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Veggies, antiques and a slice of York County history

* This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

Spring is coming, and the plants and seeds are arriving at the Sharon Nursery & Garden Center.

Better Boy tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and other plants nod at you from their long display rows. Brightly colored seed packages flirt with you near the cash register. If you’re not into gardening, there are plenty of tools and other hardware items, plus antiques for sale on the second floor.

It’s worth the trip just to see the historic, three-story brick building.

In October 1912, William Hill opened his dry-goods store at 3034 N. York St.

“It was like an early version of Wal-Mart,” said John T. Carter, who runs the 32,000-square-foot store today. “He had everything from luxuries to everyday goods.” The second floor held a ladies’ millinery, and the third floor had big items like coffins, pot-bellied stoves, buggies and wagons.

Carter and his family started restoring the building in the late 1980s. It took them more than eight years; they had to work on it while still running their hardware store up the street.

The first floor’s ceiling is covered with stamped sheets of tin painted white that the Carters wire-brushed by hand. The floors, some of which are maple (bird’s-eye and curly) and others pine, all were refinished. Many of the lead-glass windows remain, as do the beveled mirrors inset in the marble-base columns. The mirrors were not only decorative; “they served like an early kind of surveillance camera,” Carter said.

The basement, which in the old days held an enormous boiler and was used to store fresh fruits and vegetables, has 3-foot thick brick walls.

There were two vaults in the building. The one downstairs, which used to be behind the cashier’s grill, houses the “cannonball” safe. The safe, which was made in 1898, gets its name from its round shape and heavy weight – more than 3,000 pounds. Timing gears built into the safe’s door would be set, and the lock wouldn’t open until the preset time.

The original freight elevator is still in use on its wooden rails. “Never had a motor,” Carter said. “Just the rope, pulley and counterweights.”

"Stop by again and chat," Carter tells his customers. Yep, it's always worth the trip.

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