May 9,  2008

The Ocracoke Community Store has a grand reopening


After being closed for more than two years, the Community Store was open for business on the first day of May. Recently leased by Ocracoke residents Susan and James Paul, the historic waterfront building is once again stocked with groceries, produce, beer, wine, and sundries.

Ocracoke residents were eagerly anticipating the re-opening.

“When I got here to open at 6 a.m., Lydia Frieda and Grace were waiting in the parking lot,” said Susan Paul.

Leonard Conover was also there, and proudly asserts he was the first customer in the door.

“Yes, he was the first one in,” Paul confirmed with a laugh. “But Shane Bryan beat him to the check-out counter.”

The Community Store was established in 1918 by Amasa “Mace” Fulcher. Mace sold groceries (including tubs of lard and barrels of molasses), dishes, pots and pans, candy, bolts of fabric, hardware, underwear, and shoes. Back in the warehouse, Mace even kept a casket or two in stock for the sad occasion when one was needed.

The Community Store was more than a well-stocked mercantile. It was also a gathering place for Ocracokers. The front porch became a popular sitting spot, where the old men would tell tall tales as they whittled and rocked. As Ocracoke was discovered by tourists, so was the Community Store, and it became equally as popular with visitors as it was with locals.

Although the store changed hands several times (and was even torn down and replaced in the early 1950s), it was always the heart of the creek side of Ocracoke. A chalkboard on the porch reported island births and birthdays, and a bulletin board provided other useful information. The inventory changed to reflect the new Ocracoke (sunscreen and beach toys replaced caskets and underwear), but the Community Store retained its old-timey feel with its time-worn wood floors and pot-bellied stove.

When the Community Store went out of business in March, 2006, Ocracokers were hopeful that someone would decide to reopen the store. They had to wait for more than two years, but now the store has finally found new life with James and Susan Paul as proprietors.

The Pauls have made several changes to the layout of the store’s interior, but they kept the country-store atmosphere. They moved the check-out counter and built more wooden shelves. They’ve added a coffee machine and fountain drinks, and a large produce display. In keeping with the store’s old-fashioned style, there are gingham curtains and large ceiling fans, glass jars of candy and bushel baskets of apples. 

Paul said she was very happy with the first day’s business. She welcomed suggestions from customers about items the Community Store should carry and ended up with five pages of requests. Each was met with a cheerful “We’ll try to get it!” and a promise that more groceries would arrive the following week.

Peggy O’Neal was one of the day’s first customers.

“I’ve been trading here about 50 years,” she said. “Since I was first married.”

Peggy grew up on Ocracoke and can remember visiting the store when she was a girl. She says she’s very happy about the reopening and has been there twice a day since May 1.

“We missed it. We went there so much. We’re so happy it’s open again,” she said.

David Tolson has been shopping – and hanging out ¬– at the Community Store since he was a kid.

“I was just sitting there on the porch this afternoon thinking how nice the breeze felt sitting in that rocking chair,” he said.

David is pleased with the changes.

“Susan and James have opened it up, made some space inside. But they kept the old feel,” he said. “Everyone who goes in there is just tickled to death.”

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