Officials of the Mount Airy ABC Store are setting their sights high, in the hopes that a taller sign will increase sales there.
But this requires special approval since it would deviate from existing sign regulations.
“If you ride up 52,” Mount Airy ABC Board Chairman J.D. Bartley said Wednesday of the store on Starlite Road just off U.S. 52, “you cannot see our sign.”
While the present signage conforms with zoning rules, Bartley believes increasing its size would boost business at the city’s lone liquor store by passersby along that four-lane route who might be unaware of its existence.
Sales at ABC stores generally have been lackluster in recent years due to the economy’s effect on consumers’ buying habits for what could be called a non-essential product. People also have been purchasing cheaper brands of spirits, Bartley has said.
“In 2010, the bottom fell out, and in 2011 the bottom fell out,” the ABC chairman said of sales locally during a report at a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting last Thursday night.
“I’m pleased to tell you that 2012 has turned around a little bit,” Bartley said. While sales are up only about 3 percent, “any turnaround is good,” he added.
Having a taller sign is a simpler way to lure in additional customers than other measures, including moving the store to a more-visible location. This has been suggested by the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, an oversight body that’s mounted aggressive efforts to revamp the states’ liquor stores in recent years.
“I am not in favor of that — I am not in favor of that at all,” Bartley said of the relocation idea. He explained Wednesday that the Mount Airy ABC Store building, which opened in 1979, is paid for, while a new store would require going into debt.
The Starlite Road structure has received about $40,000 in renovations in recent years, which were completed for about $19,000 by making use of local ABC employees with building-trades skills. They worked on the store during its slower days on Mondays and Tuesdays, Bartley said, with improving its front entrance part of the project.
Being allowed to erect the taller sign would do even more to stimulate sales, he indicated.
No formal request regarding this has been made to the Mount Airy Planning Board by local ABC officials, but Bartley said Wednesday that it “absolutely” will be done.
“They would have to apply for a variance,” Emily Hines, a city planner, said of the procedure required for the taller sign to become reality. Variances address special cases in which a property might be at a disadvantage for some reason.
“With a variance you have to prove hardship,” Hines explained. The matter would be heard by the Mount Airy Zoning Board of Adjustment, defined on the city’s website as “a quasi-judicial administrative body whose decisions affect private property rights to the same extent as court decisions.”
“People can apply for a variance,” Hines said, “but the issue is can you prove hardship?”
Although city government operations have benefited from local ABC profits for years, along with arts and other programs, Bartley said he doesn’t expect preferential treatment regarding the variance. Yet the important financial contributions the store has made are noteworthy, the chairman said.
While Hines said the circumstances are different, the commissioners voted on March 1 to permit a sign to be erected for the new Sheetz store on U.S. 601 tall enough to be seen from nearby Interstate 74. The rolling topography of that area was a factor in the decision aimed at allowing the store to better attract travelers.
The change made in March applies only to the area in the vicinity of Sheetz, where signs normally are limited to a single pole of 90 feet.
Any developer of property there who seeks to deviate from the traditional sign size is required to apply for a conditional-use permit, with applications considered on a case-by-case basis.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.