Walter Davis wiped his mouth, threw away his napkin and took one last swig of ginger ale before heading back to work.
"Perfect," Davis, 61, said of the homemade BLT sandwich he had just eaten. "Just like always. They start making it when I walk in the door."
Davis is one of countless customers throughout the past three decades who have felt like more than a number when they leave the Community Grocery and Deli on Oberlin Road.
But after 36 years of building relationships and serving homemade food, Dan McGee, the store's owner, is selling the Raleigh landmark.
"I know when it's time to go," said McGee, 62.
The quaint, blue store sits along Oberlin Road just south of Wade Avenue -- the same place it has been for nearly a century. McGee and A.J. Jeffreys, who sold the store to McGee, say it's at least 80 years old, and it might be one of the longest-standing businesses in Raleigh.
There isn't room for tables inside. Most people grab their food to go. Others, like Davis, eat it on a window ledge near the entrance.
Glass bottles of ginger ale, cream soda and beer line the right side of store. MoonPies, canned sardines and sugar wafers line the left. Next to the counter sit deviled eggs and homemade pie.
"This place has made this little corner," said Joann Dryman, the store's manager. "You don't find many places where you can buy this kind of food."
From groceries to a deli
When McGee bought it from Jeffreys in 1973, it was a grocery store. Jeffreys had sold fresh-cut meat, milk and other essentials since he bought the store in 1949.
But the demands of running an insurance company and the store at the same time, coupled with McGee's pressure to sell it to him and a wife and kids who wanted no part of two businesses, finally led Jeffreys to retire from the grocery business.
The way Jeffreys tells the story, McGee tried several times to buy the store long before Jeffreys was interested in making a deal. The relationships, he said, ran too deep for him to quit.
"It had been a grocery store long before I bought it," said Jeffreys, 87. "It was the best little business in Raleigh. I was taking care of the community."
Years later, Community Grocery and Deli is still taking care of the community, but the landscape has changed.
It's no longer a grocery store, though it still carries such staples as cigarettes and Lays potato chips. An influx of businesses and grocery stores in the 1970s forced McGee to make changes.
Prepared food is now what keeps the regulars coming back.
Homemade BLTs, steak sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken and dumpling, and hot dogs are just a few of the favorites. McGee said he has sold hot dogs since the day he started working at the store in '73.
"It's really not hard to make a homemade BLT," he said. "But no one is doing it anymore. And no one sells good hot dogs, either. These are about the best in town."
Store is 'a savior'
But it's more than a takeout restaurant.
Customers often stop in just to say hello or reminisce. McGee and Jeffreys swapped stories last week of well-known customers through the years, not the least of whom were the late Sen. Jesse Helms and J. Melvin Broughton Jr., son of the late governor.
"I even told Broughton he shouldn't run for governor in the 1960s," Jeffreys said. "He couldn't go a day without coming in here."
And if someone in the community needs help or passes away, McGee doesn't ignore them.
Just ask Mable Scarver Patterson, 73, who has lived down the street from the store her entire life.
"The store has been a savior to the community," she said. "I really consider Dan to be like a brother. It's always been a place where you know you're welcome."
McGee hopes the tradition won't stop. He's looking for someone to carry on the convention of homemade food and hospitality -- both of which, he says, are becoming extinct.
"I try not to be sad," he said. "Everything is here to make this thing work. It's not going anywhere."