Archie Christopher (my father-in-law’s father), was a big fan of Surf City. He spent a lot of time here enjoying the fishing seasons. He was an industrious man. His job was maintenance for UNC and his wife Mattie ran the book store there for many, many years. Archie invested his money mostly in apartments surrounding the university-turned out to be a pretty good idea. He later bought some real estate in Surf City. He ran the Sea Horse Cafe (the original) and purchased a house (Dean and Sandy Wise’s)-It looked nothing like it does today-He also became good friends with Mr. Ward and Mr. Yow. The two round houses on S. Shore were his as well, he built them to house visiting family. I lived in the blue one for a couple of years. Blistering hot in the summer and cold (you had to break the ice in the toilet) in the winter.
In 1967, Mr. Ward decided to get out of the Shopping Center business as he had built a new office (where he is now) so he put the Shopping Center on the auction block. Archie was retiring from the University and was the highest bidder. Archie hired Hunter Tilghman (man used to scare me to death when I was a child) to manage the Red and White. It existed in this configuration for many years. Don (my father-in-law) retired from the Air Force in ’77 and returned to the area to help with the store. He eventually took over most of the operations. In 1983 Archie passed away. Hunter left to start his own grocery store and Don decided it was a great time to sell the business.
In 1984, D.C. Lanier purchased the business and Mr. Lanier changed it to the IGA (some folks still call it Lanier’s–Some still call it the Red and White)
Don regained ownership of the IGA in 1991. I was dating Paige his daughter at the time (had been for 8 years). He asked me if I would consider spending the summer (in the roundhouse hot box) working at the grocery store. I had spent most of my summers on Topsail and this sounded like a great idea. The consensus was that we would run the shopping center for a year, show that it still could be profitable and then sell the business–perfect-a year on the beach.
At the end of that year Food Lion announced that it planned to open. We felt that this announcement would hurt the selling price and that we needed to operate for a year with the Food Lion open. Wahoo–another year at the beach! Food Lion opened—It was devastating. I tried to put a positive spin on it, but the numbers did not lie, we lost 50% of our grocery business that year. Then came Wings–there went another- 50% from the giftshop. It was a glum couple of years. So what do you do? Well we changed a few things here and there and fought for a niche in the current market. We’ve more than regained our lost sales volume and have had some good years since. We’re still here–20 years later.
When I was about to graduate, I secretly said a prayer. I prayed that somehow if God could work it out–I would like to end up working and living on Topsail. I’m not kidding. Amazing isn’t it.
That is a brief history of the Surf City Shopping Center.