Meet Robert Hall’s Co-Owner: Christy Cox Spencer
Christy and her husband Will have had big plans for the Industry Hill neighborhood ever since they first purchased property on the 800 block of Liberty Street in the mid-1980s. Over the past four decades, the pair has watched our little corner of downtown Winston-Salem blossom into a bustling hub for makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and small businesses.
We sat down with Christy to talk about the inspiration behind Robert Hall, what she loves most about the space, and her ultimate vision for the Industry Hill neighborhood.
The Robert Hall Team: It’s pretty apparent that the inspiration and motives behind Robert Hall are multi-faceted—let’s start off by adding some context to the space. What is the history behind the building that Robert Hall occupies now?
Christy Cox Spencer: The building that we now call Robert Hall has had many lives. It got its start in the early 1900s as a doctor’s office, then a café. In the mid-1930s it became the site of one of the largest sign shops in the Southeast, Coe & Hartman Signs. Finally, in the latter part of the 20th century, the building was home to Bob’s Machine and Metal Fabricator—a shop owned and operated by our late friend, Bob McCormick.
We knew that Coe & Hartman had left a few signs in the basement, but it wasn’t until our most recent renovation that we realized just how many there were. Stowed away and forgotten, there was the neon sign that once belonged to the Robert Hall store that sat along Highway 52 in Winston-Salem throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The chain of clothing stores went out of business in the 1970s and the sign had somehow found its way back to where it was made. In addition to having access to such an amazing piece of our building’s history, we ultimately decided to refurbish the Robert Hall sign and adopt the name as a homage to our friend Bob.
So how did the Robert Hall we know today get its start?
We purchased the building in 2005. Since then, it’s been a dream of ours to transform the space and bring even more character to Industry Hill in downtown Winston-Salem. For the first decade or so, the building served as a storage area for our primary business, JKS Incorporated. Around 2016 or 2017, Will got the idea to rent part of the building out to a brewery. Breweries were really starting to take off in the area—that was pretty evident given the success our neighbors at Wise Man Brewing and Fiddlin’ Fish were seeing. After a few months of putting out feelers, we connected with the folks behind Radar Brewing Company and they opened their doors in January of 2020.
Once the brewery was in place, the next step involved deciding what to do with the rest of the property. We knew for certain that we wanted to transform the front portion of the building into a set of Airbnb accommodations. As for the remaining spaces, we were throwing around restaurant and bars ideas… and then COVID happened. All of our plans came to a screeching halt in March of 2020 and there was a period of about six months where very little happened. After realizing how much of an impact the pandemic was having on the service industry, we decided to put our hopes of a restaurant and bar aside and, instead, put all of our energy into the Airbnb rooms.
As we got to work renovating and building out The Huntley House, we continued bouncing around ideas for the remaining spaces. We knew that Winston-Salem was lacking in private event venues, but we weren’t completely sold on the idea until we started talking with friends and members of our community. Once we had their full confidence and support we started to hone in on our plans for The Vault, Capone’s Bar, and The Garden. Months and months of renovation and construction later, we find ourselves where we are today.
A lot of the decor inside Robert Hall—and specifically The Huntley House—comes from your family. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. The Huntley House is a love song to my late mother-in-law, Ann Lanier Spencer. So much of her lives on in the space and you really get a feel of the dance that existed between our two styles. Ann was very put together and traditional, so seeing some of her refined pieces next to my weird eclectic artwork and modern finds creates a playful balance. I think it helps the space feel as comfortable as it is special.
The phrase “playful balance” sums it up nicely. Did you approach the design of Capone’s Bar, The Vault, and The Garden in a similar way?
When speaking about the design of Robert Hall, I always like to say that there are strings of yarn pulling together to weave a story about each of the spaces. Capone’s Bar was always meant to feel like an elevated space. Its period-inspired tin ceiling, rich naval blue walls, and savaged knotty pine paneling set the mood for the authentic 1920s mahogany bar. It feels good, and it should. Downstairs, The Vault is preserved in its original, industrial look. The colors are cooler in tone and we didn’t cover up or paint any of the wood trussing, pipes, or duct work—that was intentional, I want people to see the structure and bones of the space. All in all, The Vault feels very urban and groovy, but when you add things like my mother-in-law’s antique sideboard—the pride and joy piece from her dining room—you’re mixing these two very different styles together and it creates beauty. The Garden encompasses two fireplaces, beautiful trees and landscaping, and entertainment areas with ample seating. It’s so unique to have an outdoor space in downtown Winston-Salem—our goal is for people to be right in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, but feel like they are hidden away in a secret garden.
This might be a tough question to answer—do you have a favorite space inside Robert Hall?
I love them all, but during this time of year I really enjoy sitting in a chair on the balcony leading into Capone’s Bar. Because it’s so high up I can see all of The Garden and all the way down to Earl’s on Ninth Street. It’s the best place to catch a sunset and it has a great view of the city skyline. When I sit up there I just see all of this vastness and all of the potential that our growing neighborhood holds.
You co-own Robert Hall with your husband, Will. What is your favorite part about working with Will day-to-day?
Will and I make a really good team. It’s not always comfortable, but we work as a yin and a yang. Where I have weaknesses, Will has strengths—and vice versa. Because we have been together for 35 years we really do know where each person’s shortcomings are and we know how to fill in those gaps. Will and I are both really creative, and when you put two really creative people together who have different strongpoints, chances are you are going to end up with a fantastic idea.
There is no denying that Industry Hill has evolved quite a bit over the past 40 years. Where do you see Robert Hall and Industry Hill in the next few decades?
After breathing new life into the name, we have transformed Robert Hall into a place that honors its history and opens the door for people to come and experience the vibrant neighborhood that is Industry Hill. My ultimate goal is for the space to become a hub of the neighborhood, and for it to be a landmark where people go ‘Oh yeah, Robert Hall! I know where that is!’ I want our sign to mean something and I want Robert Hall to be a place where people have their weddings and then come back to throw their baby showers, birthday celebrations, and retirement parties. As for Industry Hill—the neighborhood is growing and changing so rapidly. So many things are on the horizon and I can’t wait to see how Industry Hill continues to evolve and change the landscape of downtown Winston-Salem.