Pre-Belk flashback: C.H. Williams estate hits auction block

An upcoming estate auction recalls one of the long-gone department stores where Charlottesvillians shopped for most of the 20th century. Slated for May 21, the sale features art and antiques from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Williams, whose namesake store operated from 1935 to 1981 on East Main Street.

"In the first two thirds of the 20th century, if you thought about about going to a department store in Charlottesville, you went to C. H. Williams," says longtime city resident Rey Berry, who notes that the store preceded such other mid-century notables as Leggett, now operating as Belk, and the now-defunct Miller & Rhoads.

Mr. Williams, a native of Greene County, was sent to Charlottesville in 1935 to manage the Pugh Company store at 212 East Main Street. A few months later, he bought the store.

For over 40 years, C.H. Williams Co. was a Charlottesville destination for fine clothing and household goods. An advertisement from a 1944 edition of the Daily Progress touts 36-inch cotton lace for $1.39 a yard and pure linen selling for $2.19. According to another newspaper clipping on file with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, the company employed 60 people in 1963 with an annual payroll of $175,000.

In 1981, however, after the death of the Williams' son, Harvey, who served as president, the business closed, and the building was sold. The structure became a Smith's of Bermuda shop in 1982 and now houses Siips, a wine and champagne bar/restaurant.

The auction sale– which will include additional items from outside the estate– will showcase over 200 pieces from the Williams family home, including furniture, jewelry, and paintings which include a cubist work by noted British artist John Leith Craxton. Robin Stafford, who is working with Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery to sell the estate, had hoped to see some pieces from the department store.

"Unfortunately," says Stafford, "we didn't get any pieces with the store logo, although some of the family pieces of silver could possibly have been from the store."

Stafford says that over 200 people from across the state are expected to place bids and that dealers from New York have expressed interest. The pre-sale estimate of the proceeds is around $250,000.


When I was a kid my Mom used to take me there, dragging and kicking the whole time. Good times, miss those stores...and my Mom.

My mother and 2 aunts worked at C. H. Williams, starting in the 1940's, into the 80's. Even I worked there during summers from high school and college. It was a family-run business, and the employees were treated like family.

I worked at C.H. Williams in the hosiery department when I was in high school. I loved working there. I remember that I had to write a ticket and send the money in a canister through a vaccuum tube to the cashier who would then send the customer's change back in the same canister. They also had a store next door that was called The Colonnade where they sold more "upscale" clothing.

Thanks for the memories, Sarah. I'd forgotten about the vacuum tube. It would be wonderful to see a story of the stores downtown--Tilman's had the most wonderful toy/doll section. I remember it being downstairs, down a flight of stairs, but also up a flight of stairs from the basement. My grandmother would take me there for doll clothes and then we would have a sandwich at Timberlake's. Other shops--Wiley's, Levy's (yes, downtown, across from the Jefferson Theater), Keller's Shoes, Waddell's Shoes, Brown's Gifts, The Mary Peg Shop. I may have this one misidentified, but there was a delightful gift store called The 214 Shop.

Wow, I love all these memories. I remember going in that store with my mother also. Do you remember the Reid's Super Market? My father owned the one on Preston Avenue that is till there. I think idea for a book about all those stores is a great idea.


The 213 Shop was at 213 Fourth Street N.E. The space is now an apartment.

Thanks, Antoinette . . . you're exactly right. I still have a gift in a box from there. Does anybody remember the grocery store that had a conveyor belt which moved the groceries from the basement up to the customer floor? I can't remember if it was downtown or up on West Main Street closer to the University. Here's a few more . . . Page's Florist on the corner of 14th & Main where there's a little mini-mall now. O'Neal candy store on the corner of Main Street, across from Kane's Furniture. Mr. O'Neal was Patricia Neal's uncle, I believe.

Most of the commenerative plates with Monticello on them have the Hardware Store or Brown's gifts (that I have seen) printed on the back. Do any have C.H. Williams printed on the back?

I agree, Lynn. Would love to see a story about all of the downtown stores. Downtown C'ville was a wonderful place to shop. Remember the tea room on the top floor of Miller & Rhoades?! And don't forget those fabulous donut holes at Gleason's bakery!