Future EC Harbor Freight Tools starting to take shape

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Crews work Thursday on renovations to the former Walmart store at Port Elizabeth Centre that is slated to become a new Harbor Freight Tools store. Harbor Freight and Elizabeth City officials were unable to project last week when the new store will be ready.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Renovations are underway and a “coming soon” sign is up at the former Walmart building at Port Elizabeth Centre where national retailer Harbor Freight Tools plans to open a new store.

Neither Harbor Freight nor local officials could provide a projected opening date for the California-based chain’s new location in Elizabeth City when reached last week.

However, at least one local business owner says he can’t wait for the new Harbor Freight Tools store to open.

Rick Boyd, who restores historic structures in the local area, said he’s a longtime customer of the company that sells everything from hand tools and air tools to chainsaws, generators and welding equipment.

Boyd said he now drives to the Harbor Freight Tools store just off the Interstate 264-Military Highway interchange in Norfolk, Va. So he’s “very happy” the company is opening a store in Elizabeth City. 

“They give you a decent tool for the money,” Boyd said. “And if something’s not right, they make it right, which is important.”

Boyd said he’s long been impressed with the tool selection at Harbor Freight.

“They have great selections of hammers and screwdrivers and wrenches,” he said. “I mean, they have everything you’d ever need there — and the prices are reasonable. Their warranties are good. They also have all kinds of accessories. They have stuff for your boat trailers and your travel trailers.”

Boyd said the customer service at the Norfolk store is also excellent.

“There’s always five to six cash registers open,” he said. “And there’s people walking all around the store to help you find things.”

City Manager Rich Olson announced last November that Harbor Freight Tools planned to open a store in about 15,000 square feet of the building formerly occupied by Walmart at Port Elizabeth Centre. Another part of the former Walmart building is leased by BH Properties, the shopping center’s Los Angeles-based owner, to the U.S. Coast Guard for storage.

Olson said Friday city officials knew Harbor Freight was planning renovations to the site but haven’t yet heard “anything definite” about an opening date.

“We’ve known about Harbor Freight going in that location for an extended period of time. We’re glad to see that it’s finally materializing,” he said.

City planning officials said Thursday that Harbor Freight has received a zoning permit and its business registration from the city. The company’s next moves, planning officials said, are to get approvals from the city Fire Department and city Building Inspections Division, and then obtain a certificate of occupancy.

City Fire Marshal Barry Overman said in an email Friday his department is working through the city’s standard building and construction process with Harbor Freight. Chief Building Inspector Stanley Ward said in an email his office can’t speculate on projected dates for final inspections or business openings.

Trish Sisson, who works in Harbor Freight’s business and legal compliance office, couldn’t immediately confirm a projected opening date for the company’s new store in Elizabeth City.

According to its website, Harbor Freight was founded in 1977 and operates at least 900 stores nationwide. Its stores closest to Elizabeth City are in Virginia Beach and Newport News in Virginia and Winterville in Pitt County.