To me what Franklin Street has meant is that I have a 19 year old daughter who is a freshman at Carolina, an 18 year old son who is a senior at East Chapel High and an 11 year old who goes to Glenwood where I went. So, for the last 19 years, sort of watching them grow up on Franklin Street has been a really cool part of what Franklin Street has meant to me. There's all kinds of things that aren't there anymore that I miss, but there are other things there that I like. Pepper's Pizza I guess is 20 years old, and we've come to enjoy that. I've always enjoyed that, I've been friends with those people forever.

[13:36] Jeff's is gone. Jeff's is where the Blue Horn Lounge is. If you've not heard about Jeff's, you need to. Anyway, its run by a man named Jim Mousmellis, and he sold magazines and paperback books and he had a soda fountain. He sold Cherry Cokes, he sold the moniated Cokes for when you had a headache, which is something I don't think you can get anywhere else. I certainly miss that.

[14:10] The Carolina Theater is long gone, the Gap was there, Junior was there. When I was really young, the Town Hall was a bar. There have been lots of bars, the New Establishment, the Town Hall, all of them, they're gone.There's other bars. I don't go to bars so its just not an issue for me. Old things live, new things come. Like I said, its not necessarily a nostalgic thing, but its a fun thing for my children to be there, and its fun for us to walk down there. We really enjoy that aspect of Franklin Street.

An interesting thing about Franklin Street that I've thought about since you talked to me; I was elected five years ago to the Chapel Hill Town Council. I enjoyed being on the council, it was a big time... suck, but what's interesting is during the campaign this last fall I basically made some decisions that didn't help me get elected. I coached my son's football team, I didn't spend much time on my campaign. There's a lot of criticism about what downtown Chapel Hill has become.

[15:32] I made a decision a year or two ago. I was tired of hearing everybody complain about parking. I wasn't tired of it because of what I think about parking, I just thought there was something we could do about it. So I started a parking committee, and it was based on downtown parking. We did a lot of good work, but it didn't ever amount to anything.

Basically, I left office before any of our recommendations were followed through on. That kind of started, there were a number of people on the parking committee who were there just to help their own businesses. There's some progressive ideas about parking that people don't accept, which is that if you don't have enough. People want free parking, but if you have free parking in Chapel Hill it would all be used by students parking there to go to class. You can't do that.

[16:39] At any rate, there's some ideas that some people don't like, and there's a lot of self-interest going on in this committee. I was politically naive in the sense that I said what I thought. I don't know if that's naive or what it is. My personal feeling is that having a parking problem on Franklin Street indicates some degree of health, it means people want to be down there.

The other thing that came up during the campaign was all this talk about panhandling. Now, I don't have any love lost for panhandlers; I don't give panhandlers money, I don't particularly like them. Its their right to do it and its my right to say no. Now they can't be aggressive, because then that's annoying people and there are laws against it. I've taught my children from a very young age not to give them money. If they want to give them money its fine, but don't let people intimidate them. Just ignore them. It's really not that big an issue in our lives.

[17:51] There's a lot of people in town who basically see it as being a much bigger deal than I do. I ended up, during the campaign, because I defended the panhandler's rights to be there, I didn't want more laws. I basically said "Get over it." I ended up losing. I don't know that that's why I lost, it doesn't matter. I lost by 60 votes, so if 30 people who had voted for somebody else voted for me, I wouldn't have lost.

So, it may be my defense of Franklin Street the way it is when I say that Franklin Street; I'm not saying that its without problems, but I do believe that there's far more right with Franklin Street than there is wrong.To my way of thinking, the empty storefronts are symptomatic of people charging too much rent, and the changing nature of retail in America. You can buy everything you need in a Target store, so why do we have all these little stores? That's the way most people look at it.

[18:56] At any rate, Franklin Street has given me my life back. My defense of the way Franklin Street is helped me no longer be on the council. Don't get me wrong, it was a disappointment, but I'm not sorry it happened the way it did.Like I said, I look at it this way. My view of Franklin Street, I think Franklin Street is a vibrant, healthy environment. I went downtown last night, and I ate at Pepper's Pizza. The parking lot was full, the streets were full and the students were three days away. They're out of town and they won't be back in three days.

So if Franklin Street is really hurting that bad, it didn't show last night. You go downtown now, there's plenty happening there. There's plenty of businesses that have been there for a long time. If Chill Bubble Tea goes out of business, I do not interpret that has having anything to do with the effect of Franklin Street.

[19:55] I see Franklin Street, and the changes that the council are trying to make down there are good, but they happen so slowly that they're not going to change the nature of the town much. Its going to improve things. The new development on Lot five is the scariest thing I've ever done on the council because I know its going to be there forever. I hope it works out well. I'm confident that it will, but there's some apprehension there. At any rate, as a main street goes in a town like this, we can do a lot worse than Franklin Street. I appreciate what's there. I appreciate the history its provided for me and my family and I'm really happy that its going to do that for a long time to come.

Interviewer: [20:50] I wanted to get back to McGintey's real quick, because this is audio I'm also having people describe these places, what they look like. If you could tell me about going in to buy the football, or just describe the place in general.

Cam: [21:03] McGintey's, its funny, I remember the building was to the edge of the stuff, but it has a storefront that at the time in the 60s was very contemporary. Its just all vertical strips of wood. I want to say its like- I don't know the names of the t-shirt stores-

Interviewer: [21:22] Johnny T-Shirts?

Cam: [21:24] No, no, its on the other side of the street.

Interviewer: [21:26] Not the Shrunken Head?

Cam: [21:28] No, its certainly not the Shrunken Head. I'll tell you a story about the Shrunken Head. The Shrunken Head was originally built, it was a head shop. OK, I never went in there because I thought it was a nouveau head shop blah-blah-blah, but then one day, at some point I was in this place a few years later when I wanted some cigarette papers. They got very indignant, because what had happened is somebody had bought it and turned it into what it is now. They got very indignant that I would ask them for that.I'm like "This is a head shop right?" and they said "No." They didn't even acknowledge that it ever had been, and it was. I mean, what kind of name is the Shrunken Head anyway? It just doesn't make any sense. So its never been one of my favorite stores. But anyway, McGintey's is within a few storefronts of there. Its got all these vertical strips of redwood and its held up for 50 years! It was just a very narrow, long store and it actually had a back door out onto the alley in back. I remember McGintey was a bald-headed, skinny guy. Smoked cigarettes, and I guess he drank a lot. He was probably 20 years older than I was. You find Roland, he can tell you about him going missing. That was a different story.

Interviewer: [23:09] You were talking about the "be-ins?"

Cam: [23:11] Be-ins were; well in the 60s there was something called "love-ins". Well love-ins was probably a little bit risque for here. I think be-Ins existed everywhere, where you just went and you were. You be-in. You were there. Its "be", its an active. I don't know, I'm too far removed from English class to give a description of what "to be" is. But anyway, you just went, hung out, listened to music, danced and did whatever you wanted to do. The students would have those, and that was the next step for us. There were plenty of high school kids there, and it was very fun.

Interviewer: [23:56] Were there any that stood out among others or was it just kind of an everyday thing?

Cam: [23:59] Well it seemed like it happened a lot. I'm sorry, but the '60s sort of blurs for everybody. [laughter]

That's really the case. They were all pretty much the same. What we had done prior to that, it wasn't on Franklin Street but we used to crash fraternity parties. I remember they used to give us a case of beer to go away. We were pretty obnoxious little junior high kids. This was sort of, not the fraternity element, but there was a lot of cross-over then. I mean hippies and fraternity people had lots to do with each other, they had the common bond of drinking I guess.There were a lot of those.

There was also something called Jubilee, which wasn't on Franklin Street, it was on campus. It was an annual weekend of music that stayed at a fairly low level. I think I was in tenth grade and it was The Temptations, the Association, Petula Clark. It was either the Four Tops or The Temptations, I can't remember. So that didn't really attract that many people. I mean it did from around here, but then in 1971, my senior year in high school, I don't know if the Grateful Dead were there, but, Jefferson Airplane, there were some really big bands. All of a sudden everybody from the Southeast came, so they quit. It was too bad. But it was a really big deal music thing. I don't know, somewhere there's a list of who played those. It was a big draw but they had to stop it. Too many people were coming, it was too successful.