When people walk into C&Q Mini Mart in Hamlet, they are greeted by a clean, brightly lit store with a colorful tile floor and aisles of snacks and market items. It’s the kind of place residents of the nearby neighborhood can feel comfortable sending their kids to for a dozen eggs or a loaf of bread.
Carroll Blakely opened C&Q Mini Mart four months ago at the corner of Lackey Street and Gin Mill Road near Larry “Jack” Breeden Park. She wanted to operate a profitable business but one that the surrounding community would welcome and frequent. She has had to overcome many obstacles to start her own business, but she found the resources and assistance she needed through Richmond Community College’s Small Business Center and the GATE program.
In 2010, Blakely graduated summa cum laude from Richmond Community College in Hamlet with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. Her goal was to open a childcare center. After reading a newspaper article about RCC’s Small Business Center that supports the development of new businesses, Blakely met with the center’s director, Deborah Hardison.
Hardison provided Blakely with the resources to research the profitability and sustainability of a childcare center in the location that she wanted to set up the facility. Blakely was also given all the tools to create a business plan to further analyze the success of her proposed business.
The results of the research, however, were not favorable. Hardison encouraged Blakely to change tactics instead of giving up.
“I said, ‘How about opening a convenience store?’” Hardison said.
Blakely was hesitant to pursue Hardison’s suggestion. Her family had run a convenience store for 12 years in the same spot where C&Q Mini Mart is located. Her parents operated several successful businesses, but they died when Blakely was 16. She and her younger sister, Cynda, maintained the family business themselves for about 16 months.
Blakely decided to join the Army and served for two years. She then went to work at the Sara Lee Hosiery plant in Rockingham for the next 20-plus years before being laid off when the plant closed. As a displaced worker, she qualified for financial assistance to go to college and learn new job skills for a new career.
Blakely also qualified to receive assistance from GATE (Growing America Through Entrepreneurship), a program that targets people who have been laid off from their previous jobs but are interested in starting their own business instead of finding another job. GATE offers a variety of services including business coaching and assessments, training scholarships and access to business financing.
With the help of both RCC’s Small Business Center and GATE, Blakely began to look into opening a convenience store and giving it a second go as a store owner.
“Carroll (Blakely) did a ton of work researching how much money could be made selling various products in a neighborhood,” GATE Counselor Merrielle Buckner said. “She went to area residents and explained that she wanted to open a store on South Bridges Street, what it would mean for the block and got suggestions from residents about what products they would purchase.”
Because a new zoning ordinance had to be passed for a convenience store in this location, Blakely gathered 150 signatures on a petition to present to Hamlet City Council’s Zoning Committee to demonstrate widespread community support for the store.
Hamlet City Council decided to re-zone the property on South Bridges Street, but the council stipulated that alcohol could not be sold. This stipulation impacted Blakely’s projected sales for her business, so she started to consider other options.
“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” Blakely said. “I know it’s a cliché, but never give up. No matter how hard the challenge, just think positively.”
Blakely had quite a few lemons on her hand, including the building on Gin Mill Road where her parents’ store had once operated. The original building had been torn down, but she had the store rebuilt in 2004 so she could rent it out. The tenants, however, did not maintain it well, and the building was going to need a lot of work if she was going to resurrect it as the neighborhood market. This made the most business sense and would spare her having to get a loan to build from scratch.
Blakely began the renovations of the building in March. In less than a month, she had the C&Q Mini Mart up and running. She hired two part-time employees who help her keep the store open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 7 p.m. When she’s not working at the store, she’s working on her second associate degree from RCC. She enrolled in the Business Administration program to further equip her with the business skills to be successful.
The letters C and Q in the store’s name stand for Carroll and Quintin, her name and her son’s name. Her son is a graduate of A&T University and recently had his first child, a daughter named Zoe.
Making Business Dreams Reality
“What we try to do at RCC’s Small Business Center is empower people to do what they need to do in order open their business and be successful,” Hardison said. “Carroll (Blakely) is a perfect candidate for our resources because once you get her started on something, she takes the lead and moves forward.”
Blakely has faced many challenges along the way and is thankful for all the assistance she received.
“Mrs. Hardison and Mrs. Buckner have been instrumental in positioning me in opening C&Q Mini Mart. I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “I never dreamed I’d be running a convenience store again, but I’m doing it and thoroughly enjoying it.”