Tommy Tomlinson, host of WFAE’s SouthBound podcast, spends most of his time talking about things on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. But recently, he found a little piece of the South up North.
I was getting ready to take a trip to New York. So on Facebook, I asked folks a question: What’s the most Charlotte thing in New York City?
People had lots of suggestions. But my friend Barry Yeoman posted something that caught my eye. He said he had seen a place in Brooklyn called the Carolina Country Store, but he hadn’t been in there. He wondered what it was like. So did I.
So on Saturday afternoon, I took the C train from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
After an hourlong train ride and a five-block walk, there it was: a storefront about the size of a one-car garage. The awning out front said “Carolina Country Store: Southern Products; Groceries, Meats, Candies, Vegetables.” The owner, Shawna Redrick, was waiting inside.
Redrick is a born-and-bred New Yorker. But her family’s roots are in Magnolia, North Carolina, a little town about halfway between Raleigh and Wilmington. Some of her family members moved to Brooklyn in the ‘60s, and around 1968, they started bringing food from back home to sell on the street. Over time, that grew into the store.
“Well, it got started with my aunt’s father coming up here from North Carolina, bringing up hams and then just making ham sandwiches outside," she said. "My aunt Patricia Lee, she had the store for about 48 years, and then after that her cousin Davell had it, and then me.”
Every Tuesday, trucks deliver fresh meat from the Carolinas, as well as occasional produce like sweet potatoes. That’s in addition to the staples that Redrick keeps on the shelves.
“OK, well," she said, "we sell country ham from Westwater Country Hams, we sell barbecue from Pender’s, we sell liver pudding, we sell dry sausage from Mac’s Dry, we sell sage (sausage), we sell C-loaves, we sell chitlins, we sell hoghead cheese, and souse meat, and Duke’s mayonnaise, and apple jelly, and apple butter, and chow-chow, and Lakeside yellow grits, and Jim Dandy grits, and a bunch of stuff.”
Most of Redrick’s customers are people like her own family – Carolinians who moved up to the city. But in the half-hour I was there, not a single person came in. Redrick said her regulars – people who care more about Southern traditions — have started to die off. Others have moved back to the Carolinas.
“And they call me from Charlotte and Raleigh and be like, ‘Do y’all have a store here? Because there’s not a lot of Southern products in Charlotte,'" she said. "So the people, they always call like, ‘Where do we can find this stuff?' But a lot of this stuff comes from farms. So, Y’all done got a lot of Walmarts out there now.”
The world is filled with these little portals through time and space. You walk into a store, take a bite of a Moon Pie, and all of a sudden you’re 12 years old again, sitting in the kitchen of the house you grew up in. If you’re from the Carolinas, and you should ever need that feeling in New York City, there’s a portal in Brooklyn, right near the Rockaway stop. Just get on the C train, and go back home.