Read Brothers

After concerns surfaced about public safety, the city put up barricades outside the Read Brothers building on King Street earlier this year. File/Michael Pronzato/Staff

The Read Brothers' fabric and stereo store at 591-593 King St. has been ordered closed until emergency structural repairs are made.

The city hired structural engineer Craig Bennett to evaluate the building's threat to public safety, and his most recent report identified the necessary work.

Specifically, Bennett found an urgent issue with the structural column at the corner of King and Spring streets. His report said the column "absolutely must be structurally confined to reduce the risk of sudden catastrophic failure.

"Both the structure and the veneer of the column have been severely damaged and the column remains a significant threat to life safety."

The prominent Upper King Street fabric and stereo store first attracted the city's attention in April after a staff member noticed freshly fallen bricks on the first floor at the corner. 

The city placed orange barricades on its adjoining sidewalks to keep pedestrians away from the building. Those barricades remained in place Thursday morning, and yellow caution tape also was tied around the building's entrance.

Owner Thomas Read has said that the King and Spring corner was damaged when struck by a construction vehicle in November 2015.

But it has not been fixed, and Bennett's Aug. 3 letter to Charleston Chief Building Official Edye Graves cited "considerable vibration from both construction and traffic in the area" as a concern about the building's stability. Read Brothers actually includes several buildings in a row, from an old single house to a one-story addition on King to its dominant three-story building at 593 King. 

Read did not return phone messages left Thursday.

Bennett's recommendations included:

  • Keeping the sidewalk closed in front of 591-589½ King St. until structural work on the parapet is done, "and all of the bricks have been secured so that they will not fall onto passers-by."
  • Covering the Spring Street sidewalk closed along 593 King St., the main three-story store. "There is a particular problem at both the northeast and northwest corners of the building."
  • Structurally confining the column on the 593 King St. building.
  • Recognizing the threat that bricks might fall in back of the building. "We realize that this area is not public property, but we are also aware that, at times, the public does go into this area, as there is no barrier to entry."
  • Monitoring the building's cracks and facade elements. "Monitoring will not necessarily prevent falling of elements or even prevent a significant structural failure, but has the potential to give warning of such."

"As always, public safety is job one for the city in these situations,” city spokesman Jack O’Toole said in a statement.

The problems with the Read Brothers building mark just one of several instances this year in which historic Charleston buildings have suffered dramatic structural problems. Also in April, Nick's Original BBQ at 288 King St. was forced to close and cover its adjoining sidewalk so significant facade repairs could be made.

The city also approved demolitions of a circa 1853 mansion at 4 Gadsden St., a mid-20th century townhouse at 2 Exchange St. and a dilapidated office building at 11½ St. Philip St. after each experienced structural failure deemed a public safety threat.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.