Fitch Lumber Company

Fitch Lumber Company

Glimpse into the history of the fourth-generation hardware store that’s been a fixture in Carrboro for more than a century.

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Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

For generations, locals have picked out paint, selected crown molding and grabbed another box of nails at Fitch Lumber. It’s probably the only place in town to shop for a Carolina blue toilet seat while you wait for a key to be cut. The store carries “everything you need to build a house from bottom to top,” says Carol Fitch Walker of her family’s business, and for 108 years, it has served the community.

Mebane was the original location of the store that Carol’s grandfather, A.B. Fitch, opened in 1907. As Chapel Hill and the university grew, he decided Carrboro was an ideal spot for a delivery outpost overseen by his oldest son Bernice. When the Mebane location burned down in the mid-1940s, A.B. shifted the entire business farther south. “They had enough foresight to figure out that Chapel Hill was growing way faster than Mebane at that point,” Carol says. That same year, Carol’s father, Miles Fitch, joined his family at the store on North Greensboro Street. Years later, the tradition continued as Carol’s cousin R.B. (Bernice’s son) and her brother Mac joined the ranks after graduation. (R.B.’s passion for the kitchen remodeling family business next door, Fitch Creations, would later lead him to acquire land in Chatham County and leave the store to develop Fearrington Village.) Seven years younger than Mac, Carol also got a job at Fitch Lumber after she graduated.

Between them, Mac and Carol have a combined 85 years of experience working in the store. The siblings grew up here, helping with inventory and running the cash register in high school, surrounded by more than one family. “Even though the Fitch family [ran the store], we had several families where the father and their son and their grandson would work here,” Carol says. She says up until a few years ago, the average amount of time anyone spent working at

Fitch Lumber was 18 years. It’s this reliability on seeing a familiar face that Carol says keeps customers coming back. “Lots of times when you go to the hardware store, you really like a salesman who’s helped you and you feel comfortable going back to them,” Carol says. At a big box store, “they’re not going to be there every single time.” But at Fitch Lumber, she says, “a lot of people will come or call and ask if Mike’s here or if Joe’s here.”

When Fitch Lumber first opened its doors, they sold coal, and supplies were delivered by horse and by train. Back then, Carrboro was just a small mill town. Now Carol says, “At night, it’s like New York City, and people are walking everywhere. It’s brought in an eclectic new group who are not just the old Carrboroians or the college students.” The store’s kept up with the changing times and the building trends and now carries more green materials. Today, three of Mac’s sons work alongside him and Carol at Fitch Lumber. For Carol, one of the most rewarding parts of the family business is staying close to her family members and their enduring legacy. “It’s got to make my grandfather and parents proud that it could keep going,” Carol says. “I’m sure my brother will be hugely proud of his boys if they can keep it going and move on past the fourth generation.”

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Jessica is the Executive Editor for Chapel Hill Magazine. As a 2010 grad of UNC, she's happy to be back in town writing, editing and eating around the Triangle.