Fellow Winston-Salemites, our long downtown nightmare is over.
It was a relief to learn last week that the site of a former strip club on Cherry Street was purchased by its neighbor, Mast General Store. No more private clubs in which ladies parade in the buff and outside of which ne’er-do-wells perform illicit acts. We think it’s safe to say that Mast General will find a more wholesome use for the property.
The stone-veneered 4,300-square-foot building, right across from the Benton Convention Center and near downtown residential apartments, has hosted a series of problematic adult clubs over the last several years. They became notorious for drawing an unusually high amount of criminal incidents including assaults, fights, larcenies, robberies and instances of prostitution — not to mention sexual assaults, vandalism, disturbances, unlawful possession of dangerous weapons, discharging firearms and drunk and disruptive behavior. Crimes occurred both on the property and by patrons who left the club.
Nearby residents and business owners complained about the crime and its accompanying noise, as well as disgusting displays of depravity.
In 2015, frustrated city officials finally sued to close the club as a public nuisance.
In 2017, an agreement was reached with the club’s owner, R. Keith Neely, that dropped the suit, but called for the club to stop operating as an adult-entertainment venue by the end of 2019.
It’s not been smooth sailing since then. In April, in the club’s latest configuration, Nova Lounge, its alcohol-beverage permit was suspended by the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission after an incident outside the club where seven people were shot.
Somehow, none of the seven were deemed to be seriously injured.
But last week, days short of the Dec. 31 deadline, Neely sold the property to Mast General Store for an undisclosed sum. Worth every penny, whatever it was.
Mast stores, established in Watauga County in 1883 as a folksy general store that sells old-timey candy, outdoor gear and shoes, among other items, has been a welcome presence in our downtown since 2015. Its clientele tends to be a little more restrained than Nova’s.
Mast bought the building “with the intention of enhancing the neighborhood,” Lisa Cooper, Mast’s president and daughter of its founders, told the Journal. She said Mast would be making decisions in the near future to upgrade the building.
Mast is “glad to have control of this property for a future use that the community can be proud of and support,” Charlie Fulk, a broker with Meridian Realty Group who represented the buyer and the seller, told the Journal.
We don’t know precisely what the property will be used for, but we feel confident that it will be an improvement, one that will please residents and business owners.
And it’s an appropriate purchase. Mast’s building is almost adjacent to it, spanning from its main storefront on Trade Street to the center of the block with an arm on West Fifth Street and a second entrance at the parking deck on the corner of West Sixth and North Cherry streets.
Though the property had been grandfathered in, current zoning regulations prohibit sexually oriented businesses downtown. That’s good. Like it or not, that particular type of business is not in keeping with the character of our artsy, innovative downtown.
After a couple of decades of positive growth and development, downtown Winston-Salem offers entertainment and culture for visitors and residents alike. We appreciate Mast General’s purchase and look forward to its productive use of this property.