GODWIN, N.C. (AP) – For 27 years, stores in this little town in northeastern Cumberland County were free to sell beer and wine.
Apparently, nobody. At least nobody who wanted to tell.
Not that it made a lot of difference. Godwin has only 144 people and two businesses – an auto repair shop and a farm equipment dealer.
But that’s what Mayor Willie Burnette and the Godwin Board of Commissioners want to change.
This year, in an attempt to bring prosperity to the town, Burnette and the commissioners asked state Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County to create a bill to repeal a ban on alcohol manufacture and sales here. The ban is 110 years old, written into Godwin’s charter when it was incorporated in 1905.
Szoka’s bill did not pass, not because lawmakers opposed it – the state House approved it 106-8 and sent it to the Senate – but because the repeal turned out to be unnecessary. The legislative staff discovered over the summer that lawmakers repealed Godwin’s alcohol ban in 1988.
If anyone in Godwin remembered that the ban was long-ago repealed, they didn’t say.
“I think people kept us in the dark,” said Town Commissioner Donnie McIntyre, who grows grapes and has been taking wine-making classes. He plans to open a winery in Godwin.
“There was people who could have had enlightened me,” he said.
McIntyre said he spent his own money to hire a lawyer to prepare materials to help get the ban overturned. But he has no regrets and is ready to go ahead with his project.
The news that the ban was long gone buoyed the mayor, who wants to see a retail store open here to create jobs and tax base.
Only two tax-paying businesses are in the town limits, Burnette said: his family’s auto repair shop and the farm equipment dealer. Most of the rest of the properties on the town’s 12 streets have homes and churches.
Burnette said that when he was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s as a sharecropper’s son, Godwin was a bustling railway stop. Trains delivered farm supplies and stores provided plenty of goods for the area’s families.
But over time, the stores closed.
The last retail outlet, Godwin Community Store, shut down in the early 1990s. Its building at the center of town now houses a church-run thrift shop.
“We’re trying to get Dollar General or any convenience store to come into our town, because we have to go, like, from 10 to 15 miles to buy anything,” Burnette said. “Not just alcohol. Anything. A loaf of bread.”
Burnette believes retailers won’t open in Godwin unless they can offer alcohol to draw more customers and boost profits.
There is a mom-and-pop Godwin Food Market on Godwin-Falcon Road on the edge of town by Interstate 95. The store is just outside the town limits. It sells alcohol, which is legal in Cumberland County. It also has some groceries (including bread) and other goods.
But that store doesn’t offer enough, Burnette said. Residents don’t like shopping there, he said, because of drug and prostitution activity nearby.
Federal authorities in June raided a home two doors down from the store and charged 19 people with being part of a cocaine trafficking ring.
Burnette said he has been talking to people in the retail trade about opening a store here. He said he and the mayor of nearby Falcon plan to conduct a count of rooftops to show retailers how many potential customers they could get.
The customer base is key, said Dollar General spokesman Dan MacDonald.
Alcohol sales aren’t a critical factor, although Dollar General sells beer and wine at most of its stores, MacDonald said.
“They take into account median income and the competitive landscape in an area and how many households are located within a 5-mile distance, how many are located within a 10-minute drive.
“And all those factors are considered. The customer base to support a store is obviously the critical factor,” he said.
Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com
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