Azalea Festival - One and Done

bg_Azalea Festival 038Recently, I attended Wilmington, NC’s Azalea Festival with Frances and our great friends, Fred and Kathy Black. Frances and I rarely venture into Wilmington when we’re in Wrightsville, but we decided to try something a little different with the Black’s. We should have listened to my gut instincts because below is my recent Letter to the Editor to the Wilmington Star. I think you’ll see what kind of time we had!  


Azalea Festival: One and Done

My family and I live in Greensboro and for most of our lives have had the great pleasure to spend much of our leisure time in the Wrightsville Beach area. Rarely, do we choose to venture to Wilmington because of perceived traffic, congestion, and inconvenience.

On the Saturday of the Azalea Festival, we decided to take another Greensboro couple staying with us downtown. We took the last spot in the 3rd Street Bank of America parking lot and noticed the signs marked:

Bank of America Customer Parking During Bank Hours Only Or By Permit Towing Enforced

Since the parking lot was nearly full and since it wasn't banking hours, we determined Wilmington was probably like Greensboro and was consumer-friendly on the weekends. We parked and headed to the festival. We also noticed other bank parking lots including BBT with the same sign also at capacity. Upon returning, the BBT lot was still filled with cars that had no permits, however most of the cars were gone from the BOA lot including ours.

That's when we became familiar with Wayne Howard of Howard Towing. Howard Towing is a family-owned predatory towing business that's hospitality begins with initial phone call. Howard's daughter sets the stage with her exceptional Dale Carnegie-honed phone skills in this $135 cash transaction. Our initial conversation didn’t go well because she said she didn’t like my (expletive deleted) tone, and I told her I didn’t like having my (expletive deleted) car stolen to be held for ransom. We must have had a bad connection because we were disconnected. The in-person meeting doesn’t disappoint either. She has the dimensions, demeanor, and brain density of Honey Boo-Boo's mom, but with less personality.

Howard's Towing is "headquartered" in the bowels of Wilmington in what has to be a meth trailer repo protected by razor barbed wire and dog that can only be described as a cross between pit-bull and a wolverine. Business was brisk as two late model, higher-end vehicles are pulled in as we waited.

Wayne Howard is exactly what you would expect in a predatory tow owner. Let's just say that he's a less sophisticated version of Karl from Sling Blade that uses bullying and intimidation during the extortion process. Just Google him and you'll see what I mean. Unfortunately for unknowing citizens and visitors, Howard Towing is one of several companies that have a contract with the city to tow illegally parked cars or when there are accidents and car owners don't call their own tow service through AAA or their insurance companies.

Thankfully, a Wilmington police officer was there. He had a couple from Durham with him who couldn't even find their car that was pulled from a church parking lot that they paid a youth group to use. The officer shook his head embarrassed and said, "Sir, I wish I had a dollar for every minute I've spent here settling disputes and fights. I’d be a very rich man." Without his presence, I'm sure our car's release would not have been uneventful especially after reading the WWAY 3 website post on July 12, 2011 about an altercation with Howard and a unwitting customer that involved a choke hold after a towing during 2011's Azalea festival. Charming!

I spoke with the Branch Manager of the Bank of America. Tony is an extremely professional executive who explained that BOA leases their branch’s space and the property owner is responsible for the building’s towing. I asked him to do a little research on Howard’s Towing and demand that if the property manager is going to enforce after hours towing, they had better use reputable services. It’s a very bad perception for a bank that doesn’t need many more bad perceptions.

Unfortunately for Wilmington, there were many of us that were introduced to Wayne and most likely other towing services during a time when your city was trying to impress. Bank of America did itself no favors and considering all their negative press since 2008, they should have had valet parking and free car washes! It'll be a long time before I ever venture downtown to Wilmington again especially to a Festival that could be described as little more than a State Fair. Come on, Wilmington. You're better than funnel cakes, giant turkey legs, and vultures like Wayne Howard that still are contracted by your city.


*The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the view of LPL Financial.