The old McBane’s Store building, located at 7311 U.S. Highway 70, has a long history in the economy of Mebane.
It’s the place where Dwight Leeman McBane and his wife, Ruth Elizabeth Avent McBane, ran McBane’s Store for 50 years.
It was the scene of a stunning vehicle accident in the late 1940s.
It was the site of what might be called the first remnant store in the local area.
McBane’s Store is mostly cinderblock along the sides, with exception of a few feet near the front entrance, which is brick. On January 20, 1949, a transfer truck carrying 18,000 pounds of crushed pineapple crashed into brick and cinderblocks, along with a large plate glass window.
According to an article in the Burlington Daily Times-News, Mrs. Ruth McBane, wife of owner Dwight McBane, was briefly buried underneath rubble of the fallen store and partially under the trailer carrying the pineapple. One of the drivers actually managed to get out and pull cinderblocks and bricks off her.
Mrs. McBane and two customers in the store - Mrs. Hurley Riggs and Mrs. Hattie Breeze - went to Watts Hospital in Durham for various injuries, but survived. Mrs. Riggs received a settlement of $27,500 ($291,220 in 2018 dollars) for injuries from Aker Motor Lines, owners of the pineapple truck, while Mrs. Breeze received $22,500 ($238,271 in 2018 dollars).
Fatefully, the McBanes’ four children had left the store en route to downtown Mebane just minutes before the crash, and were spared from what could have been a tragic outcome.
Now, nearly 70 years from that remarkable day, the old store has potential for a bright future.
But sadly, in recent years, the old store has lost its luster of the past. What was once a place where the community gathered to purchase goods and to talk about all things Mebane among friends has now become a desolate, empty shell of a building. It has sat vacant for a couple decades - one of the few blights on what it otherwise a thriving part of western Orange County along U.S. 70.
“I’ve been told, and the research found, that the store has been vacant for many, many years,” Mebane Development Director Cy Stober said.
A local developer has plans to extensively renovate the old property, and turn it into a new business. Earlier this fall, the Mebane City Council unanimously approved a conditional rezoning request from Crawley Investments, LLC owner Bill Crawley. The conditional rezoning requests limits the use of the property to a consignment store. Crawley intends to showcase commercial furniture in the building for his business. The McBane’s Store property is currently under contract, with a listing price of $140,000.
“I’m talking about the ugliest building in Mebane that we’re trying to change. It’s a real eyesore when you come into Mebane, and we recognize that,” Crawley told the Mebane City Council.
Crawley told the City Council that he has been in the office furniture business since 1975, and sold his old business a few years back. He currently maintains a 35,000 square foot warehouse in Burlington for his new construction business, and explained his intentions for the McBane’s Store property to the elected board.
“It will be a group of a lot of things. On the furniture side, when we do moves, we end up with a good amount of stuff,” he said. “We have a lot of product, but our challenge is a lot of it is driven from the internet. My challenge is I don’t have the ability or the time for them to come to one of my warehouses that we have, and meet somebody off Craigslist. I need somebody to be at a store, that we drive them to that store, and they come in and see it, and buy it. It’s not like granddaddy’s attic.”
“I know that it will be a great improvement for not only Mebane, but the surrounding neighbors over there,” he added.
The submitted site plan indicates the existing building area has 2,731 square feet, of which 667 square feet are proposed for demolition.
Plans call for a massive expansion of the existing building with a new construction area. The total square footage for the old and new areas are 6,038 square feet, which makes the new construction nearly 4,000 square feet.
“Our proposal is to redo the existing building. We would add a new construction onto the side. The expansion on the right side is approximately 60 feet by 67 feet,” Crawley said. “We would put a stacked stone on the existing portion, and then stacked stone up four feet tall on the new addition. We’d have a metal roof, and put a new roof on both of the buildings. Everything about the building would look brand new, down the sides and all. That’s what we would like to do.”
“What kind of investment are you talking about?” Mebane Mayor Glendel Stephenson asked Crawley.
“We believe that the project is going to be about a $400,000 investment in total,” Crawley responded. “There’s actually three parcels that are there. When we put them under contract, we were hoping to do a much larger project. There were some grandfather clauses that kept us from doing that. We’ve done everything we can do with the parcels that are there. We do anticipate the third parcel, we’ll put a residential home there. That’s not included in what we’re talking about (as far as McBane’s Store). We’ve already have that perked. And we will deal with that later.”
“We have combined the McBane’s Store property with the second lot,” Crawley added. “Because in Mebane, we agreed to do a 10-foot planting buffer all the way around the property, across the back end and down the sides of the facility.”
Crawley did not request city utilities, as the location is outside the city limits, and includes a septic tank and well. The site otherwise conforms with Mebane’s Unified Development Ordinance in regards to setbacks and buffers. No traffic improvements are being proposed, although there will be modifications to the parking lot, which currently sits alongside U.S. 70.
“This is an open-access parking lot that the applicant will be required to restrict access to a state-approved driveway, so there is safer access to U.S. 70, along with a separate access driveway off McBane Store Road,” Stober explained.
The new business will limit access to a driveway by putting up a series of four-foot wide monolithic slabs along U.S. 70 - similar to those currently in place at Huey’s Restaurant - that will not allow access from U.S. 70 to anywhere in the parking lot.
In the center of the proposed median will be shrubbery of approximately two feet or shorter. Drivers will have to access the facility from a separate driveway along McBane Store Road. The applicant also proposed to provide a driveway that will provide access to the dumpster pad at the rear of the store.
“We’ve worked very closely with Mr. Crawley on ensuring that the driveway is a safe access, but we also increase the small shrubbery there, so it’s a pleasing entrance. This really is the eastern gateway into Mebane on U.S. 70, even if its not in the city limits. It’s just outside it,” Stober said.
One local resident who lives along McBane Store Road, Dwight Smith, was concerned about potential traffic along the gravel road. A 10-foot buffer surrounding the entire property along the sides and back will alleviate those concerns.
“The road exit and entry- where is everybody going to park that goes to the business? Are they going to park on McBane Store Road?” Smith asked. “Years ago, people would park out in the road. The parking lot and road blend together.”
“Along McBane Store Road, there is currently no shoulder. NCDOT requires some kind of green area, along with a 10-foot buffer, to segregate McBane Store Road from the parking lot,” Stober explained. “In addition, along that side of the building, there will be no parking.”
Another nearby neighbor, George Solar, expressed concerns with both the Mebane Planning Board and the Mebane City Council. Solar’s septic system, which was installed in 1964, has lateral lines that could have been encroached by the proposed location of the new business’s dumpster pad.
“All I’m asking is for them to not put dumpsters on those lateral lines,” Solar said. “All we’re asking is that buffer be pushed out. I don’t have a problem with them building that building. I think it’s great. I think it’s a good thing for it. I don’t have a problem with it. I just don’t want nothing to interfere with my septic lines. I just don’t want any big trucks on there, or anything that could damage that lateral line.”
Crawley, eager to move forward with the project, expressed willingness to relocate the dumpster pad if necessary to assuage the concerns of the neighbors.
“It can be against the back of the building. It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “What the NCDOT (North Carolina Department of Transportation) wanted to be able to do is the dumpster truck comes off of McBane Store Road, can pick the dumpster up, dump it and have enough room to back out without backing onto the road. And the city wanted to make sure we had a buffer, so the neighbors wouldn’t have to look at the dumpster.”
“I can tell you - I don’t have any harm with these folks,” Crawley added in response to Mr. Solar. “And I don’t want to harm their (septic) system or nothing else. We have gone to Orange County to get a construction authorization. We’re not going to have but two people there going to the bathroom. We are having to move the septic tank (on the McBane’s Store property to accommodate the new construction). It is a relatively new septic tank. It sits about five feet inside the proposed building.”
Crawley indicated that the business will not have large tractor-trailers coming to it. The largest vehicles that will be coming on the property are small box trucks, and trash collection trucks from Waste Industries, which already service the neighbors along McBane Store Road.
“We don’t have any big rigs that will come to this location,” Crawley said. “We just have a straight roll-up door with no loading dock. It will be a 16-foot box truck is what we would have there. We couldn’t get a (larger) truck in there. A UHaul - not even the big one. And a Waste Industries truck in the back (to collect trash).”