Making Downtown “Home”

1 Nov 2019 Article and Photography by Kathy Coule, creator of Faces of FAY

I’d walked by the red doors and black and white awnings that are a familiar sight to several in Fayetteville many times while meeting people and doing business downtown. City Center Gallery and Books, their ‘shop local’ flag waving at me, and their window art inviting me inside. It wasn’t until I decided to print my first photography piece that I mustered the courage to walk into their gallery and inquire about selling locally. Co-owner, Diane Parfitt, was beyond friendly as my in-laws and I perused the large collection of books, asked questions, and examined the beautiful work of local artists, including Stephanie Brown’s “Empowered” exhibit. I had little time during my first visit but knew I had to return and chat some more with both Diane and her husband and business partner, Dr. Hank Parfitt. What a delight they both were! As a military spouse, I pay attention to the people in my community that desire to help me feel “home” in their city. The Parfitt’s did that and more. I felt I was sitting among family friends, laughing together, as they shared their story and took an interest in me as a new photographer, army spouse, and community neighbor. Below, they reflect on how they started in our downtown district, renovating a building built in the 1800s, and establishing a space that welcomes family and friends, encourages and supports local artists, and promotes the love of books and community.

Diane: “About over 20 years, they had Fourth Friday downtown. They had been going on for a couple of years and we’d always come down and we’d look around at all these vacant buildings, and we’d ‘gosh, wouldn’t it be great if somebody bought one and renovated it and turned it into something?’ And then you know a couple of years later one Saturday afternoon…”

Hank: “and even before that, we’d gotten inspired because they’d started Fourth Friday and the Arts Crawl and a lot of the businesses, you know the architectural firms, they’d open up their business and have art displayed by local artists and wine and you’d walk around… street lamps were in by then…so, there was life in downtown Fayetteville… this was the mid to late ‘90s.""

Diane: “And there were some businesses starting. Molly had started Rude Awakening… there were things happening, but there were still a lot of empty buildings and a lot of need for more, the support and enhancement was already going on, but we kept saying ‘oh, wouldn’t it be nice if somebody would do this.’ And so one Saturday afternoon I was home minding my own business, reading a book, and I get a phone call, ‘hey! You remember you said wouldn’t it be nice if somebody… I found a building!’ And so I was like, okay… so, I come down and meet him.”

Hank: “I was more subtle than that!”

Diane: “Oh, yes…(laughter)”

Hank: “I did! John Malzone is a realtor and was across the street standing in line for hotdogs. A man and his wife had a hot dog pushcart. So, I say ‘hey John, what’s cooking? You got any deals on real estate?’ And he said, ‘yes, as a matter of fact right over there, that building.”

Diane: “And it was this one.”

Hank: “Because we were literally right across the street. So, he said ‘you wanna see’ and I said ‘yeah’… it’d been in one family since 1920… it’d been built-in 1890. Two married sisters, their family was ready to sell, the first time it’d been up for sale, and it had literally come up on the market the day before. So, I went home.” Diane: “It was awful…awful. It was a wig shop here and then the back was in total… just crumbling.”

Hank: “You were doing something in the bed and so I flopped down on the bed and said ‘I’ve got an idea. Let’s go downtown and look at something.”

Diane: “No, no, no, no… I drove down here and met you…”

Hank: “Okay, we don’t remember the same story…”

Diane: “And we went in and what got me was the staircase… and I’ll take you back and show you the staircase… and it was like Gone with the Wind. I mean, it is that dramatic of a staircase. And so, you know, I have this fantasy and so we thought about it and then we go home and we’re talking about it and I think we probably came back another time. John assured us that the renter would stay here. It was very affordable as far as property goes and so we bought it and she stayed for a couple of years. Probably two at the most, because that would have been ’99 and in ’02, we started renovating. In the meantime, we started to get rolling in what we were going to do, so we rented some space on Maxwell Street, opened an art gallery. We started off with one artist, Bob Rector… truly the starving artist. Hank and Bob worked together for several years creating images of Fayetteville, so all of our notecards over there that are Fayetteville images were done by Bob Rector. And so, he did these gorgeous originals and then moved on to airplanes, mainly from Fort Bragg, that kind of thing. So, he was our main artist, but we had rotating shows and always had local artists…Fayetteville artists. In the meantime…”

Hank: “Sally.”

Diane: “Sally’s wigs.”

Hank: “An old boyfriend came out of the woodwork and said he was going to take her to Hawaii and marry her, so…”

Diane: “Hawaii, Fayetteville, Hawaii, Fayetteville… so, she left and so it was time to renovate the building because we didn’t want to leave a vacant building, so we stayed over on Maxell Street… we were City Center Gallery at the time and after doing that for a couple of years we realized that an art gallery by itself wasn’t gonna, you know… unless you were really really into it… and we just wanted to support local artists, and I’ve always wanted to own a book store, that’s really my passion. He’s the art guy and I’m the book, even though he’s an English major and he knows book fabulously, especially old classics and things like that. So, we decided to add a bookstore and make it City Center Gallery and Books, but at that time… this was before a big huge surge of Kindles… I knew a new bookstore would be difficult because Barnes and Nobles was still here, Books-A-Million… Walden’s had just closed at the mall, but there was no way I was going to compete with a box new bookstore, so we decided to do a used bookstore. There were a couple around, but they were not the nice used bookstores. They were like dusty old bookstores and if you walked in and had allergies, you’d start sneezing… and that’s not a denigration of these people doing it… some of them were really nice. Because we were an art gallery, that allowed us to be a little bit fussier… we had to… and so, we did it.”

Hank: “I think an important part of our story is that we had to come to a decision when Sally announced that she was leaving. That was to keep it the way it was and maybe put a fresh coat of paint on there and just collect the rent and not spend that much money on it, or a total renovation. A total renovation was extremely costly and so we had to make that decision. So, we met with an architect, Eric Lindstrom. By that time, we’d already been very involved in downtown. Started the Downtown Alliance...and we were just really immersed in it, and Eric, I remembered his words and he said ‘you really have a chance to set an example by going ahead and doing the building... sorta putting your money where your mouth is’ and so we did.”

Diane: “Fayetteville is our home. We raised our children here. He had his medical practice for over 30 years. Fayetteville’s been very good to us.”

Hank: “They’ve been very good to us…”

Diane: “This is home.”

For more information about City Center Gallery and Books, please visit their website at www.citycentergallery.com or say “hi” on the City Center Gallery and Books Facebook Page