R.A. Fountain, General Store, is a relic from the rural American small town past. We’ve finally emerged from our COVID slumber, open these days on Saturdays for retail and open mics, and at long last back in the business of hosting live music.
Photo by Michael Brantley
Back when we were a 7-day-a-week business, Michael Brantley, who took our profile photo, wrote about us in Bluegrass Unlimited (May 2008: Buy it). At the time, he also was a freelance photographer who had his own studio in Nashville, NC, and illustrated his BU piece with his own photos, including the beautifully enhanced one that we’ve been using for our identity ever since.
You can also visit us virtually on Facebook.
Watch some of our acts perform on our YouTube channels: Fountain General Store, which is where our newest videos are posted, and R.A. Fountain, a site we can no longer edit.
In addition to Michael’s profile in Bluegrass Unlimited, we’ve had several good notices over the years. Historian David Cecelski wrote about visiting R.A. Fountain for the North Carolina Folk Life’s food blog, which you can read here. Alex & Elizabeth Albright won the Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society in 2012, the same year Vollis Simpson and Bill Myers were honored. Leanne Smith wrote the citation honoring the Albrights.
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Some history of our place:
When it opened in 1917, this was the second largest business building in Pitt County, boasting over 14,000 square feet of floor space, a figure that includes what became known as the Smith-Yelverton building: the two are basically twin constructions with a common (very thick) firewall between them. It was constructed with bricks made on site and included two hand-pulled elevators and ceiling-to-floor stocking ladders that ran the length of each wall. After R.A. Fountain & Sons closed in the mid-1960s, Lenwood Owens operated Owens Hardware here for many years, during most of which it was connected to Owens Grocery next door (now Hennicat Auctions) by a passageway since filled in. After the hardware business closed, Claude Nethercutt operated a toy manufacturing business that employed local artists to sculpt Disney characters that would then be used to make molds for constructing hollow plastic versions of Mickey, Donald and the crew. He dismantled the coffin room from the second floor and re-built it into what is currently the office at store’s front. After Nethercutt, Irvin Oakley ran a game room for a while and a local musician operated a practice room for his band and a recording studio on the second floor. During all this time, the R.A. Fountain building remained in the Fountain family, who offered it for sale in 2003 to Alex Albright, who had purchased the Smith-Yelverton building a few years prior.
RAF exterior, before the town cut down our holly trees and a hurricane took out half our storefront, and while we were still a newsstand where you could buy a daily New York Times.
R.A. Fountain, General Store & Internet Cafe, opened in November 2004, and for a couple of years, it was a daily enterprise, with Landy Spain its manager, where you could buy hanging baskets, gourmet cheeses, Cajun foods, and a daily New York Times as well as nearly a dozen local newspapers. That didn’t last quite two years, but the music has held on, mainly because it sounds so good, especially acoustic music, and even more so when it’s played so well, as has often been our pleasant case.