Biz owner brings woodworking craftsmanship downtown

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Douglas Britt works in his woodworking shop, D&J Woodworking, in the old Carolina building downtown Elizabeth City, Thursday. He recently moved into the former restaurant space in the building after operating from his home for five years.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Douglas Britt is a big believer in the old saying, "They don't make 'em like they used to."

He should know.

Britt, 58, is a carpenter by trade who through his business, D&J Woodworking, is handy with things made of wood, particularly wooden furniture. 

"I restore antique furniture. I build custom furniture to order. I do repairs, refinishing — just a little bit of anything with wood," Britt said last week.

Up until a few weeks ago, Britt operated D&J Woodworking out of his house. He decided after five years in business, however, that he needed more space. So he moved D&J Woodworking into the restaurant space in the former Carolina Grille and Theatre in downtown Elizabeth City.

Asked why he decided to move into the Carolina building, he cited the site’s vast glass front and visibility to both pedestrians and motorists.

"And it just got to the point where I did not have the space in my shop to do any work," he said.

Britt got his interest in woodworking from his father. Growing up in Fairfax County, Virginia, Britt’s dad worked as a machinist for the federal government but also as a handyman on the side. As a young man, Britt said he became fascinated with his father's ability to work with his hands.

Britt began his career as a apprentice carpenter in the late 1970s via a local carpenters union. He said his life changed, however, when he got a chance to visit downtown Richmond and help convert the massive Phillip Morris tobacco buildings off East Cary Street into apartments, condominiums and retail spaces.

After job opportunities dried up in Richmond, Britt moved to the Hampton Roads area. He ended up moving to the Elizabeth City area, he said, after coming down and working on repair projects for Swimme and Son in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

"Everybody that I met down here was very nice, very welcoming into their homes," he said. "It was like a different type of person down here from the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake area."

Britt also found earning a living in northeastern North Carolina was much cheaper, and the pace of life was slower.

"I could afford my house. There's a little traffic, but it's nothing like it is in northern Virginia or the Virginia Beach area," he said.

Britt takes great pride in his work. He likes repairing things that others took pride in crafting.

"I like the old stuff that's done by hand, with planes and no real big machinery," he said. "Nowadays, you have these $10-an-hour helpers that bang nails. There's just no real craftsmen nowadays."

Britt has a companion in D&J Woodworking — Ralph, an 11-year-old dog his daughter got from a rescue shelter in Richmond. The “J” in the D&J name is a tribute to Britt's late brother Jim, who had worked as a trim carpenter.

Britt’s sister who lives in Virginia Beach also lends him a hand. She has stocked the former restaurant part of the Carolina with numerous gift items for sale. She’s driven down a couple of times to help with sales, he said.

Britt knows the old Carolina building has been a revolving door for short-lived tenants since at least 2010. He’s confident, however, that his business can be a success.

Asked how that will happen, he said, "Hard work – and getting my name out there as a really good carpenter that gives his all to have a really good finished product."

D&J Woodworking is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Britt also can be reached by phone at 207-7094. He also is available after hours by appointment.