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Father & Son’s building is under contract. Is the vintage institution the next member of the Raleigh diaspora to Durham?
On a weeknight at the busy Person Street Bar, Brian Ownbey recognizes the chair he pulls from beneath a secluded corner table. He sold it to them—just as he did a lot of the colorful, mid-century furniture in the dimly lit room—before it opened in 2014.
In fact, for nearly two decades, Brian and Kiyomi Ownbey—who pulls out another familiar chair a few moments later—have sold innumerable pieces of vintage furniture and clothing, tchotchkes and curios, records and books to people around the world from their downtown Raleigh institution Father & Son. But that could be changing just before the business turns 20. A month ago, the Ownbeys learned from their longtime landlords that Father & Son’s four-floor building at 107 Hargett Street was going to be sold. They’ve since turned their eyes to big parcels of cheap property in Durham.
“We looked at a couple of places just today in Durham, and those guys were really excited about the shop and knew a little bit about our history,” says Brian, his voice halting, as if he’s offering a guilty confession. “It really just comes down to [the fact] we’ve got a business here, and we’d like to stay here. But can we afford to?”
Just before Thanksgiving, a representative at Quail Properties, the Ownbeys’ longtime landowners and landlords, called to inform them that the space would soon be sold to a group of investors. (Dan Austin Jr. at Quail Properties did not respond to two weeks of requests for comment.) The Ownbeys had occasionally toyed with the idea of buying the building themselves, even making a few attempts to do so. But it never seemed to be for sale. These new investors, they were told, had deep pockets and their papers in order. When Brian heard the news, he was in the car as soon as he could hang up the phone, prowling nearby Raleigh blocks for spaces that Father & Son might call its future home.
“We felt safe, actually. James Goodnight is here beside us with Death & Taxes, and McClatchy’s digital office is on the other side,” says Brian. “What would they want with us?”
So far, no one seems to know for sure. As the Ownbeys understand it, their building, built a little less than a century ago, may be leveled to make way for an entrance into the redevelopment of The News & Observer’s headquarters, purchased by investors for $20 million last November.
Kiyomi has met a few architects who have come to Father & Son to take preliminary looks at the building during recent weeks, but they remain tight-lipped. She also met Joe Whitehouse, a real estate developer who is part of the group behind The News & Observer project. He left his card but couldn’t say much about the project or plans.
“I do not have a comment yet,” Whitehouse says now. “We do have it under contract.”
Father & Son became a successful downtown Raleigh retail emporium long before that concept served as the theme of seminars, special municipal committees, or themed shopping nights in the city center. The business grew at a rather astonishing clip, too, expanding beyond the original basement and ground level into the space’s top two floors after only about five years. Ever since, Father & Son has sprawled through nearly 9,000 square feet, making it one of the biggest downtown storefronts in Raleigh. By comparison, DECO, a block away, is 1,700 square feet. The size, says Kiyomi, is one of its greatest assets.
“The thing that I really love about our shop is that there is something for anyone who comes in,” she says. “We have pieces that are very high-end, but then we have vintage clothing that is reasonable, and records. We appeal to a diverse population, and we’re an interesting experience.”
Right now, the Ownbeys have no timeline for moving out of their longtime home and for signing a new lease elsewhere. They’ve simply asked that they be informed about progress on the sale so that they can minimize the timespan during which they’re closed.
If they do head west to Durham, they’ll be the third Raleigh institution in less than a year to announce such a move, following the diner Finch’s and the Hillsborough Street bowling hub, The Alley. In recent years, the Ownbeys had considered opening a second space in Durham to complement the original Raleigh store. They never considered it to be an either-or proposition.
“It’s going to be sad, really sad,” says Brian. “A lot of it has to do with being in that spot. I love that building.”
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Love you guys Lizzie, Benny, Laura Brian, Kiyomi. Hang in there!
How many historic structures will be leveled and established businesses driven out before we realize we are making a mistake. Investors with deep pockets should not be allowed to do whatever they want. Raleigh becomes more homogenized/antiseptic and artificially unaffordable by the day. Can’t wait for the day I can get the hell out.