Outer Banks Coping with COVID-19

By Molly Harrison | Thursday, March 19, 2020

Everyone across the world is coping with Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) in one way or another, and the Outer Banks is no exception. While there has not been a case of Coronavirus documented on the Outer Banks so far, people here are following federal, state and local mandates for the safety of everyone. 

All gatherings of more than 10 people are off, which means numerous events and activities have been canceled. Schools are closed, parks and attractions are closed, some stores are closed, and restaurants are closed to full service, though they can offer takeout and delivery. As of March 17, even the bridges are closed to visitors (on this issue the Outer Banks made the international news, including the New York Times). LINK:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/us/north-carolina-and-maine-coronavirus.html)

Just like everywhere else, this leaves many Outer Banks residents and business owners out of work or working from home, while others, especially healthcare workers and grocery store staff, are still working in public. The kids are home, and some people are scrambling for childcare. Older adults are home. Second homeowners are taking advantage of their empty houses and time off work to enjoy their beach houses. 

We wanted to hear how people on the Outer Banks are coping. 

“Questionably,” says Lisa Mann, owner of Beach Treasures in Duck. “If people are coming in, we will stay open as long as I have the staff.” Mann is actually in Canada at moment, tending to her elderly father. She doesn’t know how much she’s allowed to move between the two countries now. “We’re just taking it day by day and being grateful for each day.”

Jill Bennett is another retailer who’s just taking it day by day. Her three locations of Birthday Suits are open – for now – but the customers are coming in at a very slow trickle, only a few a day and so far never more than two at a time.

“My fear is that I don’t know when this is going to end,” Bennett says. “I can financially plan if I have an end date, but we don’t have that. It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows, and there’s no one to ask for advice.”

In the meantime, Bennett says curbside swimwear is definitely an option. “You can try it on in your car!” she says with a laugh.

In-store shopping, curbside service, delivery and online sales are all in the mix for Jamie Anderson at Downtown Books in Manteo. Upon entering the store, customers are asked to use hand sanitizer and to limit handling the merchandise. The number of customers in the store is limited to 10, and everyone is asked to stay at least 6 feet apart. If a customer doesn’t want to enter, they’ll take phone orders and run it out to you or deliver it to your house. She says many of her deliveries have been to people who just want her to leave the books on the porch and not bother with unnecessary human interaction.

“Books are a great distraction,” Anderson says. “It’s something we can give people to take their mind of things, and I’m going to keep doing that as long as we can.”

Down on Ocracoke Island, Sarah Fiore has her retail store, Bella Fiore, open. She’s been in the store anyway, receiving deliveries of spring merchandise and getting ready for the spring season, so she figures she might as well be open. “I’m pretty much self-isolating, even though I’m open,” she says, noting that while she’s definitely not inundated with customers, a few people have stopped in for gifts. She’s posting her sale items on Facebook, taking pictures of new merchandise and trying what she can to make a little money.

Ocracoke Island will begin restricting access to visitors on Thursday, March 19. Fiore says opinions seem to be somewhat divided on whether or not to allow visitors on the island, but for the most part everyone on the island is trying to stay positive. “But we all have our moments,” she confesses. “Social media is not helping. It’s so much of the unknown that makes it difficult.”

In the recreation business, everyone from trampoline parks to fishing captains are taking the hit. Brenda Fann, who owns Fishin’ Fannatic with her husband, Capt. Mark Fann, says the best word to that comes to mind when she thinks of coronavirus is “cancellations.” “Two this week, three next week,” she says, “all the way into the second week of April.

“We were definitely looking at this month and next as the season for getting started,” she says. “We’re scrambling, just like everyone else.”

Brent Johnson of Jumpmasters OBX is says he and his wife, Lauren, made the difficult decision to close their trampoline park for numerous reasons. “With the restrictions that were put into place, first from groups of 100 then to 50 then to 10, it didn’t seem feasible to stay open. Though our business wasn’t deemed as one to close, we felt that it was in the best interest of the community to do our part to control the pandemic.”

Johnson says he see that people are willing to follow the rules about social distancing. “Coming to Jumpmasters is not socially isolating yourself,” he says. “It’s not in the spirit of what our federal, state and local government is trying to achieve.” 

Johnson admits that as a business owner, an employer of 40 people and a family member, he’s very worried. “I am worried we will not be able to reopen our doors,” he says. “We are a family-owned, locally owned business, not a franchise with deep pockets. We have loans and a varying profit margin, and when something like this happens it’s difficult to think about. Everyone tries to be optimistic, but numbers don’t lie.”

After the governor’s statement that all restaurants must close for full, in-person service, the restaurant industry and its workers have been hit hard as well. While some restaurants are staying open and offering take-out and delivery, others have made the decision to close.

Woo Casa Kitchen in Nags Head is set to celebrate its first anniversary on Friday, March 20, but they won’t be open. “We are choosing to be closed,” says Katie Wooten, who owns the restaurant with her husband. “I believe in staying at home, and I have a daughter and no child care. Really, our daughter is the driving reason because she’s always with us.”

Lost Colony Brewery and Café in Manteo got creative when they had to close for full service. In addition to curbside pickup for take-out orders, they are offering home beer delivery service for a case or more. They deliver from Kill Devil Hills to Oregon Inlet and all of Roanoke Island.

Another creative business is Outer Banks Distilling. The business had to close for rum tours and tastings, but they did start making hand sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol. They are giving it away for free as long as supplies last.

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.