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A pedestrian walks past the Mast General Store's holiday display as snow falls along Trade Street on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The site of a former downtown Winston-Salem strip club was purchased Tuesday by neighbor Mast General Store, according to the realty group brokering the transaction.

The 4,300-square-foot property at 515 N. Cherry St., near Benton Convention Center, was last operated as Nova Lounge, a private club.

A filing Thursday on the Forsyth County Register of Deeds website listed the sale price at $415,000.

Lisa Cooper, Mast's president and daughter of its founders, said the retailer purchased the building "with the intention of enhancing the neighborhood."

"We will be making decisions in the near future to upgrade the building."

Charlie Fulk, a broker with Meridian Realty Group who represented the buyer and seller, said Mast chose to buy the property "after months of discussion and due diligence."

"It is just glad to have control of this property for a future use that the community can be proud of and support."

The venue has been home to a number of strip clubs through the years, including Xpressions, Harper’s, Winkers and Lollipops, some of which allowed full nudity entertainment inside.

In April, Nova's alcohol-beverage permit was suspended by the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission following an incident outside the club where seven people were shot, but not seriously injured.

The property owner, R. Keith Neely of K. Neely Investments LLC of Charlotte, put the site up for sale around the time of the April shooting.

The sale was completed 14 days before the Dec. 31 deadline established by the Winston-Salem City Council in October 2016 for Neely to halt operating the site as an adult entertainment venue. The council gave Neely about 38 months to allow him the opportunity to recoup his investment in the property.

Mast, based in Valle Crucis, opened its Winston-Salem store in May 2015 after spending $1.92 million in 2013 to purchase the 64,000-square-foot property at 516 N. Trade St. known as City Plaza.

The store, which is designed to mimic the feel of an old-fashioned country store, operates in 15,000 square feet on the bottom two floors. The building dates back to 1928 and was originally home to Brown-Rogers-Dixson Co. hardware store.

The overall project represented a $10 million investment for Mast when counting the 48-unit Village Lofts above the store.

Although the store has its main entrance off Trade Street, a second entrance is at the parking deck at Sixth, Cherry and Trade streets near the former strip club. The main entrance to Village Lofts is at 511 N. Cherry St.

Fulk said the strip-club history of the 511 N. Cherry property "was obviously a source of embarrassment and frustration for the city and the downtown business community with its location literally in the shadow of the Benton Convention Center."

Neely sometimes operated the club himself, and at other times has only leased the building to a club operator.

In 2015, when a strip club operated at the site, the city filed a nuisance lawsuit against K. Neely Investments, alleging the property had been the scene of sexual assaults, vandalism, disturbances, unlawful possession of dangerous weapons, discharging of firearms, and drunk and disruptive behavior.

Fulk said that prior to 2019, the use of the site as a strip club was grandfathered from a zoning standpoint, which meant that as long as the building did not remain vacant for more than a year, "there wasn’t much the city could do to remedy the situation."

In April 2016, the city imposed a 2:30 a.m. closing time for adult businesses, including strip clubs, in a move that Neely claimed was directed against his club. People complaining about strip club activities had said that most of the problems occurred in the early-morning hours.

Following the April 2019 shooting incident, a group of 10 police officers, nearby business owners and managers, as well as an apartment resident, submitted affidavits to the state ABC, saying Nova was a public nuisance and posed a safety risk to them.

“I feel concerned that if Nova Lounge is allowed to continue operating as a ABC-licensed establishment, there will be further acts of violence to occur on the licensed premises, including shootings and homicides,” police Cpl. J.A Henry said in his affidavit.

Mayor Allen Joines said in April that city officials were pleased at the state ABC’s decision to suspend the Nova Lounge’s permit. “It’s not unexpected, given the history of that location,” Joines said.

Neely agreed to allow Meridian to list the property for sale. Fulk said the goal was "finding a buyer, who would then lease to a less controversial use that would benefit the city. "

"While there was no legal way to prevent another strip club from buying the property, they felt that there was an opportunity to offer a 'first right of sale' to the city, the Downtown Winston Salem Partnership and other downtown supporters and benefactors," Fulk said.

"When these efforts failed, Meridian put the property on the open market, but continued to reach out to investors and businesses that would find a more fitting use for this high-profile property."

Journal reporter John Hinton contributed to this article

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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