COVID-19 casualty: NC department store closing after 117 years, owner says

North Carolina news

BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) – Businesses all over the Cape Fear have had to shut their doors permanently citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Harrell’s Department Store in Burgaw is one of them.

“It basically was the final straw. I could not keep the business going,” said the owner, Vernon Harrell. “We had no income and the bills just kept coming.”

Harrell’s great-grandfather started the business back in 1903. Then Harrell’s grandfather and his grandfather’s brother opened the department store which is still opened today.

Harrell’s Department Store (Photo: WECT)

“The store has been an institution here for over a hundred years,” said Elizabeth Field, a family friend and loyal customer. “It’s kind of a time capsule of a time gone by and I think we’re losing more and more places like this.”

Like business all over the country, Vernon Harrell had to shut the doors back in March and that made it tough to survive.

According to a special report done by the U.S. Department of Commerce, one-in-five small businesses polled across the nation say they believe they have less than one month before they have to permanently shut down.

“It was definitely not an easy decision but it came down to the bottom line,” said Harrell. “The hard facts are people aren’t able to spend the kind of money that they did on clothing and a lot of time they choose they go to a less expensive route to the big box stores.”

Harrell said the pandemic really hurt his business, but there are other factors that played in his decision to shut down the department store.

“I can’t outperform Amazon,” said Harrell. “And there are other things that happened along the way: Walmart came to town and that siphoned off a little business. It’s been that sort of thing that the business has been struggling, but it was definitely the coronavirus that put it, made it necessary for me to close the storefront.”

We all now small businesses stimulate local economies by providing jobs and bringing growth to communities – something Harrell’s has done for over a century.

“We’ve been apart of the community. We were supported by the community and hopefully gave back the support to the community.”

Harrell says the store will officially close in July.

WECT reached out to several Chambers of Commerce including Wilmington, Topsail, North Brunswick, Elizabethtown-White Lake, Columbus, and Burgaw.

So far, only Columbus and Elizabethtown-White Lake have responded and they both say no businesses in their area have had to permanently close due to the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.

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