A shop of memories faces Raleigh’s future

The widow of Cable’s Frame House looks out on t buildings on Raleigh’s Morgan Street being demolished to make way for a high-rise building. (News & Observer photo)
The widow of Cable’s Frame House looks out on t buildings on Raleigh’s Morgan Street being demolished to make way for a high-rise building. (News & Observer photo)

When you enter Scott Cable’s frame shop, the first thing you see is a large map of Raleigh in 1872. The State Capitol is in the middle of a grid of streets forming what looks like a large village. When you turn and look out the shop’s big window you see a live image of Raleigh in 2019: heavy construction machines clawing away the remnants of old buildings on Morgan and Hillsborough Streets.

Next to Cable’s Frame House and Art Gallery, at 613-A W. Morgan St., a new hotel is nearing completion. Across the street, a high-rise office and retail building is almost done. One block over, a giant backhoe is getting ready to scrape away an old gas station. Dust fills the air. Sidewalks are closed. Construction machines go in reverse with a beep-beep-beep. Occasionally Cable has to scramble out to shoo away construction vehicles blocking access to his shop’s three parking spaces.

“They’re tearing everything down. I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” he says.

His little shop is the setting for a tale of time moving in two directions. Outside, the new Raleigh rises furiously, crushing and scraping away the old city. Inside Cable’s shop, the past lingers. Old photos, maps and his late father’s watercolor paintings line the walls.

Ironically, the space on Morgan St. is new for Cable. He moved there in 2017 after leaving his old location at 806 St. Mary’s St. In his former shop across from Broughton High School, he framed the diplomas, wedding photos, family portraits, paintings and keepsakes of Raleigh families, local colleges and state agencies for 36 years. He was forced to move after the building’s owner sold the property to make way for luxury apartments with rents that Cable says “are a lot more than I can afford.”

Now 57 and coping with a progressive health problem, he is trying to hang on to a business of preserving people’s special things. But his customer base is dwindling.

“The older folks, their walls are full and they are dying off,” says Cable, a wiry man with a graying beard whose family came to Raleigh from Gastonia in 1970.

Soon after graduating Sanderson High School, where he was an accomplished track athlete, Cable went to work in the frame shop that his father, an insurance man, opened for his late sister. Now he lives in Johnston County and comes back every workday morning to a city he recognizes a little less. He remembers a place with more trees and less traffic where big four-lane roads such as Six Forks and Falls of Neuse were just one-lane in each direction..

“They need to do something about the traffic,” Cable says, and then notes developer John Kane’s proposal to build the city’s tallest building a few blocks north on Peace Street. He says, “They’re talking about a 40-story high-rise.”

To Cable, what’s happening outside his window is happening everywhere: “These cities just keep getting bigger and prices are going up, up up.”

Some of the people Cable knows from his school days have gone on to become wealthy, some of them by riding the rising tide of Raleigh’s growth. That isn’t Cable’s story. He wished he had owned the St. Mary’s Street property where had made frames for more than three decades, but he didn’t. “I could have retired,” he says.

It’s likely that in the next few years the owner will sell the property where he is now. The future is more valuable than the past.

But for now, Cable says, he’s staying, “til they kick me out or I die.”

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett @newsobserver.com