HART brings edgy plays to WNC — and succeeds

Any actor or director at Haywood Arts Regional Theater will tell you there’s nothing wrong with “The Sound of Music.” Or “Oklahoma” for that matter.

But that doesn’t mean they want to spend all season shuffling through seasoned classics, singing songs everyone already knows by heart.

Each year, HART gets a whole winter season to experiment and explore, bringing plays that have long intrigued actors and directors to its more intimate, 75-seat Feichter Studio Stage.

Feichter plays in recent years have included “Equus,” a story of a young man who is sexually fascinated by horses; “Wit,” in which an English university professor grapples with a terminal case of ovarian cancer; “The Full Monty,” involving six unemployed men who resort to becoming strippers; and “Coyote on the Fence,” which tells the tale of a racist skinhead on death row.

HART’s latest play, Pulitzer-winning “Doubt: A Parable,” is about a priest suspected of sexually abusing a boy in the ‘60s.

Despite an ending that leaves audiences with more questions than answers, “Doubt” sold out its first weekend and was held over for a second weekend of showings.

A sizeable segment of HART’s audience is clearly enthused by the community theater’s daring spirit. It’s not unusual for the theater to turn away people at the door during its winter season, which has raised the bar for theater-lovers in the area.

“Our audience has come to expect us to not do the same thing,” said Steve Lloyd, HART’s executive director. “Lots of theaters underestimate their audiences and want to play it safe by doing ‘The Sound of Music’ again.”

Audiences aren’t the only pleased party. Community actors and directors are delighted to have the opportunity to tackle more serious projects.

“It’s a great theater for letting actors experiment,” said Suzanne Tinsley, one of the founding members of HART and director of the recent “Doubt.”

Art O’Neil, who has acted with HART for a decade, said he’s had his share of traditional plays.

“I’m beyond it,” said O’Neil. “If I’m going to put the energy into it, pick something that’s going to challenge me.”

O’Neil said he has witnessed a shift in HART’s standing over the years, one that he applauds.

“I think there’s a fairly long line now of plays that are not the traditional small-town community theater plays,” said O’Neil. “Ten years ago, we probably could not have done a play that had a curse word in it.”

Since then, the theater has tackled topics like homosexuality and racism and even the raciness of “Cabaret,” where scantily clad thespians greeted theater-goers right at the door.

But HART isn’t choosing these plays just to stir up controversy. A sincere desire to challenge itself and audiences is at the root of HART’s motives. Plays worthy of city stages are the result.

“I don’t have to go to New York, I don’t have to go to Atlanta to see it,” said O’Neil. “It’s not professional theater, but it comes darn close at times.”

While HART isn’t afraid to go on the cutting edge, it’s not going to force the entire community into joining the journey. Whenever the theater publicizes potentially controversial plays, it affixes a warning about adult content.

And it’s not like HART totally ignores it settings, a few modifications here and there are made.

For example, at the culmination of “The Full Monty,” HART actors actually went through with the striptease, ending up completely naked on stage — but a blinding bright light behind them completely concealed them from the audience.

The play was a huge hit.

In preparing for the stunt, Lloyd and others actually moved through the auditorium, ensuring that the view would only entail a bright light and nothing else, no matter where one was seated.

“It ended up being funny,” said Lloyd. “The audience laughed .... They realized we weren’t going to take people off the deep end.”

For upcoming plays at HART, look no farther than what’s already on Broadway. Lloyd frequently picks up plays that have just become available, like “Chicago,” which was just released to community theaters six months ago.

“I want us to be leading the bandwagon, not following it,” said Lloyd.

For that hard work, HART has won numerous awards, all of which have been handed to plays originating from its smaller stage.

Although its Feichter stage has been successful, there will continue to be a diverse mix of plays at HART with, hopefully, something for everyone.

Lloyd says he compares the theater’s offerings to a dinner menu, making sure to include both hearty and delightful offerings.

“There’s going to be puff pastry, but I’m not going to serve you seven courses of that,” said Lloyd.


Upcoming plays at HART

• “Beyond Therapy” – March 5-7

• “Seussical” – April 23-May 9, weekends

• “Falling in Like” – June 4-13, weekends

• “Chicago” – July 9-Aug. 1, weekends

• “Catfish Moon” – Aug. 27-Sept. 7, weekends

• “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”– Sept. 24-Oct. 17, weekends.

• “The Little Foxes” – Nov. 5-14, weekends.

Free wireless in downtown Waynesville a hit or miss affair

There’s free wireless up for grabs to anyone ambling down Main Street in Waynesville, but it’s so obscure that even those who work downtown are oblivious to its existence.

When tourists file into stores and restaurants asking where they can find wireless internet access — a common occurrence — employees point them to the few businesses nearby that offer it rather than ask them to simply step back outside and flip their laptops open on the sidewalk.

On the other hand, those who are in the know about the amenity also know that it has worked poorly in the past.

“We actually did have quite a few phone calls that it wasn’t working over the last year,” said Buffy Messer, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “Some of the phone calls we received were from frustrated folks.”

Messer said she has seen visitors using the wireless over the summer, but she hesitates to actively publicize it because of its hit-or-miss status.

“My understanding is that it works, but that it does not work particularly well,” said Alison Melnikova, assistant town manager of Waynesville.

“It certainly never developed the way we anticipated,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

Meanwhile, the telecommunications company that runs it, Wynncom, said it was unaware of any problems until Smoky Mountain News contacted its headquarters in Lexington. N.C.

“We weren’t aware of that,” said owner Jimmy Wynn. “Nobody had complained about it.”

No one called up the company, because no entity in Waynesville is expressly responsible for ensuring the wireless works — or for that matter, advertising it to the public.

“It’s something that I think the private sector needs to promote rather than the Town of Waynesville,” said Galloway.

The free, public wireless access supposedly went live three years ago. Wynncom offered it as a free bonus to the Town of Waynesville, while bargaining with Haywood County to land a contract to install a fiberoptic line.

That endeavor hasn’t gone well, either. Haywood County filed a lawsuit against Wynncom after it failed to deliver adequate telephone services on the fiberoptic line.

The county recently dropped the suit and bought the fiberoptic line from the company, deciding to go with another telecommunications company for services instead.

Wireless plans originally called for an antennae on the roof of town hall and a repeater on the roof of the historic courthouse to provide coverage the length of Main Street. But the courthouse antennae was never installed, which Wynn blamed on renovations to the historic building over the years.

But David Cotton, Haywood county manager, said Wynncom has never requested access to install any equipment on the courthouse roof.

While Haywood County has expressed interest in independently setting up free wireless inside the courthouse on Main Street, the recession has blocked progress on that goal.

“We definitely want to get wireless Internet access inside the justice center and courthouse,” said Kristy Wood, director of information technology for the county. “That’s been a goal that we’ve had for over a year. Under such tight budget constraints, we haven’t been able to move forward.”

The wireless would be especially useful to journalists covering government meetings and lawyers during court proceedings, Wood said.

Wynncom says it has now fixed the wireless, which is supposed to be accessible along Main Street from the Town of Waynesville building to the Haywood County courthouse. But the signal decidedly loses its strength as users near the courthouse.

The router had been working, but services were still down, Wynn said.


On street only

There is, however, one lingering problem with the wireless: misunderstandings about what it’s for.

Internet junkies who want to hole up inside a building on Main Street perusing the Internet for hours for free are out of luck. The connection is only meant to be accessible outside.

“Nothing more,” said John Howell, a telecommunications consultant in Haywood County who negotiated the contract. “Anything else would have simply been extra.”

It’s aimed to serve visitors — not businesses or apartment dwellers downtown looking for a way around paying for internet service.

“It was not the intent to provide free access to people that can pay for it,” said Wynn. “It was not designed for a company to use for their benefit for nothing.”

Amanda Collier, manager of Ceviches on Main, said she had no idea that free wireless was available outside the restaurant, but she acknowledged the benefits of having the amenity.

For example, tourists could quickly look up directions to nearby attractions by simply jumping on their laptops.

“It’d be a lot easier, a lot more convenient,” said Collier.

But after learning about the wireless, Stuart Smith, an employee at Pheasant Hill, said the service doesn’t make much sense on Main Street. Few would find it convenient to take to the streets with their laptops in tow.

“Unless there’s more café seating, I don’t think it’s very useful,” said Stuart Smith.

Owen Thorp, an O’Malley’s employee, pointed out one other downside of offering wireless outside only: battery life.

“I’d never use it...my battery only lasts a minute and a half,” said Thorp.

Waynesville moves on skate park

Skateboard enthusiasts in Waynesville will be happy to hear the town has been busily preparing for a long-awaited skate park on Vance Street near the recreation center.

The town board recently dropped $28,500 on a California firm called Spohn Ranch Skateparks to design the park, marking notable progress in a process that’s crawled for more than a decade.

The board unanimously agreed it was time to move forward.

“We beat this horse about as much as we can beat it,” said Mayor Gavin Brown.

“I think this is a giant step forward in reaching our goal,” said Rhett Langston, Waynesville’s recreation director.

The town is also applying for a $60,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant to help fund construction.

While the town failed to lock in the same state grant last year, having a concrete design plan in hand might improve their chances this go-around.

“To have this plan in place to show them you really are enthused about doing it, I think it will be help us with the grant,” said Alderman Gary Caldwell, the most ardent supporter of the skate park on the town board.

Even if the town lands the grant, it still faces the challenge of scraping up an equal amount in matching funds and paying for the remainder of the cost.

The town will learn in early May if it has won the coveted grant.

Langston said it is difficult right now to even speculate on the total cost of the skate park. After hiring the design firm, the town has $41,500 remaining of the original $70,000 set aside for the park. It also holds a generous $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club.

To supplement that sum, the recreation department continues to fundraise by selling bricks with personalized messages for a walkway leading up to the park. So far, they’ve raised $2,900.

Having a conceptual design plan in hand could also aid fundraising efforts, according to town officials.

“If you just tell someone, ‘We want to build a skate park. Will you donate?’ they might. But if you show them, ‘This is what we want to build,’ your chances of getting participation may be a lot better,” said Lee Galloway, Waynesville town manager.

“Local skaters will have something in their hands to show this is what we’re looking for, this is the cause,” said Langston.

The town considers it absolutely essential that skaters throw their two cents in, since it doesn’t want to invest in a skate park that they didn’t like.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s just do it right from the beginning,” said Langston.


More on the park

The Waynesville Kiwanis and Parks and Recreation Skate Park will be located in a fenced-in, outdoor facility on the site of the former horse ring on Vance Street. It will join the sprawling town recreation complex along Richland Creek, where playgrounds, tennis courts, picnic shelters, ball fields, a greenway, a dog park, a track, and the Waynesville Recreation Center are clustered.

The park would be free to use, but skaters would be required to pay a small registration fee so the Parks and Recreation Department can keep track of who is using the facility.

For now, skaters still have to deal with a town ban on skateboards on sidewalks and most town streets. Violators face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.

Those interested in purchasing a brick, making a donation, or volunteering for the fundraising committee are asked to contact Langston at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.456.2030.

Public art to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Waynesville Public Art Commission recently issued a Call for Artists for its fourth public art project. The proposed art will celebrate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its historic relationship to Waynesville.

For many years an arched sign hung across Main Street declaring Waynesville the “Eastern Entrance to the Smokies.” Long-time residents will recall that the archway was near the intersection of Main and Depot Streets, near the former First National Bank. This is also the intersection where Franklin D. Roosevelt made his entrance into Waynesville while promoting the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1936.

The former bank site is now the location of a town “mini-park” which is scheduled for rehabilitation in 2010. Using funds that have been donated specifically for the improvement of the park, the town plans to revitalize the area by improving access, landscaping, lighting, and encouraging more usage of the mini-park. The existing rock perimeter walls will remain, but must be brought into proper code adherence by the installation of a railing along Depot Street. This provides an opportunity to meet functional needs in an aesthetic manner.

The Public Art Commission has requested that interested artists submit designs for a 69-foot railing that will incorporate artistic elements relating to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its historical connection to Waynesville. The artist must reside in either North Carolina or Tennessee, the two states contiguous with the Park, and must submit a portfolio of past works for review. The Call for Artists and other public art information can be viewed on the Town’s website at www.townofwaynesville.org.

Three artists will be chosen from the applicants to make a presentation of their finalized plans to an advisory panel of 35-40 community and arts supporters. After reviewing comments of the panel, the Public Art Commission will decide on a finalist to receive the commission of $20,000.

The $20,000 commission will be raised from private sources, and the public is invited to make a donation to the Public Art Fund. Checks should be made payable to the Town of Waynesville Public Art Fund, and should be mailed to P.O. Box 1409, Waynesville, NC 28786 in care of Downtown Waynesville Association. Donations may be tax deductible.

The other works commissioned by the Public Art Commission include “Old Time Music,” the paver project in front of the new police station, and “Celebrating Folkmoot.”

The installation will coincide with the refurbishment of the park and should be completed by fall 2010. For more information, contact 828.627.0928.

Three new developments move forward in Waynesville

At a time when Waynesville’s appearance standards are under scrutiny for being too strict, three proposed developments cruised past the town’s Community Appearance Commission.

Last week, the advisory board approved the Noland Retail Center and Holland Car Wash, both on South Main Street near Wal-Mart, and a new Verizon Wireless store on Russ Avenue.

Such smooth sailing for these three projects seems incongruous with claims that the standards are potentially driving developers away.

But there are easy explanations for why these projects passed the community appearance board relatively quickly, said Daniel Hyatt, landscape architect and project manager for the Noland Retail Center and Holland Car Wash.

According to Hyatt, developers who hire local designers are generally familiar with the types of developments the town desires. They can draft a site plan that meets the standards without revisiting the drawing board multiple times. The retail center and the car wash proved that by passing the appearance board on their first try.

But that approval alone is insufficient to begin building, as the appearance board serves only in an advisory capacity.

“Make no mistake, we still have a sizeable amount of work to do on both of these projects to make the letter of the ordinance,” said Hyatt, who recused himself as chairman of the community appearance board to present the two projects.

Corporate developers usually come to the table with the same site plans they’ve used time and again. These are the developers who are less likely to bend to the will of the town.

“When they come into a community like Waynesville that has fairly restrictive design requirements, then they have a lot of difficulty,” said Hyatt. “It gives them a lot of heartburn.”

None of the three projects will have to come back to the board unless there’s a drastic change in the site plan, Hickox said.


Scrutinizing the standards

While the design standards promote pedestrian usage, they don’t take into account auto-centric businesses, like drive-thrus, car washes and pay-at-the-pump gas stations.

The town’s standards push parking lots to the side or rear of buildings rather than in front — a move aimed at creating a more appealing streetscape where attractive building facades, instead of asphalt, take center stage. But some businesses were left out.

“Nobody thought when they put the land development standards in, how are we going to make a gas station work under these,” said Hickox.

The steering committee that’s reviewing the land development standards has also placed the appearance commission under the microscope.

Since the standards went into effect in 2003, the appearance board has sometimes been stymied because it can only make recommendations to developers, not demands.

The other obstacle in the commission’s path is that it is the first stop in the permit chain, very early on in the process.

“At which time, a lot of the details aren’t really worked out,” said Hyatt.

Developers can only paint pictures with broad brushstrokes for the appearance board. For example, they can only point out where the large trees or small trees might go, not provide details like the genus and species of every plant.

As the steering committee works to improve the standards and take these concerns into account, the public is invited to take part.

Anyone can get involved in the process by crafting and presenting a well-thought amendment, Hickox said.

Hyatt himself appreciates the chance to work on the standards before they are vetted by the public, town board and town staff.

“It’s nice to be clued in on the front of this discussion,” said Hyatt.

Fix the flaws, stay the course

Waynesville’s land-use plan is an ambitious set of ideas adopted during a booming economic era and thus full of the optimism of such times. Now that times are tougher, we hope task force members charged with updating the plan don’t forsake its guiding principles, a pedestrian-friendly new urbanism that is well-suited to meet future challenges.

Waynesville’s regulations guiding development and growth were adopted in 2002 after 29 months of public input. The rules address everything from building placement on lots to landscaping and signs, and the plan is marked by a decidedly liberal mixed-use philosophy that allows contrasting uses in close proximity as long as certain standards are met.

Since its adoption, there have been many flashpoints as town leaders sought to allay the concerns of builders and developers and address flaws in the plan. Finally, the decision was made to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to update the regulations, and that group has been working for months on modifications.

As expected, parking is one most contentious issues. Current regulations guide parking to the rear of buildings, creating a street wall that re-creates a downtown look rather than the traditional setbacks that give parking lots the dominant spot in nearly all commercial development. A big question is whether this look — examples include the CVS pharmacy and McDonald’s on Russ Avenue — forces too many concessions from business owners, and whether it is practical at all as one of the plan’s guiding philosophies.

We think it is. While concessions can be made in certain areas of town and on particular lots, we believe strongly that the pedestrian-guided growth will remain popular. Years fly by fast, and this land-use plan needs to look to the future. We’re not talking about next year or even five years from now, but more like 25 or 30 years down the road.

A couple of decades from now more people will be walking and biking, and we will have more mass transit. More and more people have decided that protecting what’s special about their communities is tied to the personal choices they make. In other words, shopping near one’s home and not being so dependant on the automobile and fossil fuels are important if our small towns are to thrive. This kind of future fits perfectly with the new urbanism land-use model that Waynesville has adopted.

As is always the case, the future depends on what happens now. Waynesville has to modify its land-use plan to fix the flaws, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The new urbanism model will evolve, but it is growing in popularity for many very important and essential reasons. Communities who get on board early — and stay the course — will reap the benefits in the decades to come.

Waynesville panel may recommend rolling back rear parking mandate

A movement is afoot to roll back some of the smart growth principles of Waynesville’s land-use plan by loosening commercial development guidelines.

A blue-ribbon committee appointed by the town has spent the past few months combing through the town’s land-use plan, which espouses a progressive “new urbanism” philosophy.

The plan promotes pedestrian-friendly development and aesthetic standards for commercial development in an attempt to preserve small-town character. Several members of the committee question whether the new urbanism model is realistic, however.

Joe Taylor, one of committee members, said the ideals in the land-use plan are utopian and don’t take current development patterns into account.

“It can be done if you start with a clean sheet of paper. If we are going to create a new town, fine, go for it,” Taylor said.

The committee’s composition is weighted toward business interests.

“We have people on that board making recommendations that make sense for doing business,” Taylor said.

Public Works Director Fred Baker said that commercial interests were perhaps underrepresented on the citizen task force that helped write the land-use plan earlier this decade. The current blue-ribbon committee was constituted to give them a voice, especially given their ongoing complaints over the regulations.

Ron Leatherwood, a contractor on the committee, said he didn’t get involved when the town was writing the guidelines, despite literally dozens of public input meetings held over the course of three years.

“A lot of us in the business community didn’t realize the consequence of the written word on the table,” Leatherwood said. “At the end of the day, I am not seeing us doing a great deal of changes except in two or three areas. We have to have some type of hybrid of this.”

But Baker isn’t sure a hybrid is possible. Baker has long had the 13 principles of new urbanism tacked up on the wall of his office. He said they work in unison, and if you ignore more than two or three, the whole vision collapses.

Leatherwood questioned whether Waynesville in general has the population to support new urbanism. The concept is based on people living, working and shopping in a close-knit, pedestrian-friendly environment, but it relies on residential populations being able to support nearby mixed-use commercial districts.

Taylor also wonders whether the model is possible today. Society no longer functions like it did in the 1950s, when people walked to their neighborhood grocer, Taylor said. But advocates of new urbanism want to remake society by forcing commercial developments into a mold that doesn’t work on the ground, Taylor added.


Parking lot saga

One of the most contentious points addressed by the committee is parking lot configurations for new commercial development. The town’s plan bans parking lots directly in front of buildings. By placing parking to the rear and side of businesses instead, the streetscape is defined by building facades, sidewalks and street trees rather than expansive asphalt parking lots.

Despite the aesthetic benefits, the regulation is not always practical, according to some committee members.

“Parking, as we knew going into it, is probably going to be the biggest issue,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “I think they all feel like we are being too restrictive by not allowing any parking in front of the building. Certainly we have heard that from the development community.”

Taylor said it is ridiculous to ban parking in front of buildings.

“People tend to go where the crowd is,” Taylor said. “That is pretty much human nature to say, ‘That place is doing business, let’s go in there.’ Hide all the vehicles and you take that factor away.”

Baker said the purpose of the rule is to create an “active pedestrian environment.”

“That is difficult to do if you have only left a little strip of sidewalk between the parking lot and road. It visually sets the automobile above all other considerations,” Baker said.

Craig Lewis, a planning consultant with the Lawrence Group in the town of Davidson who is steering the review process, said auto-centric development doesn’t stand the test of time. One strip mall is simply abandoned by shoppers and merchants alike when a new one comes along.

“Areas that are pedestrian friendly have become more successful than areas that are automobile friendly,” Lewis said. “We are talking about creating places that people care about.”

But Leatherwood said the “new urbanism” vision can still be achieved through other techniques to buffer the look of asphalt parking lots.

“By still having tree canopies or street walls or some kind of streetscape, you don’t have the impact of a large parking lots directly on the street,” Leatherwood said. “You can soften the street.”

Committee member Patrick McDowell pointed to a small strip mall in the greater downtown area called Haywood Square, which wouldn’t be allowed under the town’s current land-use plan.

Engineer Patrick Bradshaw countered that it’s not a bad thing to force developers to think outside the box.

“Surely we are brighter than just a strip mall duplicated time and again. What we keep trying to do is move these strip malls around. While it is suitable for some locations, we can do better,” said Bradshaw, who sits on the committee.

Lewis said Waynesville’s land-use plan has been a trendsetter.

“More and more communities are doing it, but it is still not the norm and certainly not in the mountains. I think Waynesville has led a lot of conversations in the mountains because they have said ‘We care about the aesthetics of our community,’” Lewis said.

But even Lewis isn’t a purist when it comes to no parking in front. To insist there can never be parking in front of a building is impractical, Lewis said. Lewis has proposed a compromise that would allow a portion of parking to be allowed in front of buildings in a few of the town’s high-traffic commercial areas, namely Russ Avenue, the Dellwood/Junaluska area and the interchange near the new Super Wal-Mart.

“I think it is a good compromise,” Benson said. “Some districts lend themselves to new urbanism more than others.”

But several committee members want the compromise extended to more parts of town. They also want more parking spots in the front than the limited number Lewis has proposed.

That debate has yet to fully play out and the differences of opinion could ultimately lead to a split vote in the committee’s final recommendation.


What’s next

The committee is still a few months away from making its recommendations. The task has been rigorous. The committee had been meeting every other Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. for three months, allowing the members to get on with their workday by 9 a.m. They have now ramped up the schedule to meet every week.

“It is a hard-working advisory committee,” Baker said. “The town is certainly getting a lot of work and a lot of good ideas from them.”

Baker noted that the recommendations will be just that, however.

“There might be some that don’t necessarily make it through,” Baker said.

Final approval resting with the town’s elected leaders following public input.

“I don’t see the town board wanting to reverse course completely on the parking issue,” Benson said. “I think we are all just looking for a way to add some flexibility without compromising the pedestrian focus.”

Maggie ABC store captures share of Waynesville business

The recession has taken a toll on liquor sales at the ABC stores in Maggie Valley and Waynesville, in turn reducing the profits paid out to the towns.

Rather than curtailing their intake, customers are buying cheaper brands, according to Joy Rasmus, manager of the Waynesville ABC store.

“It is an easy thing to cut back on. It is a luxury item,” Rasmus said.

Meanwhile, fewer tourists during the recession hurt sales at Maggie’s main ABC store. Austin Pendley, the chairman of the Maggie ABC board, cited “the lack of full motel rooms” as the main factor behind a drop in sales.

Maggie Valley’s ABC store has noticed a further decline in business following the rockslide on I-40, which closed part of the interstate and discouraged travel.

“We could tell an immediate difference,” Pendley said.

That said, the rockslide occurred just when the tourist season was winding down anyway, making it difficult to determine what can be blamed on the rockslide versus the standard drop off Maggie sees this time of year anyway.

“There are too many variables this year,” Pendley said, adding that sales will pick up again when ski season arrives in full force.

Maggie is also bracing for a potential loss in ABC revenue with the advent of liquor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel. The hotel at Harrah’s began selling alcohol in restaurants and bars this fall, with hopes of eventually offering it inside the casino itself.

Maggie’s ABC store had been a favorite stop for those en route to Harrah’s.

“It will definitely have an effect. There’s no doubt about that, but to what degree I do not know,” Pendley said.

Maggie’s ABC store did a brisk business in miniature airplane bottles, which gamblers would tuck into their pockets and purses before heading over the mountain to the casino.

If and when Harrah’s begins offering alcohol to gamblers on the casino floor, Pendley expects a drop off in sales of airplane bottles.

Turf wars

In a tactical move to grow revenues, Maggie Valley opened a second ABC store this year aimed at capturing business from Waynesville. Maggie’s second store is on the outer fringes of town — more than a mile outside the town proper. Maggie annexed a satellite tract into its town limits to strategically build a new store between Maggie and Waynesville on U.S. 19 in Dellwood.

“Building store number two has been very gratifying,” Pendley said.

The second store likely pulled some business away from Maggie’s existing ABC store.

“We knew some portion would be siphoned from store number one. We don’t know how much,” Pendley said, citing the myriad variables at play this year.

Since Maggie’s new store opened, revenue at Waynesville’s ABC profits have taken a dive (see chart). While Maggie ABC revenue has grown by an additional $30,000 to $50,000 a month since the opening of the new store, Waynesville’s has dropped by a comparable amount.

The drop in revenue came as no surprise to Joy Rasmus, the manager of the Waynesville ABC store.

“We were expecting an impact, but we didn’t know how much,” Rasmus said.

Waynesville once captured a large share of the liquor purchases in the county by default. Residents from the county’s outlying areas come to Waynesville for their grocery shopping. While in the neighborhood, they would stop by the ABC store.

But Maggie’s new store — stationed practically at Waynesville’s doorstep — is snagging a share of what Waynesville once got.

It’s particularly true for those making a special trip from places like Lake Junaluska and Jonathan Creek.

“If you were just coming to town to buy alcohol, it is easier to stop at Maggie’s new store,” Rasmus said.

In response, Waynesville’s ABC Board is contemplating a new store of its own: one in the vicinity of the new Super Wal-Mart. Super Wal-Mart pulls in a huge volume of traffic, which Rasmus would like to capitalize on.

The current ABC store in Waynesville has been there since 1967.

“Absolutely we’ve outgrown it,” Rasmus said.

The Waynesville ABC Board is keeping an eye out for property to build on in the Super Wal-Mart vicinity, but there’s nothing concrete in the works yet.

“In a perfect world, it would be nice to keep two stores,” Rasmus said.

Opening a new ABC store isn’t cheap, Pendley said. There’s the cost of land and construction, but there’s also start up costs like shelving and a computer system. The upfront inventory cost to stock the store was “overwhelming,” Pendley added.

“We had no idea that there was going to be a recession or we probably wouldn’t have done it at this time, but we were too far committed not to go ahead with it,” Pendley said of the second store.

But Pendley is glad they did. The second store has already proven lucrative and will continue to pay off for the town, which reaps the profits from ABC operations.

“The whole purpose is to get more revenue to keep down taxes,” Pendley said of their mission.

Developers have plans for sites near Wal-Mart

A local developer has purchased a key parcel alongside Super Wal-Mart in Waynesville, potentially kick-starting long-awaited commercial redevelopment along the South Main Street corridor.

The coming of Super Wal-Mart was heralded as an instant recipe for growth around it. But by the time Wal-Mart opened its doors a year ago, the recession was in full swing. Not only has a South Main boom failed to materialize, but Home Depot killed plans to open a store there.

But Brian Noland, a Waynesville developer and Realtor, is drafting plans for a retail strip sporting six storefronts along South Main Street with hopes of attracting national franchises.

“I put myself in their shoes, and if I am looking to go somewhere, that is definitely a hot spot,” Noland said, citing traffic volume from Wal-Mart and the easy access off the U.S. 23-74 bypass.

Noland closed on the two-acre parcel this month for $600,000. The total project will cost several million dollars, he said. Noland hopes to have the building completed and occupied by early summer.

Mark Clasby, the Haywood County Economic Development Director, said he is glad to see movement in the area. While Waynesville has the consumer demand to support many of the national franchises Noland is likely courting, scouts often look solely at population data, Clasby said.

“But we know there are more people than that because of tourists and the second-home market. They just don’t necessarily show up,” Clasby said. “It will take some salesmanship to convince [retailers] from a demographic standpoint that ‘You need to be here.’”

Noland has a national franchise broker working to line up leases. Noland said he was “a very small fish in a big sea,” but believes if he builds it, they will come.

Meanwhile, a second so-called “outparcel” in the Super Wal-Mart complex has also sold. A 1.8-acre tract behind Hardees sold for $550,000. The developer of the site, Donald Holland, has submitted site plans to the town for a car wash and oil change business and an additional commercial building for an unidentified tenant. The site is located along the Waynesville Commons entrance drive off South Main Street.

While Noland has not yet locked in leases, he already has the project underway with the building design. The attractive architecture will sport stacked stone and stucco with varying rooflines and pronounced eaves. It’s a good thing, since a run-of-the-mill, monotonous, low-slung strip mall wouldn’t pass muster with the town’s design standards. Noland has yet to submit his plans to the town for approval, but believes the town will like the look.

The development of the Super Wal-Mart outparcels were considered key to the appearance of South Main. Town leaders hoped attractive developments fronting South Main would visually shield the sprawling Wal-Mart parking lot set further back on the site.

Noland is a Realtor with Remax Creekside Realty. He is currently developing a 46-unit affordable townhouse development in the Clyde area. His first foray into development was in the mini-storage unit business 14 years ago. He has also built and operated three car wash and lube locations in Haywood County.

“I love developing. I really do,” Noland said. “Hopefully, the whole shopping center itself will be a one-stop shop.”

Noland has had the property under contract for 10 months. He purchased it from Cedarwood Development, a national firm that developed the complex known as Waynesville Commons and leases the site to Super Wal-Mart.

Several property owners along the corridor have had their property on the market since the coming of Super Wal-Mart, even booting out current tenants in anticipation of hot demand by national chains seeking proximity to the retail giant. So far, these property owners have failed to find takers.

Best Buy and a Verizon Wireless store are the only two major retailers that have set up shop around Wal-Mart so far.

The 12-acre site immediately beside Wal-Mart that was once slated for a Home Depot does not appear to have a taker yet. Home Depot, which had already purchased the site and even designed a building before backing out, still owns the site and is actively marketing it.

“The economy has obviously had an impact on that,” Clasby said. “It’s not an easy market, there is no question about it.”

New company part of a long local legacy

The merger of Osondu Booksellers and Blue Ridge Books and Café will eventually bring under one roof the long legacy of two beloved Waynesville institutions catering to readers and etched in the memory of the downtown community

A legacy of books

Osondu Booksellers is a direct descendant of the original Waynesville Book Co., which opened on Waynesville’s Main Street in 1870. That store fell victim to the Depression. In the 1970s, Charlie and Edie Sloan opened Sloan’s Book Shop in a building just a few doors away from where Osondu is now located. They eventually moved one block off Main Street.

Kent Stewart bought Sloan’s in 1997, and in 2002 moved it back to Main Street, renaming it The Waynesville Book Company. On a visit to Waynesville in 2003, Margaret Osondu was visiting Stewart’s store and mentioned she wanted to open a bookstore of her own. He offered to sell The Waynesville Book Company, and the deal was completed in September 2004.

Curb Market memories

While Blue Ridge Books and Café is now the town’s largest seller of magazines and newspapers, that title was held by the Open Air Curb Market from 1946 until 2004.

The store, with its old wooden floors and farm paraphernalia nailed to its walls, was a general store, newsstand, and superette combined, never switching to bar codes and scanners and still carrying Nehi sodas and boiled peanuts. But it was the voluminous daily delivery of newspapers and other periodicals that brought people in every day.

When its owner Adeline Patrick died, her daughters kept it going for a couple of years before selling the building, which became High Country Style. Three years passed before Blue Ridge Books and Café opened a storefront on Main Street and filled the void of somewhere to buy magazines and papers.

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