On any given Friday, customers could find Mona Wyatt and Nancy Davis at Fourth Street Deli and Tap — Davis with Merlot and a cheese tray, Wyatt with a Philly Cheese Steak Salad invented especially for her.
“It was a ‘Cheers’-y kind of place,” Wyatt, 57, said. “You literally knew everybody down there, and if you didn’t, if a stranger walked in, they become a friend pretty fast.”
At Fourth Street, the food came in comforting heaps, the beer in Mason jars and the live music in weekend concerts and weekday jam sessions.
But when the deli closes it’s door Saturday, owner Joe Culbertson will say goodnight for the last time.
“He’s tired,” said Jody Lassiter, president and CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership. “This is not because of business failure... He wanted to get out of the business because of the demands on his personal and private time. It is a 24/7 job.”
Culbertson declined to comment, saying he wanted the business to go its way quietly.
Harvesting Hope Food Pantry in Danville will begin leasing the building in August to expand the pantry and add a soup kitchen, Director Amber Wood Sellars said.
Though the building will go to good use, Fourth Street regulars said nothing could truly replace the deli or it’s well-loved owner. The place had a distinctly local flavor, with political signs from winning and losing candidates the most prominent decorating theme. Local “celebrities” would often take over the kitchen and serve up their culinary specialties.
Wyatt said she has followed the business since it sold primarily fruit and gifts several years ago.
When the deli opened, Joni Morgan and her husband, Mark, who work three doors up at Mark Morgan and Associates became lunchtime regulars, Joni said.
“It’s really nice to go in a see a familiar face and have them call you by name,” she said. “There’s kind of a regular lunch crowd that goes there. We’re all pretty sad about seeing it go.”
Wyatt said the weekend crew is equally upset, largely because of the loss of the quality live music in the evenings.
“It’s just this little hole in the wall place but the really talented musicians from Danville and the surrounding areas play there for free,” she said. “It was a really nice tradition of music and friendship and good food.”
Mike Archer, Wednesday night trivia host and musical performer at the deli, said Culbertson’s humor and welcoming attitude kept successful live acts coming back to Fourth Street and his spirt similarly affected customers.
“You don’t necessary even go for the food sometimes,” he said. “You go because Joe’s such a nice guy, and he’ll cut up with you for a while.”
Culbertson even made cakes free of charge for those celebrating their birthdays at the deli, Wyatt said.
She spent her “most fun birthday ever” at Fourth Street, listening to Patty Butcher sing Happy Birthday as a person in a gorilla suit danced with her on stage.
“I just thought, does it get any better than this?” she said.