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Business takes referral complaint to state Real Estate Commission

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By Brian Slattery

A local businessman has taken his issue with the OIB Welcome Center to the state level.

Kevin Godwin, owner of Sandlappers Beach Supplies in Ocean Isle Beach, had paid for the advertizing the center offers since 2010, but said he had a falling out with the center’s manager, Stuart Cooke, in 2013 over a question of business referrals.

“They have a short list when people call in to ask (about businesses, and) he refers them to the preferred list,” Godwin said.

Godwin said because of a misunderstanding about the email he sent Cooke on July 6, about referrals, his business was dropped from the referral list.

In another email July 7, Godwin threatened to sue for breach of contract since he paid $300 for the yearly referral.

He said Cooke then agreed to honor the contract, but didn’t provide an email that corroborated it.

Godwin said Cooke reneged the next day.

He provided a copy of an email he was sent from susaneggert.cookrealty@gmail.com July 8 that was intended for Cooke but was copied to him.

It includes the comments: “If you look t the hot sheet… Sandlaapers has a note NEW… now providing linens.. However, if you want us to drop Sandlaapers, it is done..”

Cooke said the center is privately owned and reserves the right to not recommend businesses.

“Sandlappers is one of the only business we’ve elected not to represent. Because of the way they do perform their business, it is not conducive to the way we do business,” Cooke said.

He described the center as the same type of information center you would find at a business brochure kiosk in a welcome center at the state line.

“People pick up flyers, maps, what the vendors want us to hand out,” Cooke said. “If a business doesn’t have that, we offer the service of producing a composite sheet for a nominal fee and our staff will write an ad.”

Cooke said if a business wants the center to create an ad, that is when it charges the $300 a year.

“We put in (your) information, where you are, what you are and a slogan,” he said.

“We provide an ad with their guidance.”

Cooke said the center business is walk-in traffic. It employs a few women to work the desk answering questions and to direct visitors to their brochure room.

“If they have a question — When is the ferry? Where is the best place to go fish? — the ladies direct them,” Cooke said.

The brochure room offers coupons, monster book, maps of the area, and items like the times for the free concerts on the causeway.

“If we have a gold course running a special we will put a (flyer) in the rack for you,” Cooke said.

Cooke added the center is not affiliated with and does not perform real estate services.

Godwin said he feels some businesses, like his, receive unfair treatment from the center or don’t receive the services they sign up and pay $300 a year to receive them.

Godwin said the OIB Welcome Center has 130 businesses paying for the $300 service, a total of $39,000 per year and, for the money those businesses pay, they should be treated fairly.

“Most of us are just mom and pops. Just treat us fairly,” he said.

Godwin took his complaint to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division. The state Justice Department referred the case to the North Carolina Real Estate Commission’s Consumer Protection Office.

According to the NCREC, the case was assigned to Regulatory Affairs officer Jean Hobbs on April 9, but the case is pending inquiry while information is gathered.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.