The Little Guys

Flagler College Gargoyle students who returned home in March because of the the coronavirus continued writing stories in their communities like this story from Archer Lodge, N.C.

By Cameron Gurgainus

In the small town of Archer Lodge, N.C., local businesses have it rough due to the events of COVID-19. With fewer cars on the road and people with a stay at home order in place, there has been a decrease of people shopping at the beloved C.E. Barnes Store. 

Coming back home from Flagler College has been a long and stressful time. As it has been for many people, including Josh Barnes. He is the fourth-generation owner of the store located in the heart of town, and sells all your grocery needs and is a gas station as well. 

“My great-granddaddy started building the store in 1925, and they opened in 1927. It took them two years to build this store,” Barnes said. “They sold coveralls, boots, plow points and staple grocery items.”

Times have changed for the better around the community with a growing population and an influx of new businesses arriving.

“I took it over in 2007. With two Food Lion’s opening up around us and a Harris Teeter, people just weren’t coming to me to buy groceries anymore. We were dying,” he said. “I had a brainstorm and changed the store to 75% local products.”

These products include things like handmade jewelry from people in North Carolina, meat items, beer, barbeque sauces, jellies, jams, etc. Food trucks are also a new addition to the store. Trucks range from selling bagels, mini donuts and waffles, to tacos, cheesesteaks and burgers. 

Plans to update the store and future projects have been put on the back-burner for now. COVID-19 is hurting Barnes in a way that wasn’t expected. 

“It is affecting business tremendously, we are down 75% from last year at this time. We sell gas and people aren’t driving and going to work, so our gas sales are down,” he said. “Fewer laborers and construction workers are coming to the food trucks. Everything across the board is down.”

T-shirts that Barnes sells are imported from China and Vietnam, and distribution isn’t allowed during this time for precaution. 

Barnes strongly believes that the little guys have it worse off than bigger businesses.

“I think we have it more difficult because we have less cash flow. Big corporations are always huge, but your small businesses operate on minimal stuff,” he said. “I don’t ever bash the big-box stores because it’s free enterprise. I know you can’t find every item at a local store that you really want or need, but it’s just something I’ve always tried to do to support other local businesses.”

A surprising look at things and what is to come out of this is a positive one in Barnes’ eyes. 

“I have seen an increase of people that have never stopped in here because they see we have local products,” he said. “After all of this is said and done, a lot more people will start shopping local than they have been.”

The store is an active part in Archer Lodge, especially with the times we are currently in. Kids who have to stay home with no means for food was a concern to Barnes’ wife. 

“When schools got canceled around here, the kids that got free breakfast and free lunch, weren’t gonna have anything,” he said. “My wife took it upon herself to organize a food drive at the community center. In two days they had enough food to fill 650 bags. We even take drop-offs here, and we’ll take it up there for them to hand it out.” 

Anything that can help those in need is a main goal for the store. Nothing stops them from giving the best for their customers who are like family in the community. 

“We’ve opened up our WiFi password here at the store if somebody doesn’t have Internet at their house,” he said. “They can come bring their laptop or their computer, and they can bum off of our WiFi to do their schoolwork.”

Barnes lastly mentioned that he wants a change of heart after what’s happening with COVID-19 with his so-called “competitors.”  

“It’s not a competition; it’s just trying to support everybody,” he said.

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