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The place to go to spend your dough

By Kelly Twedell & Rebekah Sanderlin

The historic downtown area today is bustling with coffee shops, cafes, bars, boutiques and even after hours dance clubs. In the city’s earlier days it was a hub for government and shopping. Longtime Fayetteville residents fondly recall the places where they grew up shopping with their own families.

One of the longest operating department stores in Fayetteville was The Capitol. It was first established in 1912 by Jacob and Kalman Stein, who immigrated from Lithuania, and was open until the early 1990s.

Mayor Tony Chavonne grew up in Massey Hill and recalled shopping with his mother. For groceries his family frequented King’s Grocery in Massey Hill and, just like today, they relied on the Massey Hill Hardware Store for any and everything because the store has a history of providing patrons with an uncommon level of service.

Chavonne said that his mother would use the wages she earned working in the tobacco warehouse on Gillespie Street to take him to The Capitol, usually on Labor Day, to stock up with a few pairs of jeans and a pair of shoes to last for the school year.

According to historic papers, one of the early leaders in fine clothing for men and boys, selling hats and furnishings, was the family of J.A. Burns & Co. Later, other main stores downtown included Sears, J.C. Penney, Belk, Fleishman’s Big Store, Ed Fleishman & Brothers and Leon Sugar’s.

Remaining a loyal customer, Chavonne ended up buying Joanne Chavonne’s engagement ring from Mrs. Stein’s jewelry store, tucked away in the corner of The Capitol. He chuckled as he recalled financing the symbolic bauble with a loan against his car that cost him 18 percent.

“One of my fondest memories was coming downtown at Christmas with my family to people watch and take in the decorative lights,” he said. “The Capitol decorated their windows with a big Christmas scene.”

In the 1900s, some of the earliest Jewish families were the Fleishmans, from Latvia, and the Stein’s, from Lithuania. Many people recall Herlyn Stein’s jewelry shop and the antiques she brought to Fayetteville from around the world.

She was known for her spectacular, unique pieces. The Capitol always carried higher end items, right down to having their own millinery department which sold hats. It was a specialty shop indeed.

As Nick Fasul’s oldest daughter, Dena Potter’s family also has deep roots in Fayetteville. She recalled the family having their own charge account at The Capitol. She would often take her three sisters shopping and it would be paid for at the end of the month. That’s how the businesses ran back before plastic changed the meaning of “charge it.”

“Mrs. Poe had the most wonderful lunches and Mrs. Stein had the most unique jewelry. Her items came from Europe and all over, I loved them,” Potter said, referring to Ruth Poe’s downtown restaurant The Birdcage.

Bob Bleecker recalls when his father bought him his first suit downtown. “He was a suit man, as am I today, wearing one to work everyday,” he said.

Another local resident with family ties to early Fayetteville is Ann Newberry Augustine. As a child Augustine recalls shopping at Fleishman’s Big Store.

“This was my shop and Mable was the woman who waited on me,” she said. “She knew what size I wore and what would look cute on me and would call Mother when something would come in to suit me.”

Ms. West, an employee at Fleishman’s, was in charge of the shoe department and, to measure the size of a customer’s foot, Augustine said you would look through a machine that would show the bones in your foot to see if your shoes fit correctly, similar to an x-ray.

She also remembered finding toys in the store that dazzled her eyes.

“One Christmas I really wanted a Tony doll from Fleishman’s and I did not get it under the tree, but daddy bought me the last one in the window, following Christmas,” Augustine said.

In high school Augustine said she shopped at The Capitol and said the fashions then included tweed suits with fur or Peter Pan collars, Pappagallo shoes and circle pins. “We all looked alike in the fall,” she said. “Glamour magazine came out and told us what we should all be wearing and The Capitol carried it all.”

The trousseau Augustine collected before her marriage came from The Capitol. “I spent more on a Christian Dior nightgown than on my own wedding dress. It was raw silk with beaded lace, and I later passed it down to my daughters,” she said.

Susan Bender, Ruth Poe’s daughter, reminisced about her childhood memories in Fayetteville. Though she went away to St. Mary’s boarding school, she said that she still has memories shopping at The Capitol.