It began during Prohibition… a time very different from which we now live. Frank Ratcliffe, a dapper and handsome young man with a quick smile, recognized a need within the community and sought to fill it. (Okay, let’s face it: he was a bootlegger). Frank delivered beverages that were in high demand, sort of an early version of FedEx. BUT the challenges were very different than delivery services of today; using highly modified Ford Model A cars, a typical delivery often wound through city streets and country roads with at least one law enforcement vehicle in hot pursuit.
Many versions of alcoholic beverages were available during prohibition. “Bathtub Gin” became popular, and not many people realize that it was legal to make up to 200 gallons of wine at home during that time (and it still is legal today!) “Moonshine”, or spirits distilled mostly from corn in hidden stills located deep in obscure locations, became popular as the commercial production of whiskey ceased. Ever the one to meet the needs of the community, Frank became an expert in all types of alcoholic beverages, from homemade wines to moonshine to different versions of classic distilled spirits.
When the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, North Carolina remained a “dry” state. The major distilleries reopened and began ramping up production, but since it was not legal to sell in North Carolina, Frank found demand for his services actually increased. The difference was that now the “product” was “tax paid liquor” – name brand spirits produced legally and taxed by the Federal government, just not available in North Carolina. Frank purchased his inventory in states like Florida and even Northeastern states like New York or Connecticut, and transported them to Charlotte in disguised shipments on tractor trailer trucks. The liquor was warehoused in Charlotte, and delivered to “liquor houses” in modified Model A Fords. In 1937, North Carolina enacted an Alcoholic Beverage Control bill that began the process for legalizing alcoholic beverages in counties that elected to do so.
As state controlled “ABC Stores” proliferated, Frank ceased his delivery business and settled into a more traditional role in a related business by opening a nightclub in downtown Charlotte. Initially known as the “Friendly City Club”, it was located at 110 West 6th Street, and featured live entertainment and some of the best food in the state. The Friendly City Club was renamed The Flamingo Club in late 1949, and it became a fixture of Charlotte nightlife. A particularly unique aspect of the operation was the casino on the second floor, where one could find a robust craps game or blackjack tables with friendly dealers to entertain visitors. (Okay, so that wasn’t legal either…)
However, it was in the Flamingo Club where Frank’s life took a dramatic turn. In his effort to provide first class talent for the guests of the club, he booked a young singer named Velma Corey, known as “the little lady with the huge voice”. Although he hired her for a two week performance, the minute Frank laid eyes on Velma he decided he would never let her get away. After five weeks they were married, and Frank turned his focus to business operations that were more in keeping for a husband, father and a family man.