The oldest town and the first port in North Carolina, Bath was once home to the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, and his crew of scalawags. Today, Bath is an idyllic, peaceful community nestled between Bath and Back Creeks. Beautiful historic homes and buildings line South Main Street leading to Bonner’s Point, a park overlooking the conflux of the two creeks feeding the majestic Pamlico River. Another impressive landmark stands on the opposite end of Main. A two-story, 7100 square foot brick building distinguished by a bank of large windows across the face.

The building was built in 1905 by a prominent businessman, T.A. Brooks, and was originally named the T.A. Brooks General Merchandise Store. Later Eura V. Swindell joined Brooks, then took over the business in the 1930s renaming it Swindell’s Cash Store.

The store was a center of commerce and community; a voting precinct and the place to pick up necessities and niceties. “At Swindell’s Cash Store, one could buy anything from cookies to caskets — legend has it, even a driver’s license could be purchased for a quarter,” reads a brochure about the building.

Things changed in 1984, when Swindell’s son Jack, who inherited the business in 1959, closed the store for lunch and never reopened. The store remained closed, deteriorating, until a group of local citizens and town officials worked with Jack’s surviving sister, Polly Swindell Sinclair, to turn the building over to Preservation North Carolina for sale and renovation. The year was 2005, the Tricentennial anniversary of Bath’s founding, and Durham architect Ken Friedlein quickly responded to Preservation NC’s offer. 

Friedlein and his family undertook a massive renovation between 2005 and 2010, replacing roofs and rotted floors, repairing original windows, replastering walls, installing new electrical, plumbing, HVAC services and fixtures, blending historical artifacts and architecture with modern amenities. Two loft apartments on the second story provide residents views of stunning sunsets over Bath Creek from rooftop decks perched above the single-story studios and offices renovated in the rear of the building.

Ken rescued Swindell’s and transformed it into a light-filled, inviting space. The apartments, offices and studios were quickly leased. But the large ground-floor store at the front of the building remained vacant, in need of a use.

Curious, neighbor Margaret Dixon stopped in to see the renovations. She was struck by the beauty of the space, but also by how empty it felt. She struck up a conversation with Ken. “It might attract more interest if there was some life in here” she suggested. “Maybe a pop-up coffee bar and some plants.” Ken’s eyes lit up. “Are you interested? Could you do it?” Margaret was trying to retire from her job in Greenville. It was time to step away from the many boards and volunteer positions she held. She swallowed hard, but thankfully answered, “Yes” and the deal was sealed with a handshake.

True to her word, and with no previous barista or retail experience, Margaret set up a coffee bar and filled the space with plants. She didn’t stop there. She partnered with Val’s Gourmet Baked Goods and Carryout from Chrislyn. She struck a partnership with Arts of the Pamlico to showcase their artists. She recruited potters, woodworkers, and other artisans.

“Coffee Arts at Swindell’s” was born.

Today, the store is beautifully decorated with Margaret’s touches. Light filters through stained glass in the windows and the old arched shutters from upstairs windows serve as backdrops for local art. Margaret’s plants flourish among displays of pottery, antiques, woodworks, souvenirs, and home goods for sale. Goodies entice near the coffee stand. Around tables in the store center sit neighbors and visitors, chatting and sharing.

Coffee Arts at Swindell’s is open Saturday and Sundays only, but weekdays it’s home to community events and meetings, such as book club, trivia night, music, dance, artist spotlights, and more (see Events). Thanks to Ken and Margaret, Swindell’s is once again a gathering spot for folks to sip, eat, meet, browse and shop.

Come visit! Grab sandwiches for a picnic at Bonner’s Point. Stroll Main Street with coffee and pastry in-hand. Browse, shop or maybe just sit a spell. See first-hand how Ken and Margaret’s vision, talent and elbow grease returned Swindell’s to a center for arts and community, for young and old, now and into the future!

Ken Friedlein
Margaret Dixon