Through Ups and Downs, Sandhills Woman's Exchange Has Seen 90 Years
Through the Roaring ’20s, a Great Depression that devastated, a crippling World War, through ups and downs and thick and thin — the Sandhills Woman’s Exchange has persevered.
About to complete its 90th year, the Exchange is preparing to throw down in style with a celebration Saturday, Oct. 27, at its historic log cabin. The event begins at 10 a.m., and includes face painting, door prizes, refreshments and live music by Glenn Davis.
Founded in 1922, the local chapter is one of 19 Exchanges scattered throughout the U.S. Its founding principle and mission still stands — “to help others to help themselves,” as it did in the early 20th century by allowing local farm women to sell their homemade goods there.
Around 40 volunteers make up the Exchange team, ranging in age from 50 to 94 years old. Many of them have been with the organization for four decades or more.
Exchange President Karen Lehto says that the Sandhills chapter of Woman’s Exchanges is one of the smallest in size nationwide — making the anniversary all the more monumental.
“During this time of economic struggles, to see a small, all-volunteer, nonprofit business reach 90 years, that says it all,” Lehto says.
The original character of the Exchange’s cabin, which dates from around 1800, has not been lost — visible still are the holes in the walls where pine sticks used for lighting were placed.
“We have a lot of history besides golf here in Pinehurst,” says Peggy Herman, the Exchange’s publicity chair. “It’s important for the community to know that.”
Within the quaint, charming cabin now are the Pinehurst Welcome Center in the front room and the Exchange’s sales and dining rooms in the back, both of which are open from February through May and from September through December.
In the modern-day sales room, little has changed. Lehto says they are remaining “steadfast” in efforts to sell only homemade items. Over three-quarters of the merchandise — including jewelry, pottery, clothes and quilts — comes from local consignors.
Baskets woven with long-leaf pine needles, pottery painted with local golf course scenes, and hand-milled soap bars from the Pinehurst Historic Society are some of the most popular sells.
The dining room is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Cook Debbie Ewing, of Pinehurst, brought her exquisite culinary touch to the Exchange’s kitchen six years ago.
Her passion for food and cooking began later in life, after working as an EMT for several years. She’s been taking culinary classes at Sandhills Community College and is well on her way to a degree.
Ewing says her tenure at the Exchange started out as “just a job,” but it quickly came to carry a much greater significance for her. When she started as cook, she was a victim of domestic violence.
Despite not knowing specifics about her abusive relationship, the customers and the team of volunteers at the Exchange surrounded her with unfailing support and love.
Now a proud survivor, Ewing says she can hardly put into words how much the women of the Exchange mean to her — a family that was there when she needed it most.
“I have the most mothers, grandmothers and sisters of anyone I know,” she says with a smile. “I realized that God’s reason for having me stay in North Carolina was to be at the Woman’s Exchange. It’s where I belong.”
The dining room menu is “easy and simple,” says Ewing. Entree features include egg salad, chicken salad and the occasional reuben or BLT special.
“And all of the men love the chili,” Herman says.
Homemade pies and desserts satisfy a customer’s sweet tooth after they finish their meal.
As you walk into the dining room, the small, intimate cabin atmosphere envelops you in a warm embrace filled with the comforts of a private residence.
“I tell everybody who comes in, ‘Here at the Exchange, it’s like how you would be treated at home, but better,’” Ewing says.
The service is friendly and personal. Both Ewing and the volunteer waitress on duty always make an effort to meet their new customers and greet the regulars.
The Exchange even keeps track of birthdays.
“We’ll put a candle in your lemon meringue pie,” Lehto says.
Confident in the quality of her offerings, Ewing encourages everyone in the area to “come in and try it, give me one shot. If you don’t like it, your meal is on me.”
Ewing has recently been given a platinum certificate from the Moore County Board of Health in recognition for receiving a 98 or above score for an entire year.
The dining and sales rooms alike seem to be thriving.
But the Exchange’s 90 years haven’t all been smooth sailing — inclement weather dealt a significant blow to the Exchange four years ago.
Tropical Storm Hannah swept through the Exchange doors in fall 2008 and left six inches of standing water in the cabin. In a struggle to obtain the funds for the necessary repairs, the Exchange had to close for more than six months.
“To think that when we had that flood, we were going to close for good,” Ewing says. “Now we’re celebrating 90 years.”
The Exchange’s longevity has been, without a doubt, awe-inspiring. And Lehto, Herman and Ewing are all confident that the future holds more prospects for the organization.
“Anyone at the Exchange will tell you, ‘I’ll do anything and everything to raise money and keep this place open,’” Ewing says emphatically.
As the dining room gets back into the swing of things this fall, Ewing hopes to start serving brunch on Saturday mornings.
Also on the radar is increased community involvement for the Exchange — including plans to form an endowment and create a scholarship for a female student to attend Sandhills Community College and go forward with her education.
Herman wants to expand the Exchange’s public presence, via Facebook and other mediums, to recruit both new customers and volunteers.
“We want to get the word out, especially to the younger population,” she says. “They need to know we’re here and here to stay.”
And stay they certainly have — for 90 years and counting.
The Exchange is located at 15 Azalea Road, Pinehurst. For additional information, call (910) 295-4677.
Contact Sarah Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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