By Jordan Horwat
As a narrow strip of barrier islands, the Outer Banks has the unique ability to restrict visitor entry during a State of Emergency. After all, there are only two entry points for vehicles … the only other options are to travel by air or water.
Visitors may be thinking, “How could the OBX be selfish enough to restrict visitor access?”
But the reality is: no one wants this. This approach is effective in slowing the spread of infectious disease, but it is devastating for local businesses that just made it through their hardest, slowest off-season months.
The truth is, locals and visitors are all in this together. After all, OBX businesses and residents rely on tourism for livelihood. In fact:
The current Dare County closure is effective until April 30th, but this is subject to change at any time. At this point, it’s hard to predict what the OBX tourist season will look like this year.
So that leaves us with a few questions: how are local businesses coping with the closure? How do they plan to “ramp-up” once the island reopens to visitors? We chatted with a few local businesses to find out.
Cotton Gin and Sanctuary Vineyards
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only devastating event to impact the Cotton Gin in the last year. On October 12, 2019 the Cotton Gin’s original location in Jarvisburg caught fire and burned to the ground. The fire completely destroyed the family-owned shop that has been welcoming visitors since the 1980s.
Owner John Wright explains that rebuilding the original store will take about a year, so the company was prepared to be short one location this year. The family will continue to focus this time on rebuilding the original Cotton Gin location that started it all.
Along with the Cotton Gin, the Wright family also owns and operates Sanctuary Vineyards in Jarvisburg. While the vineyard is closed to the public, John says, “We’ve had to continue working as if the season is moving forward from a wine standpoint,” so the staff is focusing their efforts on producing wine and offering it online with free delivery and shipping.
Once the Outer Banks reopens to visitors and stay-at-home orders are lifted, John and the rest of the staff look forward to going right back to normal operating hours: open seven days a week with free wine tastings daily.
Much like Sanctuary Vineyards, OBX restaurants are doing their best to operate on takeout and deliveries during the closure. But local Duck restaurant The Roadside is truly yearning for the long summer nights where their tables and waitlist are full, their staff is hustling, and their backyard bar is full of live music and happy customers.
Once the island and restaurants are allowed to reopen, owner Ashley Copeland says, “The first thing we want to do is let the music play! Get the local musicians as well as our staff working again.” On top of that, she hopes to plan an art show to help local artists promote their work. The Roadside wants to focus on hosting events in their outdoor area to continue to encourage a bit of social distancing.
In terms of food, Ashley explains, “We will try to focus on buying from the local fishermen and farmers as much as possible. Put as much back into our local economy as possible.”
As you can tell from Ashley’s energy, the OBX community spirit, devotion to local businesses, and appreciation for loyal visitors all run deep. Local businesses can’t wait to reopen their doors and get back to some type of normalcy once they get the green light.
Outer Banks Blue
As a vacation rental company, Outer Banks Blue’s business is directly impacted by the beach closure. Owner Tim Cafferty confesses, “The main thing I’m doing to keep morale up is trying to keep my people employed.”
On top of that, he notes that the company is focusing its energy on staying engaged with guests in a way that exemplifies community support — rather than promoting business. “The main thing we’re dealing with right now is the people who have already booked vacations and the uncertainty and anxiety they have.” But the truth is that there’s so much uncertainty on all parts, and OBX Blue doesn’t have the answer to these questions right now. Instead, the staff is focusing its time on getting to know their clients, listening to their family stories, and really connecting with them during this uncertain time.
Tim is a true believer in taking everything one day at a time right now. He says, “Let’s deal with the facts, let’s deal with today. May 1st is still two weeks away. Let’s make it to May 1st first.” But above all, Tim recognizes how important it is to stay positive during this time. “I don’t know,” he says, “I keep remaining positive, for whatever reason! I do think that we’re going to be okay.”
Amity Boutique, located in the Duck Waterfront Shops, has been a top shopping destination for both locals and visitors for over 20 years.
Even before the restricted access or mandatory business shutdowns, owner Amity Lucas closed up shop. Despite the fact that sales were picking up for the first time in months, she felt like closing her doors was her duty to help tame the spread of the virus. She is now completely relying on sales through social media.
Amity admits, “We are going to open as soon as they open the beach back up!” And when that happens, the store will have all-new spring items stocked up and “big discounts” on spring merchandise to celebrate things going back to normal.
It’s clear that OBX businesses are doing their best to remain positive, open-minded, and excited about the future in the midst of the island closure. They are all doing what they can to keep business and morale alive, support their employees and customers, and prepare to welcome visitors whenever the Outer Banks reopens.
In the meantime, whether you’re an OBX local or loyal visitor, be sure to look up your favorite OBX businesses online to see if you can have a little piece of the Outer Banks shipped right to your home. The OBX community thanks you for your constant support!