By Jim Buice
The Clemmons Courier
When Tom Carlton bought the old Park Shell store at the corner of Harper Road and U.S. 158 in Clemmons in 1996, he knew it was a great spot for a convenience store or any other use.
But he never knew it would become one of the top lottery retailers in the state. Back then, the lottery didn’t even exist here.
However, the latest quarterly numbers released by the North Carolina Education Lottery for the period ending September 2011 place Carlton’s Tanglewood store in the top eight in four categories. That includes a first-place ranking in Powerball.
“That’s the best we’ve ever done,” Carlton said. “And we have not previously been No. 1 in any category.”
The store ranked No. 2 in Instant Scratch-Offs, No. 4 in Mega Millions and No. 8 in the Carolina Cash 5. And these rankings include all the statewide retailers, which Carlton estimates to be between 6,000 and 7,000.
Since the lottery came to the state in 2005, Carlton’s seized the opportunity with its prime location to become what manager Cindy Johnson calls “the lottery store.”
With winning tickets of $250,000, $100,000, $40,000 and some $10,000 winners over the years, Carlton’s reputation as a place to buy lottery tickets continued to grow.
Then last summer, the store got another tremendous boost when Advance’s Paula Graham won $4 million in the Instant Scratch-Off game.
“It kicked us up a notch,” Carlton said. “We’ve seen more people coming in since then.”
Of course, that means along with selling more lottery tickets, other items such as beer and cigarettes are sold.
Carlton said that when the rankings are released, people tend to travel to buy from a place that produces winning tickets.
“When they see those rankings, they will sometimes come to find the store,” he said. “We have people coming from all around.”
Although Carlton is happy to have customers who travel long distances to his store, he knows that the importance of having a strong local following.
“We have a tremendous amount of repeat business,” he said. “That’s what makes it a good business because we get to know the people and take care of them. My girls know exactly what they want when they come in the door.”
Johnson has said she knows the habits of many of the customers and has their tickets ready for them when they come through the door.
Certainly, it’s a different place than back in the day. The store was built on that corner in early 1920s by the grandparents of Gray Smith of Clemmons. It changed hands quite a few times in the early days, and after becoming Hilltop Shell, the original building was torn down.
Smith and a couple of partners opened Park Shell in 1964 in the current building.
It had gas, some groceries and other items before transitioning to a beer joint. It was also a popular spot because of its proximity to Davie, Davidson and Yadkin, then dry counties.
Carlton ended up buying the store from Smith’s mother and converting it to a convenience store, but even 15 years ago, it was more “out in the country.” He remembers when he bought the property, there was a pasture on the other side of Harper Road that has since been replaced by a shopping center.
Plus, Carlton realized the store was close to I-40, and he knew eventually westbound ramps would be built, creating more traffic. And now the new school has been opened on the other side of I-40 on Harper Road, and the new hospital is coming. . .
“I knew that the lot would be an excellent location for most any kind of business,” Carlton said.
Even a lottery store.