Since 1988, Accipiter has been bringing eclectic and beautiful decor to the Triangle. Owners Sandy and Pat Friedman have been at the heart of it all. Unfortunately, last week marked Accipiter’s last days in Cameron Village.
To bid a fond farewell to a shop that has brought us so much joy and amazing design, we chatted with Sandy about his time in the Village.
How did you end up in Cameron Village?
We had never done retail before. I’m a biologist. So is my wife. I worked at the Bronx Zoo in New York and I worked at the Minnesota Zoo in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
I became mostly an administrator. I was good at it. I had a lot of experience doing it at different zoos. But I got worn out doing administrative work. It was a lot of legislators, government folks, and a lot of internal zoo things that took me away from the animals, which is why I got into it.
We decided to make a clean break from the zoo world and started Accipiter in 1988. We picked this area because we felt that it was an area that hadn’t happened yet. We couldn’t afford to learn how to run a business in a more expensive community. We realized we had some limitations in terms of knowledge, capital, you name it.
When we came here, it had grown a lot but Cary only had 25,000 people and Raleigh was half the size. Besides enjoying the community it was the right place to figure out how to do this.
How did North Carolina and Raleigh come onto your radar?
We came from the academic, intellectual side of things. Mostly we looked at university towns and this area had three universities. Places like that appealed to us in terms of the community, the culture, the size, and the types of people we wanted both to know personally and as customers.
And way back then there was also the notion that we could go back and become biologists if this didn’t work. But that was pretty distant. We were gonna make it. The idea of not making it…you had to think about it, but we didn’t plan on it.
Where does the name Accipiter come from?
In any field you become familiar often with certain words—sometimes it’s jargon. You assume everybody knows those words because you know them. Accipiter is a type of hawk. And any biologist would know what an accipiter is. In our strange notion, we assumed everybody knew what that meant. And we picked it because we wanted an animal-related name that had sort of an arty kind of tone to it. That’s where “Accipiter” came from. We quickly realized that not only didn’t everybody know what that meant. Hardly anybody knew what that meant.
We had thought in the very beginning about changing the name, but we were too busy trying to generate some income. And after a number of years, it became our name. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve picked a different name. The only smart thing we did was it starts with “A.” And a lot of things are alphabetized so we were at the top of the Yellow Pages or we were at the top of Google searches—in some cases just because it was alphabetical. It’s worked out ok. I just feel bad that people have a hard time remembering it, people have a hard time saying it, spelling it, you name it.
But a lot of people have learned what accipiters are over the years so it’s worked out ok in that respect.
What do you remember about Cameron Village when you first arrived?
We had some trouble getting the space open on time and we were supposed to open August 1st and we didn’t open ‘till August 7th. At that point you’ve lost a whole week of income.
I was concerned about how we were going to make that up and pay all this extra rent. By about an hour into our second day, we had done more than the entire month of August in our previous location. I ran into my wife in the back and she looked at me and she said, “This is gonna work.”
(At this point in the interview, a customer walked by to tell Sandy how much she was going to miss the store. That’s been happening a lot lately.)
We hear a lot of people have been stopping by just to say they’re going to miss you.
This has been a remarkable experience. I would have never imagined that people would drive from Durham. Not to buy anything. Just to say goodbye. We had several people just start crying.
Yesterday we had a gentleman come in and he said,” It wasn’t about the stuff. It was about you guys. You ran this place properly and introduced the community to new kinds of aesthetics.” And that he really appreciated it.
There’s just been this outpouring of sentiment that my wife and I didn’t expect. I liked all of our customers a lot. I appreciate them. But it was a business. I figured people would just move on. But some people were genuinely upset. Even a little boy. His mom came in and said he’s eight years old and he’s been coming to your store all the time. She told him we were closing because he wanted to come and she told him we were closing so this would be the last time. And she said he cried himself to sleep. He was just that upset that there wouldn’t be Accipiter anymore.
These last few weeks since we announced we were closing, I can’t tell you how many people have come in. It’s been thousands without exaggeration. Many of them just to say goodbye. They weren’t coming to buy anything. They didn’t have any other agenda other just come in and say goodbye.
We had a lady, she came in before the ice storm. We were supposed to close a week ago Saturday. This was Friday. She lives out of town. And she’s just hanging around. She was a very good customer. She was just walking around sort of aimlessly for a good half an hour and she finally came up to the sales counter because it was kind of getting to close to closing time and she said, “I just don’t want to leave because this is the last time I’ll be here. This has been a meaningful place to me in my life over the last 20+ years and I don’t want to say goodbye to it.” Or to us.
What’s next for you?
My wife can take retirement in complete stride. She reads. She has a lot of interests outside of this store. All I do is work. I don’t have hobbies. It’s been scary.
We started the lighting side of our business separate from the rest and it didn’t come along in a real serious way until about 15 years ago. That’s the part of doing this that I enjoy the most because I get to be creative, I get to solve people’s problems, and I’ve become pretty knowledgeable.
So we’re gonna keep the lighting side of the business going. I’m not sure exactly what form that’s going to take. I hope there will be a showroom and I hope I can teach other people how to arrange a showroom, how to select fixtures, and how to help customers solve their problems.
I enjoy that part of it. I’m hoping that I can keep that going. Not on a full-time basis but sort of on a consulting business. That’s really appealing to me.
“It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.” —Ernie Harwell
On behalf of the Cameron Village family, we would like to say thank you to Sandy and Pat and good luck on their next adventure.