EASTOVER — Stephanie Honeycutt is in something of a quandary over the framing.
There’s a decision coming, but the 32-year-old wife and mother of two young daughters just isn’t sure which frame to choose for the large photograph of her children.
“See, this frame is better,” Charles McLaurin is saying. “You are going to like the silver with that picture rather than the gold.”
Another day is nearing an end at Eastover Art Works, where McLaurin has been for customers from Dunn, Clinton, Erwin, Cedar Grove, Stedman, Vander, Godwin, Wade and Fayetteville since 1971. There also is the fellow from New Jersey, who each year would drop off his framing orders on his way down I-95 South to Florida for winter and pick up his items in the fall when heading back north.
And, of course, customers who call Eastover home.
“It’s the end of an era,” says Allen Register, 65, who is picking up a framed puzzle photograph for his 94-year-old mother.
This isn’t just another sale at the business.
Charles McLaurin wants to know about Register’s mother and how she’s getting along. Out Eastover way, you see, customers of Charles and Shirley McLaurin are lifelong friends.
“We’ve known a lot of customers over the years, and they’ve passed on,” says Charles McLaurin, 79. “Now, we have their children and even their grandchildren as customers.”
But after 51 years, Charles McLaurin says it’s time.
Eastover Art Works, at least under Charles and wife Shirley’s ownership, is closing Friday.
“We will not be taking any framing orders after Christmas,” Shirley McLaurin says.
The couple will spend January and February reducing inventory that includes art prints, woodcarvings and home furnishings.
“But I won’t be doing any framing, because we’re closing,” he says. “We’ll have a going-out-of-business sale in January and February. We’ll gradually reduce stuff until it’s gone.”
18 acres, a house and a barn
Charles McLaurin is somewhat nostalgic as he looks back on his time here along Old Dunn Road in the Eastover community that’s been a part of him since the day he was born.
“I bought the land when I was 27, and I’m thinking around 1967 or 1968,” he says. “It was 18 acres. There was just an old house and a barn here. I was working at Railway Express on Hillsborough Street in Fayetteville, and me and my mama ran McLaurin’s Grocery right next door. We did some framing there part time.”
If you wanted a family photograph custom-framed for a birthday or anniversary or Christmas gift or some memorabilia of a sports team or whatever you had in mind, you knew Charles McLaurin would do it right with a fair price.
“Our prices have always been fair,” he says. “So was our furniture.”
Ahh, those sofa and chairs and secretary desks and coffee tables, end tables and bed frames.
Brother Kenny McLaurin joined the business about 1975 after learning about furniture sales at Smithboro Furniture in Fayetteville.
“It was middle- to high-end furniture,” Shirley McLaurin says.
It was quality furniture with what is known as “good bones.”
Eastover Art Works was becoming a destination for customers, and not customers in Eastover alone.
“It took off,” Charles McLaurin says. “We did well with the furniture business. It was a joint business.”
Kenny McLaurin could tell you about every piece of furniture in inventory on one side of the business, and Charles McLaurin could measure and cut and tell you everything about framing from the matting to the frames to the frosted glass.
Business was booming, and none more than in the custom-framing department each Christmas season with what seemed like a factory of employees, including his Aunt Eunice McLaurin, Catherine Warren, Joyce Averitte and Brenda Clark. And Shirley Tew McLaurin, who put an end to Charles’ bachelorhood in 1992 at Culbreth Memorial Church off Cedar Creek Road.
He pulls out a yearbook from old Central High School, Class of 1964, finds her senior class photograph and says Shirley Tew was one of the prettiest girls in the class.
“Best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “I had a crush on her in high school, but I was too chicken to ask her out.”
‘We hate to close’
The pace at the business is slower these days.
Eunice McLaurin, Catherine Warren, Joyce Averitte and Brenda Clark no longer are in the framing department, where they were like elves in Santa’s workshop and always helped with framing for customers for those gifts that had to be under the tree by Christmas Eve.
Kenny McLaurin was 84 when he died in 2019.
Elvira Cain McLaurin, the mother Charles and his brother adored who lived in the red-brick house adjacent to the business, died at 85 in 1997.
“Kenny and I would eat lunch with her almost every day,” Charles McLaurin says. “Even the salesmen who would come by.”
He still can taste her fried chicken, chicken and pastry, rice and gravy, country field peas and thin cornbread with butter. And Elvira McLaurin’s vegetable soup, too, when the winters were cold.
“We hate to close,” Charles McLaurin says. “We have had a lot of good customers over the years.”
But, Charles and Shirley McLaurin say, it’s time.
“They come in here and almost cry,” Shirley McLaurin says about longtime customers. “I’ve had one or two tear up a little bit. We have made some dear friends with some of our customers. I hope we will continue to be friends after we’re gone.”
Charles Godwin, 78, stopped by last week.
“They been friends all my life,” he says. “But the time comes when you have to do what you have to do. The community is going to miss them. I hate to see them close. Everybody likes them.”
John Tyson, the N.C. Court of Appeals judge, is Eastover-born, and Tyson stopped in late Thursday.
“It’s sad,” he says. “It’s the end of an era. Shirley is amazing on layout, design and presentation. Charles can make it, and she can make it look good.”
Stephanie Honeycutt, the wife and mother still debating that frame for her children, says she doesn’t know that she will do without them.
“My mom is related to Miss Shirley,” she says. “It’s sad for the community. This is the place to come for framing, and it’s a masterpiece for your home.”
‘It will be sad’
Now don’t get the idea Charles and Shirley McLaurin are leaving Eastover.
Charles McLaurin still is the seven-term mayor since 2007, and when it comes to residents, they would have it no other way.
Include Shirley McLaurin among those residents.
“He cannot give up being mayor,” she says with something of a wry grin, “until I’m ready to give up being first lady.”
But the sunset is beginning to settle over the business.
“It will be sad, but I look forward to our later years and enjoying each other,” says Shirley McLaurin, 76. “Just being able to get up in the morning and do what I want to. Right now, I plan on doing some basket-making and quilting.”
And, she says, there’s that Alaska trip, “the Lord willing,” planned for the couple in August.
He’ll still do his woodcarving, and perhaps some framing here and there.
“I look forward to not having the pressure and not having to get something done,” Charles McLaurin says. “I’m still going to do some artwork, but I want to simplify my life with things at home and in life.”
So many custom-framed masterpieces.
So many customers who became friends.
So many memories.
“God,” Charles McLaurin says, “has blessed both of us.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.