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Memorial To Sweet Shop’s Pat And Harriet Johnson Planned For Black History Month 2017
1/14/2016 10:45:40 AM

The historic H&R?Sweet Shop at 102 Royall Avenue in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village
By Barney Blakeney

To several generations of local blacks the small restaurant at 102 Royall Ave. in Mount Pleasant’s ‘Old Village’ is known simply as the “The Sweet Shop”. But to many the Sweet Shop is much more than a restaurant, it is a site of historic proportions. Next year that history will be recognized during a Black History Month celebration.

February 2017 John Wright, who grew up just blocks from the restaurant, will lead the unveiling of a mural and historic marker at the Sweet Shop. Morrison Street where Raleigh and Harriet's home still stands will be designated H&R Way.

The Sweet Shop was founded in 1947 by Raleigh ‘Pat’ Johnson who originally opened the business as a barber shop. The shop that faced Royall Avenue, was located adjacent to the house on Morrison Street where Johnson lived with his wife Harriet Carter Johnson and their children. Eventually Johnson began selling candies and sweets at the barber shop to children in the area. He soon found he sold more sweets than haircuts.

The business evolved as Johnson added hot dogs and hamburgers to a growing menu that ultimately would include fried chicken, barbecue ribs and soul food meals. And at night, the Sweet Shop offered adult entertainment that included music and dancing and served alcoholic beverages along with the food.

The Sweet Shop offered something for everyone, young and old. A basketball court and playground next door where the building that housed the original Laing School once stood made the location a natural gathering place for youth and Johnson's business savvy provided elements to satisfy older tastes. The Sweet Shop became the place where black community leaders and their children met to play and to discuss the issues of their lives.

Time and gentrification has changed the old village. Displaced residents who patronized the Sweet Shop now live further away. Some still return to the familiar building where only memories fill the dance floor and dining room although Johnson’s son, Coffee, continues to serve sandwiches, ribs and hot meals.

Wright petitioned Mount Pleasant’s Historical Commission to make the designations in honor of the Johnsons’ contributions to the Mount Pleasant community. The proposal has been approved. Wright is developing a committee to plan the painting of the mural depicting the Johnsons and the February 2017 unveiling celebration.

“We’re hoping to make a big splash of it,” Wright said. “Pat and Harriet Johnson didn’t just run a business in the community, they were a staple in the community and contributed to its history and culture in so many ways. Raleigh was everybody’s grandfather, everybody’s uncle. If there was a death in someone’s family, they sent food and they sponsored all the sports equipment for the local teams. They did a lot of good things.

“We think this is a very important project because things are changing and if we don’t do this now, we may not get the opportunity in the future. The members of the commission are thrilled at the idea and have been warm and receptive to the idea.”

Wright wants to involve and engage the community in planning the memorial to the Johnsons. A public forum will be held 6 p.m. January 18 in Peter S. Johnson Chapel at Johnson-Hall Funeral Home, 440 Venning St. in the old village.

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