Walking into Richard Watts’ Oddities & Such, on Main Street in Carrboro, is a little like stepping back in time. The shop is one of those rare businesses in Carrboro that seems immune from the passage of time.
The store and Watts are part of Carrboro’s history that is fast disappearing in the wake of the town’s push for growth.
Most days you will find Watts in the store with his ever-present wide-brimmed hat, sitting in the corner listening to an oldies radio station as he helps his customers.
But simply browsing the shop is missing half the experience. Linger a bit and you may find yourself chatting the day away with a man who has seen Carrboro grow and change throughout the years.
“I have a friend of mine who moved down to South Carolina,” Watts said. “He comes up here every now and then, and he always stops by here and says ‘man, you’re the last one here.’ There aren’t many of us left.”
Watts’ second-hand shop is filled with everything imaginable, including furniture, toys, paintings and knick-knacks, all from various times and places. The items are neatly arranged and sometimes rise nearly as high as the ceiling. The store is like a never-ending yard sale crammed into a deceptively small-looking and non-descript building next to the fire station. Blink and you may miss it.
“It’s a great store,” said Beth Anne Byle, a regular customer. “It looks small but then when you come in and then you see he has a lot, it’s just nice to walk through. He’s a wonderful person to just talk to. It’s like old Carrboro. ”
The shop sits on the corner of Fidelity and Main Street in a complex that Watts’ father, Nick, built in the late 1940s.
Local historian Richard Ellington said the shopping center was merely a tiny piece of the Watts’ family contribution to the area.
“Nick was a bit of an entrepreneur, I guess is the best way to describe him, he had his hand in several businesses,” Ellington said.
Watts said his father made a living by supplying local farmers with cedar wood. At the time, there was no way to weatherproof wood and cedar was the only type of wood resistant enough use as fence posts. Watts said that there seemed to be a never-ending demand for cedar throughout the area during that time.
“He would have the money in his pocket before he even cut the trees down, people were wanting cedar posts so bad,” Watts said.
Ellington said the Watts family was known throughout town as people who “weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty”.
Ellington grew up just down the road from the family and said the Watts’ home was a popular attraction for many local kids.
“Nick had a small corral in his backyard where he kept some ponies,” Ellington said. “All the neighborhood kids would go down and ride their ponies. Nick was an overgrown kid himself in a lot of respects.”
Richard Watts gained some local notoriety when he was just a toddler, winning Carrboro’s cutest baby contest in 1957, although Watts said he believes the results may have been rigged.
“From what I’ve been told they had penny jars down at the drug store and you would put a penny in for the best looking baby,” Watts said. “My father made sure all his friends kept it full for me and that’s how I won.”
Ellington said he had never heard that story, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
“When you think of Carrboro in that time, you have to remember it had around 2,000 people,” Ellington said. “It was a lot smaller, a lot more closer knit because a lot of the families were related. These were not just neighbors. It was a much different dynamic than what you find now.”
Watts said much of that sense of community has been lost.
“People are not as close as they used to be,” Watts said. “We used to have a lot of friends and we all kind of wandered off to our own little thing … Like where I live, I don’t know my neighbors. The majority of the time they’re there for five or 10 years and then they’re gone.”
As for Carrboro’s recent rapid expansion, Watts said he isn’t surprised.
“It was bound to happen,” Watts said. “They’re going to do what Chapel Hill is doing; tearing everything down and rebuilding.”
Watts says he plans on staying in Carrboro for the rest of his life. He still lives in the Watts’ family home. The home was moved from downtown Carrboro to a spot close to the post office. Up until recently he had been taking care of his mother, Celina, who now lives in a rest home.
“I’m having to get accustomed to being myself,” Watts said. “I’ve never really been by myself. Cooking is hard for me … but I hate asking people to do things for me. If I was drowning I probably wouldn’t call anyone to help.”
As for the future of his shop, Watts is optimistic and said he still looks forward to coming to work every day.
“I enjoy this…I’ve learned a lot but I still need to learn a lot more,” Watts said. “It’s like most things in life, once you think you know everything you have problems.”
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