Board votes to close Westbrooke location

Some in Havelock soon will have to drive four miles farther to make a purchase from an ABC store.

The Craven County ABC Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to close the leased ABC store in the Westbrooke Shopping Center in Havelock on Feb. 1.

ABC Board Chairman Chip Chagnon said the decision was not made lightly.

“We have been looking at the whole plan, the openings, consolidations and closures, all these things for several years,” he said. “We have to with the turmoil on the transportation end, Slocum Gate in the case of Westbrooke, in James City we have the bypass going in, and these are timing things, but this board wants to be in front of the bow wave, not when they start putting cones up in front of our stores.”

Closing the Westbrooke store and consolidating it with the store on the east end of the city was a fulfillment of the 2006-07 ABC Board promise to close the Westbrooke location once the newly built store on East Main Street was opened, Chagnon said. The stores are separated by four miles.

“When we built that store, we built a store that was 200 percent larger than the store that was there previously, and there was only one store there, but it was getting inadequate,” Chagnon said.

Customers visiting the Westbrooke store Wednesday were surprised to hear it would be closed.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Bill Martin, of Havelock. “It’s going to mean a drive for a lot of people, especially for Carolina Pines and this end of Havelock.”

Robert Sparrow, of Havelock, said he shops at the store about twice a week.

“I wouldn’t want to see it close,” he said.

ABC stores in North Carolina serve both the public, and restaurants and private clubs that serve liquor by the drink. Right now, that business in Havelock is being split between the two locations, Chagnon said.

“We have shelves that are empty,” he said. “We estimate that the east store is only at about 70 percent utilization.”

The ABC board conducted a survey in May that determined 80 percent of customers drove by the Westbrooke store to shop at the east location, Chagnon said.

“We looked at that and we said ‘what about the other 20 percent,’” he said.

According to the survey, about 12 percent were shopping in New Bern with the remaining 8 percent split between Westbrooke and other locations.

“We hate to inconvenience people, but there’s a store three miles away,” Chagnon said.

The ABC Board’s goal for Craven County is to make it possible for residents to drive to an ABC store within 15 minutes.

“Right now, in Craven County, we meet 90 percent of that,” Chagnon said.

The ABC Board also commissioned a study by East Carolina University’s Small Business Institute.

“They too came up with we should consolidate those two stores,” Chagnon said.

A transportation report also supported the decision, he said. The Westbrooke location will close after the busy holiday season on Feb. 1.

Currently, there are six ABC stores in Craven County, not including one on base at Cherry Point. Two are located in Havelock, two in New Bern, one in James City and one in Vanceboro.

Jennifer Cannon is a reporter for the Sun Journal. Havelock News reporter Drew C. Wilson contributed to this story.