Its last day was Friday, Feb. 25. Grant Snavely, who’d owned the store on the corner of Tate Street and Walker since 1982, made his way to the door at 4:45 p.m, bade good-bye to everyone and to the store, and made his way to the car. A worker walked over and shut off the “OPEN” neon sign beside the door – “out of respect,” he said.
The afternoon saw longtime customers coming by – some not knowing this was the last day. Outside, a big sign advertised “Everything $1 – cash only.” And, as customers had come to expect for three decades, Grant Snavely sat behind the register next to the big glass window, greeting everyone who ventured in. He knew many by name.
Tiffany Garrett, a sociology major, sat behind the long lunch counter. A self-described “super-senior,” she had worked at The Corner for a year. The store was fairly empty, aside from lots of greeting cards still for sale. For many young students, cards through snail mail are a relic of the past. The remaining stock will be liquidated, Snavely said.
What will happen to the store? He says Matt Russ, owner of Tate Street Coffee House, bought the building from his dad, Hugh Snavely, years ago. Snaveley does not know what will be there next.
How did The Corner come into being? Snavely’s father had worked for his father at an Old Salem bookstore in the 1940s. “They were looking for a place for my dad to open. This space became available.” It had been a restaurant.
His father tore out the booths and tables. “He starting selling sundries.” School supplies. Cards. He did keep the soda fountain as it was. That was in 1950.
In 1982, Grant Snavely took over. He had graduated high school, graduated from East Carolina, served a year in Vietnam, then returned in the early 1970s to work there. Though he doesn’t consider it work. “I never had a job.”
He reflected that Friday afternoon on the “hundreds of thousands” of flowers they had sold over the years – their peak was in the early ’90s, before grocery stores cut into their flower sales. One Valentine’s Day they sold 6,000 roses. The Cokes and fresh-squeezed orangeade and lemonade sold at the counter. The cards they’ve sold. And the many friends he’s made over the years. The people he’s known have been the highlight, he said.
A graduate student, Stephanie Turner ’08, walks in. Her mother, Martha Turner ’60, had frequented The Corner as a student. “She used to come in here and buy cards.” Stephanie recalls her return to UNCG to complete her bachelor’s and get her master’s. “My first day back to school, I stopped in here to get a drink.” Grant Snaveley had given her some encouraging words that day. “I told him I was nervous. He said, ‘Oh no, you can do it!'” She’s never forgotten that. She’ll receive her master’s in library science this May. This afternoon, as she makes her last purchase at The Corner, she reminds him of that day.
Sarah Dorsey, a Music librarian, pops in with a friend. She used to go in a lot, when the Music library was in the building across the street. She and Grant chat for a moment.
A customer asks about the balloons.
There’s no helium in the store, Snavely says. “But you can have the balloon.”
How much are cards? “One card? Fifty cents.”
The most valuable thing in the store is a fixture at the back – a round, black clock that says “The Corner – Books, Gifts, Stationery.” Snaveley says it resided in the movie theater down the street [now Addam’s Bookstore] in the lobby, as an advertisement for The Corner, and his dad brought it into the store when the theater changed hands and was renamed Cinema Theatre. It will hang on the wall of Snavely’s home now. “That neon’s been burning since 1950,” he says of the clock. He adds that the neon behind the lunch counter is still glowing as well.
The store was very profitable for decades, but much less so in recent years. The students stopped coming in for cards and sundries, he explains. He’s retiring. Tate Street is losing a part of its history.
“What I’m going to miss is sitting here in my window, watching the people go by.” Those are his best memories, the many people over the years he’s known.
“End of story. End of The Corner.”
After he pulls away in his car, another customer comes in. He asks Tiffany behind the lunch counter, “Did I miss Grant?”
A lot of people will.
See a one-minute video clip from the final day of The Corner. httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAs-3vDsbT0
Ed note: As a graduate student in the early 1990s, I regularly bought inexpensive flowers for my girlfriend, now wife of 17 years, from Snavely at The Corner. Mark Unrue, CW art director, would stop in and pick up cards there for all occasions: “Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Mother’s Day, even sympathy cards – plus they had ‘off-the-wall’ things other places wouldn’t have.” What are your memories of The Corner? Email us.
By Mike Harris
Photograph by Mike Harris