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ABC store plan draws criticism in Franklin

A split decision by Franklin aldermen to build a new $1.25 million ABC store at the site of a Super Walmart at the edge of town drew criticism and pleas this week that the plan be reconsidered.

“We cannot afford what you are proposing,” said Ron Winecoff, an insurance agent in Franklin, at a Monday meeting. “It is not the Taj Mahal, and we do not have to market it that way. It is another store, plain and simple.”

Winecoff, like other speakers, urged aldermen to instead locate the ABC store in any of the vacant downtown buildings to help with revitalization efforts.

“Walmart does not need more customers as they have plenty … why not use this opportunity to improve the center of town?” he said.

Orville Coward, a Franklin attorney, also urged aldermen to use an available building in the downtown area instead.

“There are empty buildings, and it seems to me that the ABC store is a magnet, a destination point for people to go to,” Coward said. “I don’t think there needs to be a magnet or destination point for Walmart. Walmart is its own destination point.”

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Supporters of the plan hope being beside Super Walmart will increase visibility of the ABC store and drive liquor sales, which in return would reap a profit for the town. The store made a $70,000 profit last year, a $71,000 profit in 2010 and a $64,000 profit in 2009. The money goes to town coffers.

Exactly how much the annual payments on the new building will cost is not yet finalized, although payments would be spread over 20 years.

“We’re still working on all the numbers,” Town Attorney John Henning said. Henning said possible collateral includes town-owned buildings, including Town Hall.

The question is: will the more visible Super Walmart site bring in enough extra sales to cover the cost of the new building, or will the town see its ABC revenues decline? While there could be other cheaper options if the ABC store set up shop in a vacant building downtown, the loan payments on the new building will not be that much more expensive, and possibly cost less, than the town is paying now in rent.

The current ABC store costs $6,200 in rent each month. That amount is slated to increase by 10 percent in November. The hike in rent prompted the ABC commission in January to recommend moving the store.

In the minutes of that meeting, ABC Board Chairman Pat Pattillo noted the Walmart site would bring increased visibility and exposure.

“This site would allow the ABC store to be eye level with the future Super Walmart store,” he said. “Fifteen to 20 years down the road this location will be home to numerous businesses and restaurants.”

The $1.25 million would be paid to the development company that is building the Walmart shopping site. The developers would build the 6,500-square-foot ABC store for the town.

Paul Shuler of Franklin said given what he dubbed “the poor performance” of the current ABC store, he felt aldermen should be figuring that problem out instead of talking about moving it.

“With profits less than $70,000 a year, spending $1.25 million doesn’t make sense,” Shuler said. “This is not the time; the Walmart center is not the place; and $1.25 million is not the price.”

Tim Butterfield of Franklin echoed Shuler in his criticisms: “It’s atrocious that you want to spend $1.25 million to move the store a quarter of a mile to make one percent profit.”

Lamar Sprinkle, a local surveyor in Franklin, also questioned the cost of the move.

“There’s plenty of places that would come for less and do just as well,” he said. “Wherever you put the store, people are going to go to the liquor store. I think there’s a better way, and I think you ought to look at it and reconsider.”

Aldermen did not respond to the speakers about whether they might give the ABC store plan another look.

The town’s ABC store is currently on Highlands Road, while the future site of Super Walmart is off of U.S. 441.

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