Pete and Harry’s

Pete and Harry's After Renovation

People on my tours are amazed to look at the exquisitely-beautiful pre-Revolutionary house at 58 Meeting Street and realize that it once home to a drab, dimly-lit grocery store. The house was built the same year Ludwig von Beethoven was born, 1770, and featured the popular “single house” construction of invidual rooms on each three floors, divided by a central hall. The orginal lot faced Tradd Street with a perpendicular facing on Meeting, so there was never a piazza, but it did include a substantial carriage house on the Meeting Street side and a small garden between it an the adjacent Tradd Street lot. When it was sold to grocer John Doscher in 1872, Charleston was mired in post-Civil War economic decline, and any commercial advantage of a building was first priority. Doscher remodeled the front and side facades with store front windows and placed simple central entrance doors on both Tradd and Meeting Street. Charleston zoning was reletively non-existent in those days, and it was quite common to have a business on the first floor of a residence, with living quarters above. Doscher’s Grocery was sold in 1917 to Greek immigrant Peter Christantou, who with his brother Harry, ran the business for more than sixty years. Before World War II, Pete and Harry raised fighting chickens in the back garden, and patrons could pay to see cock fights. Inside a store marked by wooden shelves piled with canne goods, you could buy a single cigarette or linger drinking beers as Pete and Harry kept tab. Over the years, the ancient cash register became too much of a bother for the brothers, who preferred making change from jingling pockets filled with coins. By the sixties, when I was growing up, we called them “Mr. Pete” and “Mr. Harry”, and venturing into the old store was like walking into a museum. Soft drinks and beers were chilled in an open water cooler that lay on aging, crisscrossed electrical wires, so each reach to grab a cold one had the distinct possibility of a shock. As 16 year-olds, we looked at Pete and Harry’s as a the most logical answer to our craving for under-aged beer, and found a fool-proof metho by enlisting tall neighborhood friend Demmy Howard to make the purchase. Although Demmy was underaged as well, Pete and Harry couldn’t see very well by then, and saw only the silhouette of the six-foot-two Howard and assumed he was old enough. The old gentlemen died and the store finally closed for good by the late seventies, and the house has since been restored beautifully to its 1770’s grandeur, but we teens of the sixties will never forget the days spent at Pete and Harry’s.

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