Lake Norman & Mooresville

Old neighborhood grocery slated for demolition

The Cook’s Grocery building is scheduled for demolition.
The Cook’s Grocery building is scheduled for demolition. COURTESY OF COTTON KETCHIE

A longstanding clapboard building in Mooresville that once housed a neighborhood grocery is scheduled for demolition, with the town all but sealing the fate of what could have become a historic landmark.

Although it has fallen into ruin, the one-story structure known as Cook’s Grocery, carries historical value, having stood for several decades on the corner of Mackey and Patterson avenues, just north of downtown. But amid lingering concerns, commissioners unanimously voted at an Oct. 5 public hearing to tear down what some nearby residents have described as an eyesore.

“It’s becoming a problem,” said Allison Kraft, the town’s senior engineer.

The decision came despite a request by one of the building’s two owners who attended the hearing that they have more time to fix it up. The owners, brothers James and Ronald McLean, are family members of a former town manager, Rick McLean.

Acknowledging the poor condition of the building, Ronald McLean told commissioners, “I’m a procrastinator.” But at the same time, he said, the building is not abandoned. “We’ve got it full of stuff,” he said. “Some of it is antiques, some of it is junk.”

Requesting more time, McLean said he is working with a group that restores historic buildings and is seeking to raise money to replace its roof over the next year or so, “to see if we can save it.

“I think it deserves a second chance,” he said.

The town must give the owners 30 days to appeal the decision before it can tear down the building. If they decide to do so, they would have to argue in N.C. Superior Court that the building is in fact not abandoned, filing an injunction to halt the demolition, Kraft said. It was not immediately clear whether that might happen.

Longtime residents of the town said Cook’s Grocery would be missed.

Cotton Ketchie, a local artist who grew up in town, said, “That’s a shame.”

The 71-year-old, who owns the downtown art gallery Landmark Galleries Inc. and who is writing a book about enduring historic properties throughout town, remembers delivering groceries there as a teenager.

“A lot of neighborhood kids went by there,” Ketchie said. He said the grocery closed in the mid-1980s, after changing hands a number of times.

One of them was Ora Carr, who grew up behind the grocery and who remembers going by there for penny candy.

“The people who lived in this area knew all about Cook’s Grocery,” she said. She said in addition to selling groceries, it sold meat and loose goods such as beans.

At 83, Carr still lives near the grocery, on the corner of Iredell and Patterson avenues.

Despite its tattered appearance, she said the old grocery still holds sentimental value, saying, “That’s one I wish would stay.”

That the dilapidated building is still standing is somewhat surprising. Considered for demolition several years ago, the town granted the property owners more time to fix it up.

“Since that time, no work has been done on the property,” Kraft said. “The board’s opinion is that the property owner has had years to do something with the property but has not taken that opportunity.”

The town decided to tear down the dilapidated building amid safety concerns and complaints from nearby residents that its presence has negatively affected the community, Kraft said. She said the building was declared unfit for human habitation by a code enforcement officer who inspected it in the spring.

Although the owners did not respond to a complaint the town served, they had shown interest in preserving the building, requesting in the spring of 2014 that the town Historic Preservation Commission consider recommending it for designation as a local landmark.

But after the commission inspected the building, the owners did not respond to follow-up requests for more historical details the commission would have used to determine whether it is eligible for such a designation. Among the missing details were how long the grocery was open and whether it played a significant role in the community.

“The ability to pursue it further … was never actually realized,” Tim Brown, senior planner for the town and staff liaison to the commission, said of the designation.

Responding to a request by the town, the commission concluded that tearing down the building is more cost effective than restoring it, agreeing with an assessment by a construction contractor that specializes in historic preservation.

The contractor, Joel Goodman of Goodman Construction Co., determined that fully restoring it, as well as bringing it up to building code requirements, would cost as much as $225,000, far greater than the value of the tax-delinquent property. He cited not only an unstable foundation, but also termites and water damage.

Mooresville is home to a dozen local landmarks, which are designated by commissioners on the commission’s recommendation, Brown noted. Most of them are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Southern Railway Depot that dates to the early 1860s.

But a number of longstanding buildings here have disappeared over the years, according to longtime residents.

In the case of the grocery, its owners claim that it was built in the early 1880s, saying it is one of the oldest mercantile buildings in town. Historic preservation officials, however, say it appears a bit younger, dating to the early 20th century and retaining its original wood exterior.

Whatever the case, even if officials were able to verify the historic significance of the building, the town still would have likely decided to tear it down as a result of its condition, said Andy Poore, the town historian.

“It has sat so long without care,” he said.

The town has agreed to pay up front for its demolition, which is expected to cost about $5,000, said Kraft, the town engineer. To recoup the money, it would place a lien on the property.

Jacob Flannick is a freelance writer: jacobflannick@gmail.com.

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