June 19--Along U.S. 17 in Hampstead, there are several shopping complexes, various fast food options and no shortage of gas stations and convenience stores.
Residents of the unincorporated part of Pender County can easily get their essentials in their small community, but they know further commercial and residential development is just a matter of time.
"This place is going to grow," said Tommy Reeves, owner of Hampstead Ace Hardware.
It's when discussing that future growth and development that the love-hate relationship with that potential expansion is clearly showcased.
Reeves, who has operated the store for 12 years, doesn't want Hampstead to expand. The small coastal community is fine as is and was even better years ago, he said.
"I wish it would stay the way it was 10 to 15 years ago," Reeves said.
He isn't alone.
"I want it to stay this quiet, little fishing community," said Jodie Hall, a long-time resident, as she loaded a cart full of groceries into her car at the Food Lion in the Hampstead Station shopping center.
Hall said she fears Hampstead could lose its small town charm if more retail outlets spring up.
"I don't want it to be another Ogden," she said. "They have no personality."
Ogden, down U.S. 17 in New Hanover County, is largely jammed with commercial developments -- with the traffic congestion that goes along with that. The Porters Neck area is also rapidly filling in with apartment complexes and shopping centers, adding to the corridor's traffic woes.
Traffic, especially those speeding through town, also is a concern for many Hampstead residents. The N.C. Department of Transportation is working on a bypass, which would direct traffic around the community. Current plans call for three interchanges, although that option hasn't been welcomed by all residents.
Lack of utilities
What is lacking in Hampstead in regards to retail amenities, however, can often be found a short drive away.
Autumn Brison, a Hampstead resident, said she wished the newest Walmart construction in Surf City was a full-scale store and not the retail giant's smaller Neighborhood Market outlet.
That store is a large grocery store with a limited array of non-food items. Consistent with a coastal community's needs, the store is stocked with large beach umbrellas, fishing poles and other beach-related needs. Hygiene products and basic necessities also are available.
Back in Hampstead, Reeves said development along U.S. 17 in has been hampered in part by the lack of sewer capacity. Once lines are installed, and new utilities are planned in places, the community is "going to explode," he added.
Stefan Von Hendy, owner of The Bagel Bakery, said sewer and water access is important but businesses that really want to open in Hampstead have made it work, naming the nearby
Von Hendy said he purchased the deli and sandwich shop after living in Hampstead for two years.
"When I first moved here in 2006, I'd never seen so much development in my life," he said, adding that the Great Recession took most of the air out of that balloon.
But he said Hampstead has started bouncing back and he hopes it continues.
"I'm surprised growth hasn't happened here yet," Von Hendy said.
The largest recent development was Hampstead Town Center, anchored by Lowes Foods, which opened in May 2013. The center, across from the Topsail schools, also includes a Fuzzy Peach frozen yogurt, Great Clips, a nail salon and other eateries.
When announcing center tenants, developers said projection figures for Hampstead are strong and indicative of a large and growing permanent community.
Von Hendy said he understands why some of his fellow residents struggle with growth.
He said with new development comes new residents and changes in a town many already love because of what is there and not what is missing.
"I choose to live here and drive there," Von Hendy said of nearby Wilmington.
Caitlin Dineen: 343-2339
On Twitter: @CaitlinDineen