In 2016, beer and wine came to Archer Lodge. Both have been there before, no doubt, but for the first time, alcohol is being sold in the town, above the counter and in broad daylight.
Earlier this month, C.E. Barnes Store, one of the few buildings that make up downtown Archer Lodge, started stocking beer and wine on its shelves and in its coolers. This is new territory for the 89-year old store and the 6-year old town and ends nearly a year of figuring out the county’s ABC laws.
Josh Barnes, grandson of the store’s namesake, Charles Barnes, said he often fielded questions about why his store didn’t carry alcohol, and he answered those questions the same way for years.
“My answer was, ‘It’s not legal; it’s legal if you have seats and sell food,’ ” Barnes said.
It turns out that’s not the case. In the Johnston County beyond any town limits, businesses need 35 seats and a food menu to serve beer to-go. But Wilders Township, which includes Archer Lodge, Flowers Plantation and other western Johnston County lands north of the Neuse River, voted in 2008 to approve alcohol sales.
The issue became murky for Archer Lodge, though, when it became an independent town in 2010, with the town council even considering its own alcohol referendum for this November’s ballot. After months of legal hand-wringing, the town council determined businesses in Archer Lodge had been free to sell alcohol for the better part of a decade. Barnes became the first.
“We got a lawyer, because we wanted it done right; it was not a cut-and-dry situation to start with, and the law is not real easy to understand,” Barnes said. “I’m glad we’ve got it.”
Alcohol satisfies a demand from customers, Barnes said, but he and his wife, Blair, have stocked their shelves with mostly North Carolina craft beers, including Johnston County’s Deep River Brewing and Double Barley, though they have the domestic giants as well, even tallboy singles. The store also sells on-premises beer to drink on its porch.
“You don’t make a whole lot of money off of it; I’m going to use it as another drawing point,” Barnes said. “So far, people have been very receptive. We’ve stocked a lot of local beers; that’s my focus, selling 95 percent of the beers from this state.”
Rural Johnston’s complicated relationship with alcohol has kept its ABC laws what they are for a long time. County voters will consider relaxing alcohol laws during the November election. Barnes said he hasn’t heard any complaints or concerns about his beer sales, but suspects some of his Johnston neighbors would have preferred the status quo.
Blair Barnes said the area has mostly embraced the change. “We’re proud to be part of a town that embraces change and supports its small businesses,” she said.
Barnes Store plans to host food trucks one evening in October and November and could possibly add an occasional band in the future.
But even with the first beer sales in Archer Lodge, don’t expect the town to change all at once. Less than a mile down Covered Bridge Road sits David Pace’s Grocery, nearly as old and just as historic. David and Jane Pace said they’re not likely to add alcohol sales in the near future.
“I haven’t considered putting beer in the store, but I might have to,” David Pace said. “There should be a good profit in beer and wine sales, but I haven’t considered it.”
It might say “grocery” in the name, but Jane Pace said the store has evolved into more of a hardware store. There are chips and sodas up front, but most of the store is devoted to tools and parts, nails and screws.
“We’re more of a hardware store than anything else, and I don’t think equipment and alcohol are a good mix,” Jane Pace said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson