Winston-Salem - When the Davis McCollum Department Store first opened its doors in late October 1928, more than three thousand people crowded the streets at Fourth and Liberty.
"Everybody had heard about this fabulous new place and they just wanted to see it," said Fam Brownlee, a local historian. "Everything upstairs was really upscale, it was aimed at the high end, but they put a lot of emphasis on the basement, the bargain basement. And it had terrific prospects. Who wouldn't have wanted to invest in it, with everything booming? But it didn't last very long."
Just a year after that grand opening, the stock market crashed, and the writing was on the wall. The store changed hands in 1929, but by 1932 the new company couldn't make its lease payments, and landowner Thomas Pepper took possession of the building.
Since then, the Pepper Building has been home to lots of businesses -- for a while in the 1940s a furniture store occupied four of its six floors. But by 1953, that was gone, and it was mostly offices. The last tenant - the Winston-Salem Transit Authority - moved out in 2000, and the grand old building in the sweet spot for downtown revitalization sat empty again.
For years the Pepper Building has been at the center of downtown Winston-Salem revitalization plans, some of which called for its demolition. Now a $5 million renovation is in the works to turn the city's first department store into apartments and commercial space. The new owners said they have signed a lease with a Brazilian steakhouse company for the first floor and basement. And on the five floors above, there will be a total of 54 apartments.