July 26, 2016
Pokémon craze washes ashore on Hatteras Island


It’s a Monday night on Hatteras Island and a cluster of people are hanging out on the outskirts of the Food Lion parking lot in Avon.

This isn’t an unusual sight by any means. As the island’s only chain grocery store, the Food Lion tends to be a hotbed for people pushing shopping carts, double checking grocery lists, or just re-grouping before or after a mad rush through the busy store.

But on this night, the action is clustered around an otherwise nondescript white dinghy that sits just outside the nearby Dirty Dick's restaurant, and the people in the group are all chatting while glancing down on their cell phones.

It’s a telltale sign of the Pokémon Go phenomenon, and sure enough, the small dinghy is actually a Poké stop where players can pick up items.

Sarah, from Minnesota, is playing the game when a mom and son team from New York show up. “It’s addictive,” she says. “There’s a group of us here from Minnesota and Montana, and we all play it.”

As she chats with other players about a potential glitch in the game, a family from the Washington, D.C., area walks by, and the assumed dad in the crew notes with a smile that there’s a problem with the Poké stop marker too.

It’s a strange encounter if you’re not familiar with the game -- or with seeing people hanging out by the stationary dinghy outside of Dirty Dick's -- but it does seem to have everyone conversing and happily chatting.

Pokémon GO was launched on July 6 and is a freemium mobile game by Niantic with the overlying goal of searching for and capturing virtual creatures called Pokémon. Utilizing mapping technology, the Pokémon are stationed at physical locations all around the world, which means that players typically walk to nearby Pokémon in their neighborhood, or wherever they are, to advance in the game.

The premise sounds simple, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, in addition to the Pokémons, players can also swing by “Poké stops” to pick up valuable items, and once they reach Level 5, can head to Poké gyms to fight with other players to become a “gym owner.”

Sound confusing? It is at first, but many players attest that it’s easy to catch on, and that it’s addicting when you start finding items nearby. Essentially, a short walk to one Pokémon or Poké stop can turn into a miles-wide trek, as new locales pop up and are displayed on the interactive area map.

Kim from New York shares the map view from her phone at the Avon dinghy, which indicates that there are several more Pokémons in the area, and at least one other Poké stop behind the Food Lion in the Kinnakeet Shores area.

“Most likely, if you see someone standing around something historical with their phone, they are looking for Pokémons,” she says.

The Pokémons do seem to congregate around famed Hatteras Island landmarks – like Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Avon Pier – but local businesses are also starting to pick up on the trend and are advertising their status as a stop of some kind, or even offering a promotion.

It’s started to trickle down to Hatteras Island, but the businesses and attractions on the northern Outer Banks have seemed to really grab hold of the concept. The McDonald’s in Kill Devil Hills began offering a free beverage with sandwich purchase for players who catch Pokémon in the restaurant, while the OBX Verizon Store had a promo with a 10 percent discount on accessories for Pokémon Go players.

The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island has also seen a big surge of interest, with many Facebook announcements about their on-site Poké stops and gym, and even a recent “Pokémon GO Night” which was held on July 21.

Michelle Sanchez is the Marketing Manager for Cove Realty, which manages the Seaside Inn of Hatteras, and she has smartly advertised on the inn’s Facebook page that the site is a Poké gym – an announcement that has put the site on the literal map for Pokémon players.

“Actually it was already there – it wasn’t anything we did – we just told people about it,” she says. “The way it works is that it functions with Google maps, so a lot of the popular spots in Google are the ones that have Poké stops or Poké gyms.

Because [the inn] is a historical site of a popular spot online, that’s why it has ‘gym’ on it.”

So how do you know if your business is a Poké stop? Michelle found out by simply playing the game.

“It’s actually pretty fun. When I went down [to Hatteras Island] this past weekend, I found out [the inn] was a gym,” she says. “The innkeeper is excited about it as well, and she has a few pictures of her with the Pokémon.

“Downloading the game itself and learning it is not hard at all,” she adds. “The only reason I did it is because my brothers were doing it. And now we go out once a week and spend family time, and get to meet a lot of great people – you really do meet different people all the time.”

Several marketing companies have reached out to businesses offering to help them become a Poké stop, and the effect of the Pokémon craze is starting to become more noticeable on Hatteras Island. Several marquees along the island boast their status as a current or future Poké stop, and as more people start to trickle in to local establishments with cell phone in hand, there’s a good chance this Poké-presence will grow.

Even so, just as there have been a wave of people who enjoy and applaud the game, there is also a viral backlash – most noticeably on social media.

Facebook groups for Outer Banks locals and visitors have seen an uptick in comments from people who have had to shoo away strangers in their yard who were looking for a Pokémon or a Poké stop.

And considering that massive amounts of walking and being distracted on a cell phone tends to go hand-in-hand with the game, there are also concerns about players not paying attention when walking along Highway 12 or other busy beach roads on the OBX. This is especially problematic in July, when the traffic can be thick.

But regardless, the Pokémon craze is here, and while there’s no telling how long people will be racing to landmarks like the lighthouse, the pier, or even the little white dinghy outside the Food Lion Plaza, the ability to explore the island a little more and meet some new people is currently drawing waves of people to play.

“It’s something everyone can do – It appeals to the kids that come down, and adults in their late 20s and early 30s who played [Pokémon] growing up,” says Michelle. “And you can find Pokémon and talk with all kinds of new people just about everywhere you go.”


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