A Raleigh tradition is born
February 1946. While traveling via train to Chicago for a homebuilders’ conference, J.W. “Willie” York came across a newspaper story about a shopping center—a new idea at the time.
York immediately thought of a unique 160-acre property in Raleigh not far from downtown. In developing the land he knew he would face major challenges. The property was in a largely undeveloped area, separated from the energy and resources of downtown—problematic at a time when not every family had a car.
But York was determined to bring to life his vision of building the area’s first combined residential and shopping community.
Summer 1947. York and his partner R. A. Bryan broke ground on what would become Village District. From the start, the property was designed to be a true village, with apartments, homes, and office buildings, plus retail and grocery stores so residents would have access to resources they needed.
When it opened in 1949 with three stores and one restaurant, Village District became the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta.
A Raleigh Tradition was born.
Building a Brand New Community
1951. Sears opened its doors as a national tenant in Village District. On the property where Harris Teeter stands today, the store infrastructure included one of the first escalators in the state of North Carolina—an exciting attraction for local shoppers! The debut of a national chain helped developers lure other businesses to the village. JCPenny followed in 1953 as another big-name department store.
By the mid 1950’s, Village District had grown to 65 stores, 112 offices, 566 apartment units, and 100 homes.
One of the keys to its early success was the number of small, independent merchants that had settled in the fledgling village. York supported them by financing things like store fixtures to get businesses started, and even let them stay rent free in their spaces during low months. Shops like The Village Pharmacy and The Village Restaurant got their start this way. York also worked closely with merchants who relocated from Downtown—including Nowell’s Men’s Wear, Stephenson Music Co., and Burton’s—to ensure their success in their new location.
In addition to new shops and offices, other attractions began to draw more people to the village.
The Village Post Office was the first air conditioned post office in Raleigh and the first post office located in a shopping center. Events like annual sidewalk art shows, fashion shows, antique and new car shows all brought people to the village and helped make Village District an integral part of the Raleigh community.
Building Resiliency as a Community
February 10, 1960. Inspired by the Greensboro sit-in earlier that month, students from Shaw University and St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh planned a sit-in at Woolworth’s in Village District to protest segregation at lunch counters. With protests arising throughout the state, Woolworth’s had closed before they arrived. Students began picketing outside the restaurant’s doors. And after repeated warnings from the manager, 41 students were arrested for trespassing. Despite these arrests, these and other local activists helped push civil rights forward. By 1964 most businesses in Raleigh had desegregated.
December 8, 1964. Flames shot from the roof of a group of office buildings on the west side of Daniels Street—the shopping center had caught fire. The blaze had started in the kitchen of a Village District restaurant and raged for a third of a block before being extinguished. With the help of community-members, most stores were able to reopen just 48 hours later.
Over the course of this decade the village continued to attract the best of Raleigh’s retailers and restaurants. The community saw 35 new stores open their doors including Ellisberg’s, Mac Joseph’s, Dunn’s Women’s Wear, E.R. Poole Music Co., and Balentine’s Cafeteria. The village was becoming a hotspot for Raleigh shoppers and diners.
September 16, 1971. The opening night of The Subway.
A big crowd flooded the newly-renovated underground entertainment venue to see a performance by the ukulele sensation, Tiny Tim.
Inspired by a successful retail space in the basement of Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and the popularity of “Underground Atlanta,” the York Properties team decided to renovate 20,000 square feet of unleased space underneath Village District stores. Among the first tenants was The Frog & Nightgown, a restaurant and nightclub already-popular with Raleigh residents. Throughout the decade the Subway was known for its sensational live music venues: The Pier, Bear’s Den, Elliot’s Nest, Cafe Deja Vu. And it’s known for notable acts such as The Four Freshmen, Jimmy Buffet, R.E.M., The Ramones, along with other local and renowned musicians. A variety of other retail stores took advantage of the opportunity to open their doors within the unique underground setting.
1972. York Properties oversaw the renovation of the former Sears building to make way for Thalheimers, another leading department store. They converted the lower level of the two-story space into covered parking to house the shopping experience on one level. The original escalator brought shoppers up from a covered parking area below the store.
A New Look
Village District owners and managers embarked on a renovation program to modernize the appearance of the village. The new design featured clear vaulted sidewalk canopies that permitted daylight to shine through. Brick pavers replaced concrete sidewalks, and colorful new store panels completed the new design.
1983: The Great Outdoor Provision Company got it’s start in Village District. The specialty outdoor retailer has since expanded to nine locations throughout North Carolina and Virginia.
1985: The Wake County Library expanded into an open space on the corner of Clark Ave and Woodburn Rd where it remains today.
1987: Nationally known fashion chain, Talbots, opened its doors in Village District. The location became one of the top five stores in the entire Talbot’s chain.
1988: Specialty food chain Fresh Market opened its doors.
Continuing to Evolve
The decade began with new redevelopment initiatives, creation of a new “Village Center” concept, and a market repositioning campaign.
1992: Harris Teeter opened its doors after months of construction and design work inspired by a New York supermarket. It opened as one of the largest supermarkets in the Harris Teeter chain.
November 1993: The first Village District Open House. In May of 1993 a fire damaged a group of stores in the village. Store owners banded together for six months of hard reconstruction work, and by November were ready to reopen for business—just in time for the holidays. The small group of merchants came together that year to celebrate the season and the new beginning as a community. Since then the Open House has grown to become one of the most popular village-wide events each year.
In 2001 Village District was completely reimagined and renovated into the style we see today.
Among an ever-evolving collection of unique shops, Bailey’s Fine Jewelry is an old favorite that renovated and now stands out as the largest jewelry store in North Carolina.
Village District Chick-fil-A is the one of the largest, and the first 2-story branch of the franchise—just one of many of a growing number of restaurant offerings. And with the addition of new residential options surrounding the shopping center, the village has never felt more vibrant.
The village continually reinvents itself to stay modern and relevant. Village District will continue to reflect the changing community it serves by nurturing an evolving collection of shops and restaurants. By preserving old favorites while remaining open to fresh ventures, Village District will help lead Raleigh into an exciting future.