At 3 a.m. most mornings, a refrigerator truck begins its 90-minute trek from the Neese’s Country Sausage processing facility in Greensboro to a small brick building at Jordan Place and North Davidson Street in Charlotte. It’s a relay station for Neese’s, a family-owned company that’s sold pork sausage, livermush, and liver pudding in distinctive wax paper-covered bricks since the 1910s. From here, other trucks will haul bricks of Neese’s to grocery stores and small restaurants, as they have since 1947. Little about the place or its product has changed.
Virtually everything around it has. Across Davidson, Camden NoDa, a 387-unit apartment complex with retail, prepares to open. It’s a prime location in a prime neighborhood in a prime city for development. On the opposite corner is Neese’s little brick box, a living artifact of an older Charlotte that’s disappearing lot by lot. In 2011, Mecklenburg County appraised the half-acre property at $95,100. This year, the county set a new value: $1,311,400. Neese’s could sell to a developer and make a mint. The family has no plan to do so. “They offer eye-watering amounts,” says Tom Neese Jr., still the CEO at 89, “and we just say no.”
In late 1945, just months after V-J Day, brothers and co-owners Thomas and Homer Neese decided they wanted to expand the business beyond Guilford County. Thomas turned to one of his best salesmen, Bill Humble, who’d joined the company in 1937, at age 20. Six years later, the Army drafted him. Two years after that, he was home—disabled from a German bullet to his chest during the Battle of the Bulge.
The brothers chose him to lead Neese’s expansion into Charlotte. Humble moved his family down from Greensboro. At first, he worked out of a filling station with a few trucks. He quickly outgrew the space and oversaw a crew as they constructed a building in what was then called North Charlotte. The men were so poor, no one had the proper equipment, not even a level. “When they originally framed out the building, it was crooked,” Tom Neese Jr. says, “so they tore it down and started again by sight.”
Humble managed the relay station for more than 30 years, acquiring the nickname “Mr. Sausage.” He retired in 1980 but continued to work part-time for years. He died at 82 in 2001, and his old wool delivery uniform hangs in the main office along with an acknowledgement of his 51 years of service.
The station’s interior is a collection of mementos from Neese’s long history here. On the wall hang old newspaper clippings and takeout menus for restaurants that closed years ago. The old Cheerwine machine next to a doorway still works.
Within the compact space, drivers do what they’ve done since the ’40s. They’re responsible for loading their own trucks. Each one dons gloves—the forest-green trucks are refrigerated, after all—and grabs a garden hoe, the tool of choice for moving and positioning delivery boxes. Drivers check and double-check their notes before they maneuver the trucks beyond the chain-link fence to deliver Neese’s all over town.
When they arrive, there’s no need for formality. Many customers have bought Neese’s products for years, sometimes generations. They talk casually with drivers about how the kids are doing and vacation plans. When the trucks are finally empty, the drivers head back to the relay station, park carefully around back, and prepare to do it all over again before dawn the next day.
Logan Cyrus is a photojournalist in Charlotte.