HAMLET — Nancy Rivers has breathed in Hamlet’s past every day for eight years, chatting about the history and worth — some of it monetary, some merely sentimental — of the old tools, railroad paraphernalia and furnishings she sells at Main Street Central.
Her tall gray building — on Hamlet’s Main Street, across Lackey from the post office — has its own history, too. It was a nurses’ dormitory when Hamlet had its own hospital and, before that, the stately Central Hotel. The building even had a historical part to play in the movie “Billy Bathgate,” which brought a young Dustin Hoffman to town more than 30 years ago: It reprised its real-life role as a Works Progress Administration soup kitchen.
But Rivers’s husband wants to retire to the couple’s home at the beach, and Rivers has made a solemn promise. So the last day for the shop will be March 31, a day that will arrive whether she has sold every little memory or not.
“It’s just time to liquidate a bit,” Rivers, 59, said one day this week between tending to self-proclaimed “plunderers” from Southern Pines and McColl, South Carolina. “I’m excited. I promised him a year ago I was going to slow down a little bit.”
One gets the sense Rivers doesn’t really want to slow down. But a vow is a vow.
She has offers for the stock she doesn’t sell: One business promised to come in, weigh it all and cart it off.
In the meantime, she’s selling everything in the buildings’ tiny rooms and cramped hallways for ever-deeper discounts, sending the dimpled glassware and McCoy pottery and mid-century kitsch out the door.
She has sold in one lot all of the blacksmith’s tools she had — heavy, lethal-looking things — and wants to find good homes for the pieces she thinks should remain in Hamlet, such as the 1928 hot dog cooker from now-centenarian Earl Bradshaw’s “home of the sausage dog” across from the bulky redbrick high school or the old-fashioned beam scale from the old Hamlet Hospital.
She aims to contribute much of her railroad inventory — lanterns, signs, the whistle from the back of a caboose — to the town’s Depot Museum. And some of it, she will keep; her granddaddy was with the railroad in Hamlet.
“I can’t let Hamlet stuff out of Hamlet,” she said.
Rivers doesn’t know how long it will take the building to sell. She hopes it goes to someone who will appreciate the thin-lathed and lino’ed floors, and the two boilers occupying their original spaces.
“It takes a long time to get rid of property in Hamlet,” she said. “It’s going to take a little while to sell my building, (so) we’ll still enjoy it till somebody else comes along.”
Rivers said that if it hasn’t sold by July 4, she’ll throw a big party there so her 70-member family can watch the fireworks from the sidewalk out front.
She has a history of cooking up a big pot of beans and a pan of cornbread, and inviting anybody and everybody to sup. That’s how she lured in her first customers.
When a buyer does step up, she said, “it wouldn’t be that hard … to come in here and do a really nice place.”
“I’m the wrong age to do it, (but) I’d really like for the right people to come and get it.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]