Harbor Freight customers welcome tool store's opening

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Wililam Thomas, of Thomas Concrete, waves after visiting the new Harbor Freight Tools store at Port Elizabeth Centre in Elizabeth City, Tuesday morning.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Ken Respass came prepared for Harbor Freight Tools’ “soft” opening in Elizabeth City Tuesday morning.

The Camden County resident was among the shoppers waiting when Harbor Freight Tools employees opened the tool chain store’s doors to customers for the first time at 8 a.m. Respass said he wasn’t sure what he’d look for once he got inside, but he was carrying a handful of coupons. One was for a pair of mechanic’s gloves for $3.99. Another advertised a tool bag for $4.99. 

“I love it,” Respass said of Harbor Freight’s decision to open a retail store in the former Walmart at Port Elizabeth Centre. “I’m tired of driving to Virginia Beach.”

Respass was just one of several loyal customers of the Southern California-based tool chain who said Tuesday they were happy the company now has a store in Elizabeth City. Many said they currently drive to Harbor Tools stores in the Hampton Roads Virginia area. The retail giant sells a full line of air tools, chainsaws, small electric motors, small gasoline-powered motors, generators, hand tools, power tools, tool chests and welding equipment.

Respass said likes Harbor Freight because of the discounts the chain offers on quality tools. He showed up early for the soft opening, he said, because he figured other shoppers like them, too.  

"I didn't know how busy it would be," he said.

Also waiting in the parking lot for the Harbor Freight Tools store to open Tuesday was Belinda Stallings of Hobbsville.

"This is one of my husband's favorite places and we usually go to Virginia to go. So, I was kind of happy that they finally got one over here," she said.

Stallings said she and her husband, a building contractor, usually shop at the Harbor Freight Tools store in Norfolk. Estimating their current drive is about an hour one way, she said “I’m pretty sure” they’ll be regular customers of the new Elizabeth City store.

Asked if there was anything in particular she’d be shopping for, she said, "I'm just going to kind of browse and see what they've got on sale."

Also waiting for the store to open Tuesday morning was Tina Clancy, owner of Tina Clancy's Art and Antique Collection downtown.

Clancy said she uses lots of tools at her business and has been a frequent shopper at the Harbor Freight store in Norfolk.

Clancy also said she was shopping at Harbor Freight Tools with anything particular in mind. However, she was carrying a flier about the store’s soft opening.

Clancy said having a national retailer move into Port Elizabeth Centre for the first time in about a decade was hopefully a good sign of things to come.

"Well, I'm hoping it'll bring more businesses because Elizabeth City needs more business," she said.

Harbor Freight officials said the local store's official opening will be on Sept. 12.

A company spokeswoman said the Elizabeth City store will occupy about 15,000 square feet in the former Walmart store and employ 35-40 people.

The U.S. Coast Guard is still leasing a large portion of the former Walmart for storage. Walls have been built and utilities have been split to separate the Coast Guard’s warehouse space from Harbor Freight’s. Los Angeles-based BH Properties owns the Port Elizabeth shopping center.