LUMBERTON – Dennis Williams is at it again.
Back in 1997, Williams had an idea to put up affordable housing on Lumberton’s west side. At the time, the land along Highway 69 was just a wooded area. Those in the building and developing community chafed at Williams’ idea.
“People told me it was an idiotic idea and that nobody would want to buy a house in the $125K (range) around here,” said Williams.
Fifteen years, more than 700 homes and eight housing subdivisions later, Williams is returning to the area where it all started, near the Westwood subdivision that kicked off Lumberton’s west side expansion to what is now one of the most coveted commercial areas in Lumberton.
But this time, Williams, 49, is putting up a 4,500-square-foot building that will house his foray into the liquor business, Longhorn Liquor. Williams is well-versed in what’s necessary to open up a liquor store; better yet, he’s been indoctrinated to what it takes just to get liquor on the ballot in Hardin County, considering his journey of five years that did just that.
A May 2007 vote allowed Precinct 3, which bordered the west side of “dry” Lumberton along Highway 69, to sell beer. And sure enough, two gas stations at the intersection of Highway 69 and Chance-Cut-Off, believed to be inside the “wet” Precinct 3, were granted alcohol licenses and began selling beer.
In what started as an effort to halt those sales, the city of Lumberton voted in November 2007 to prohibit the sale of all alcohol, beer and wine, and prohibited the sale of mixed drinks in restaurants. The November election results were initially thrown out after questions arose as to whether David Bellow, who gathered enough signatures to get the prohibition measure put on the ballot, had provided appropriate legal notice in a publication.
Ultimately, according to Tim McDonough, who represented the county in a civil dispute about both the election and the precinct lines, the election results were voided because of “voting irregularities.” Lumberton went back to being dry when it was discovered that the line where Precinct 3 began was actually 200 feet from Highway 69. That meant that the two gas stations serving beer were technically still in Lumberton’s city limits – which is dry – and not in Precinct 3 – which is adjacent to Lumberton, and wet.
All that was determined in 2009, and so for the last two years and change, no one has dived into the liquor store business in Precinct 3 — until now, that is, when after careful research and planning, Williams decided to build Longhorn Liquor.
He cited the commercial expansion along 69 as a direct result of the Westwood subdivision that made it worthwhile to add another building with plenty of commercial space available.
“Nobody wanted to be the guinea pig over here, but it was because of those rooftops,” he said, pointing to the subdivision practically 50 yards away, “that Valero and Dollar General.”
Williams, a long-time Lumberton resident who’s lived there since 1975, said with as fast as Lumberton has expanded in recent years, there’s not much area left to add to commercially to satisfy the growing community’s needs. According to the 2010 census, Lumberton’s population increased to 11,943, a nearly 37 percent rise from 2000’s 8,731 total.
“Five years ago, did I have this in mind? No,” Williams said, adding that he’s disappointed the sales tax he pays won’t go to Lumberton since the business is not inside the city’s limits. However, he will pay taxes to the emergency services district.
Williams feels confident that once his liquor store opens – it’s slated for an April grand opening – that other businesses will swoop in and buy up and develop the surrounding land. He’s also looking for a tenant to share the other side of his building, and Williams has a restaurant or deli in mind as possibilities, but the key is getting the liquor store – which will have a drive-through – up and running.
Steven Clark, a 20-year city employee in Lumberton who’s been the city manager for the last four, said he respects what Williams is doing and how he’s going about doing it; he’s just disappointed the city won’t benefit monetarily from it.
“We have to respect the right of anybody that wants to bring in business,” Clark said. “The city will not benefit from the sales tax his business is going to generate. And we sure miss that end of it. That is one of the main ways our city functions, so we are always welcoming new business into our city. But right now, we don’t allow the sale of alcohol in our city.”
Clark said he has no way of knowing or predicting whether or not allowing alcohol sales would bring more business to Lumberton, but added that if Williams’ liquor store is successful, that debate could be back on the table.
“It would definitely give people of our city something to think about,” Clark said of Lumberton relaxing its dry stance. “If it ever came up, and if it was done correctly, it might change. You never know.”
Fred Davis can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 227, or by e-mail at fred [at] theexaminer [dot] com.