912-914 West Main

36.000655, -78.909941

Cross Street
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During Duke's "Joe College" parade, 1950s. (Duke Yearlook)

Replacing residential structures built in the 1910s-1920s, the commercial structures at 910-912 West Main Street were built in the late 1930s or early 1940s. 912 appears to have been built first, and originally contained "Son's Fruit and Produce"; by 1955, the western portion (912) contained the "West Main Fruit Market" and 910 contained "Edward's Florist."

The building housed 3 businesses, with one opening onto Albemarle Street.

A blurred view from an aerial, 1948.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

I have only some minimally-revealing mid-century shots taken at street level - all three below are from the once-regular Duke student parade from downtown to Duke - the "Joe College Parade" - 0n 04.26.57. You can catch pieces of "West Main Fruit Market" in the background.

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

By 1975, 914 West Main had become a sandwich place known as "Subway." The Subway was opened recent UNC graduates.

Per a source:

"It was the first sub shop to come to Durham and was hugely popular with the Duke students and the workers at RTP. (I had been told that it was so unique that carloads of RTP employees would come in for lunch each day during the early years.) The shop eventually expanded into the space that opened on Main Street (914 W. Main) and no longer used the Albemarle address. The Subway tenants put up the wood plank siding over the concrete block - stylish at the time. (It's since been removed as you know.)"

This name would keep the national retailer from using the name "Subway" in Durham for several years (they would call themselves "BMT Subway Deli" - although eventually, in the 1988, the national retailer paid the store at 914 West Main to change its name to "Bull City Subs". 912 West Main was "The Bullpen" - a regular hangout for Duke students.

(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Ablemarle entrance. Per a source, the Ablemarle storefront had been a barber shop, a leather shop (late 60's), a snack bar (though we always heard that was a cover for a bookmaker), and then the Subway.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

In the mid-1990s, Suman's restaurant was at 912. In 1997, Fergus Bradley took over the space and in 1998, Fergus Bradley opened James Joyce pub in 912 West Main; I remember being relieved at its opening. It was one of the first places in Durham that, to me, felt like a bar-for-bar's-sake, rather than a sports bar or is-it-a-restaurant-is-it-a-bar places. Now I know James Joyce is a restaurant as well, but it felt, to me, like a bar first.

In 2003, Bull City Subs closed. In 2004 the Federal opened in its place and, again, felt like a real bar, despite the fact that it is decidedly a restaurant.

Looking north, 11.15.06 (Photo by Gary Kueber)

I'm not sure what it is about these places (and the dearly departed Joe and Jo's) that seem to provide that degree of public conviviality that Durham still needs more of; the front porches of these spots are great places to just hang out, beverage of choice in hand.

And we're doing better - with these two and Alivia's. But we need more people-on-the-front-porch, whether really a porch, or street dining/imbibing. I think the new courtyard at Brightleaf is great - but I'd like some Brightleaf energy on Main as well (Nikos? Hello?) Perhaps with a brighter future for the old Ivy Room across the side street, we'll begin to break the dullness extending from Federal to East Campus.


Re: the old Ivy Room. What's tough is all the development, i think is potentially scaring off alot of little homespun places that could potentially open there.

Potential business owners could be thinking "How can my little eatery/diner/greasy spoon possibly make it with all of these other places around me?!"

I can understand that...even though Durham is desperate for a cool lil homespun place like that...

In my estimation- the barrier for a eatery/diner/greasy spoon is the extreme expense of installing a commercial kitchen. We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm not sure it was that huge an investment in the "good ole days." At least the Ivy Room location would be exempt from parking requirements (I think).

I have many fond memories of The Ivy Room--especially the Big Ivy and the onion rings ! Also frieda, the precious waitress who worked there for years, then ending her career at Ole NC Barbeque ! I really miss places like this, The Toddle House, Tops Drive In, The Oriental on Parrish St. Great memories--Great site !!

What a flashback ... my aunt and uncle used to own Economy Copy Center down the street and I practically grew up on this couple of blocks. Ate at the Ivy Room plenty of times, same for Subway (dropped a lot of quarters into those pinball machines) watched a building nearby burn to the ground in the early 1980s ... wow. Thanks for all the stuff you're posting. Mentioned your American Tobacco page in my blog: tinyurl.com/68ubts ... I miss Durham!

James Joyce bar was briefly a bar called Dorothy's Fast Company in the mid to late seventies. I worked there. The woman who owned it basically drove it into the ground but it was a happening spot while it happened...

The Subway located at 914 West Main at one time competed with the Subway franchise located in The Ivy Room Building in the next block. If my memory serves me correctly the Subway franchise lasted only about six months at the Ivy Room Building . I don't think they had much business. This is an interesting fact because the franchise had lower prices than the Subway located at 914. I know this because I compared prices. I wonder why they didn't last! I miss the 914 Subway and I'll always remember their slogan: ''EAT A BIG ONE".

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