ABC Store looking for new digs; has sights on the Fire Dept. building

The Highlands ABC Store has outgrown its space and it’s looking to the town for help.

At December’s Town Board meeting earlier this month, ABC Store Manager Kevin Vinson and Chairman of the ABC Board Steve Mehder requested permission to hire a contractor to draw up plans for a future ABC Store in the soon to be abandoned 11,000 sq. ft. Fire Station on Oak Street.

The store’s current landlord is willing to work with the ABC Store even though the lease runs out in 2028.

The reason for the projected move is two-fold. One, the rent would likely be $1 a year which is what other tenants of town buildings pay which means its profit distribution would increase dramatically.

Mehder said if the ABC Store didn’t have to pay rent, more of its proceeds could be given to the town’s General Fund as well as nonprofits, as required.

And two, the need for more space is paramount as the store has outgrown its 4,400 sq. ft.

“As our mixed beverage business [the service to restaurants, bars and country clubs in and outside of town] has increased exponentially over the last three years,” said Manager Kevin Vinson, “we have been forced to carry extra stock in the warehouse side and we just don’t have the space for it any longer. We only receive two trucks a month and we have to make sure we have plenty of inventory in stock to fill our mixed beverage orders especially during the holiday periods.”

Vinson said due to the lack of warehouse space, some of that stock has overflowed into the showroom causing clutter. 

“We would rather have clean, clear pathways for people to be able to shop comfortably,” he said. “There is also the challenge of having enough room to pack the orders and receive shipments in the warehouse side due to the lack of storage.”

In addition, about three years ago, Vinson said Ready To Drink beverages started taking over the liquor industry by storm. About 1 ½ years ago, the NC ABC Commission approved the installation of coolers in the ABC Stores to accommodate the new item.

Vinson said their first 3-door cooler was installed early September which took up the “sales” area of the store.

“That has really taken off and as that market continues to grow, we will need more coolers and more floor space in the next 3-5 years,” he said.

Mayor Pat Taylor said moving into the fire department building is a cost-effective plan opposed to building an entire building.

“The benefit of bringing the ABC Store back onto town property and into a town building means they aren’t paying rent so the savings will go to the town and to the nonprofits,” he said. 

He reminded the board that the original ABC Store was in the current Police Department building. 

Mehder said the potential renovation won’t be a burden to the town.

However, Commissioners Marc Hehn and Amy Patterson suggested the town take its time and look at the entire tract including The Playhouse site before making a decision.

Hehn said the Comprehensive Plan had a couple of suggestions for the tract which should be considered.

Commissioner Patterson said she understands that the ABC Store needs more space but consideration needs to be given to town property and town needs.

“I’m saying that it is a town building, and we need to make sure we maximize what’s the best use for the Town of Highlands,” she said. “I agree that we shouldn’t make a decision tonight since this is the first we’ve heard about it. We knew that we were going to have to decide what the building will be, but I don’t know enough about it or how chopped up it is, or how useful it will be. There is no rush on this, we can take a month or two to look at it.”

Commissioner John Dotson said he thought Highlands Plaza was a good spot for the ABC Store using the same argument used years ago when the store moved from the Police Department building to Highlands Plaza.

“I think the location as far as revenue for the ABC Store is concerned is in a great location, despite the square footage limitations,” he said. “You have parking, other stores around; if they move to the fire department there will be no spontaneous buying. It’s going to be a destination.”

Mehder and Commissioner Eric Pierson said the ABC Board was only asking permission to do preliminary work with an architect and contractor to see if their plan will work.

“This is just the first step so we can come back with a plan,” said Mehder. “We have conceptualized how we will use this space. We know we need at least 50% more space than we have now plus there will be more things in retail sales that are likely to come aboard. We just need permission to get with an architect to see how we could utilize the space. Then we will come back with a rendering and so on.”

Commissioner Patterson said the town doesn’t have any plans for the space now but that doesn’t mean it won’t have plans. 

“Maybe it’s an ABC Store, but maybe it’s not,” she said.

In the end the board agreed to let the ABC Board proceed with a conceptual design and that the potential project will be considered at a later date.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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