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Project Bird’s Eye View — 215 S. Wilmington St (aka The Raleigh Sandwich Shop)

Goodnight Raleigh continues to explore our city’s forgotten past. In this, our second installment of Project Bird’s Eye View, we reveal the history of the former Raleigh Sandwich Shop building at 215 S. Wilmington St. This Raleigh landmark is located just a few doors away from our first project entry, Slim’s Downtown Distillery. Judging by the rough  common bond brickwork, the solid stone sills and lintels, and unadorned facade, 215 S. Wilmington likely dates from the antebellum period.

This inset from CN Drie’s 1872 Bird’s Eye View map of Raleigh shows 215 S. Wilmington St. (highlighted). Metropolitan Hall with its clock tower can be seen in the foreground.

Market Square

Following the erection of Raleigh’s first combination public hall and market house in 1840 in the 200 block of Fayetteville St., a cluster of brick and frame storefronts sprouted up along S. Wilmington St. over the ensuing 25 years. The 1840 building was destroyed by fire in 1868, and was soon replaced by a “modern” three-story brick Italianate-style structure on the same site.

The new market building extended through the block from Fayetteville to Wilmington Street. It housed a double arcade of market stalls at street level, with a public hall and municipal offices above. It was topped off by a tower which contained the town bell and clock. By 1871 the grand building had become known as Metropolitan Hall.

Metropolitan Hall ca 1900

As with the 1840 structure, businesses associated with market activity around the new building flourished in the 200 block of S. Wilmington. These included wholesale and retail grocers, dry goods, cotton factors, auctioneers, restaurants (also known as “eating houses”), produce stands, billiard halls, and saloons. Both white and African-American merchants owned and operated these businesses side-by-side. The 1872 Raleigh city directory identified ten grocers, two bars, a bakery and a retail liquor dealer on S. Wilmington St. in the vicinity of the market building.

Photo courtesy NC Division of Archives and History

The bustling 200 block of S. Wilmington St. about 1900. City Market can be seen on the extreme right.

215 S. Wilmington St. — The Early Years

Early Raleigh city directories rarely gave a specific address for business listings. For example, the 1875 directory listed “JJ Johnson, grocer, Wilmington near Martin.” The first documentation for 215 S. Wilmington St. in a city directory appears in 1880: JJ Johnson & JW Barbour, grocers and provisions, liquor dealers and saloon; located east side Wilmington, 6 south Hargett. The 1872 Bird’s Eye View map (corroborated by the 1881 Shaffer and 1884 Sanborn maps) bears this out to be 215 S. Wilmington.

In 1883, Raleigh adopted the “Philadelphia Plan,” which introduced a systematic numbering of street addresses. For the first time we see “Johnson & Barbour, liquor dealers and grocers, 215 S. Wilmington St.” The business occupied this address for the next 17 years.

In 1901 a saloon run by WD Bright replaced Johnson & Barbour. An African-American businessman, John Jones, operated an “eating house” at 215 from 1905 until 1910.

Then, two major events in early 20th century Raleigh history permanently altered the business composition of the 200 block of S. Wilmington St. — these were the introduction of state-wide prohibition in 1908 and the removal of the city market to Moore Square in 1914.

Photo courtesy NC Division of Archives and History

Laying Belgian block pavement around Raleigh’s new city market  in 1913.

Although the saloons disappeared immediately, and the produce stands and other market-oriented businesses migrated over to the new facility, the 200 block of S. Wilmington retained much of its character of earlier years. Black restaurateur George Latham operated an “eating house” at 215 from 1911-1916, and an African-American physician, Dr. LE Capehart, occupied the second floor from 1909 until 1912.

215 S. Wilmington St. — The Greek Era

In the years following WW I, with the enforcement of stricter segregation laws, most Wilmington St. African-American merchants and professionals removed to E. Hargett St., which was then emerging as Raleigh’s “Black Main Street.” It was during this time that immigrant Greek newcomers to Raleigh began to set up shop on S. Wilmington.

In 1919 Pete Lavlakos opened the Raleigh Fruit Store at 215 S. Wilmington St. He sold it to Michael Thevis in the early twenties, and by 1925 it was owned by John Capetanos. The Capetanos family still owns the building to this day. Three years ago the building was sold to Land Loch, LL. (Thanks for the update SAM.)

I’m not exactly sure what a ‘fruit store’ was in early 20th century Raleigh, but I imagine it was likely along the lines of what we would call a ‘convenience store’ today. Nonetheless, in 1936 John Capetanos’ Raleigh Fruit Store was listed in the city directory as a ‘restaurant.’ In 1937 he renamed it the Raleigh Sandwich Shop.

Photo courtesy NC Division Archives and History

The Raleigh Sandwich Shop as it appeared in the mid-1950s.

John’s younger brother Christ Capetanos arrived in the U.S. in 1950 and soon went to work for his brother. When John died in 1960, Christ assumed ownership of the restaurant. He and his wife Mitsa ran the venerable Wilmington St. landmark until his retirement in 1989. The building has remained forlornly vacant ever since.

The Raleigh Sandwich Shop as it appeared in 2010.

215 S. Wilmington St. — The 21st Century

There was an attempt to rehab the building and open a bar there a few years ago, but nothing ever came of that endeavor. However, recent projects in the 200 block of S. Wilmington St. have brought us Slim’s club, Taz grocery, and The Busy Bee and  Wilmore restaurants. Last month the iconic plate glass storefront windows of the Raleigh Sandwich Shop were boarded up. We can only hope that another project may soon be underway to resuscitate  this storied downtown landmark.

Sadly vacant and forlorn, the Raleigh Sandwich Shop patiently awaits revitalization.

Timeline for 215 S. Wilmington St.

  • 1870 — City Market erected
  • 1870s — grocers, produce stands, restaurants, saloons flourish on Wilmington St.
  • 1880 – 1900 — Johnson & Barbour, grocers, provisions, and saloon
  • 1901 — WD Bright & Co — saloon
  • 1905 – 1910 — John Jones (AA), eating house
  • 1908 — statewide prohibition
  • 1914 — City Market moves to Moore Square
  • 1911 – 1916 — George Latham (AA), eating house
  • 1917 – 1918 — general merchandise
  • 1919 — Raleigh Fruit Store, Pete Lavlakos
  • 1928 — Raleigh Fruit Store, John Capetanos
  • 1936 — Raleigh Fruit Store, restaurant, John Capetanos
  • 1937-1989 — Raleigh Sandwich Shop, John and Christ Capetanos

About Project Bird’s Eye View

In 1872, artist and draftsman Camille N. Drie set out to document our small town, and drew his “Bird’s Eye View” of the City of Raleigh. It was just a few years after the Civil War. At that time Raleigh was a relatively small capital city in the South. Despite how it appears, his map was not drawn from a hot air balloon, as is popularly believed. Instead, Drie made a series of drawings by means of orthographic projection from vantage points across the city and then stitched them together to create his ‘bird’s eye view.’

Although the intricately detailed drawing shows hundreds of structures across Raleigh, most have long been lost. Project Bird’s Eye View is a new series in which we will attempt to document the remaining structures from this historic map, and to provide a small bit of history of the building over the years.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos in this article are by Raleigh Boy.