who make a turn onto Light Plant Rd. in Buxton may do a double take
when they pass by an iconic home that’s tucked away across from the
Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperation.
is the site of one of the most famous gift shops in Hatteras Island
history – The Old Gray House Gifts and Shells – which was an annual
stop on many vacationers’ itinerary for nearly 25 years. Many folks
remember going to the store as children, and were starting to bring
their own kids to the famed gift shop to peruse the iconic shelves of
shells, treasures, and bits of Hatteras Island legacy.
while the Grays of the Old Gray Gift Shop are about to start a new
adventure, (much to the delight of their many longtime fans – stay
tuned), the building that once housed their famed store is starting a
new chapter as well.
longer the home of the Old Gray House Gifts and Shells, the property
will nevertheless continue its longstanding role as a gift store - with
a new owner, and a new aesthetic and arsenal of reasons to explore.
As noted, there are quite a few changes already underway.
For one thing, the home is no longer gray.
think the first thing people will say is ‘it’s not gray anymore! It’s a
green color!’ But the Gray House was the original family name of the
house,” says new owner and proprietor Mariah James.
has been working for months to make the landmark property her own, and
as a lifelong local herself with deep ties to the island, staying
“close to home” was a cornerstone of her decision to start a new shop.
“I’m from here, and I tried moving around for a while, but I didn’t like the ‘real world,’” she says. “I love Hatteras Island.”
I thought, ‘Maybe if I buy some property, I can open my own business’ -
not knowing exactly what that business was at the time, but just
thinking that I would be able to put my own energy into it, and make
something on the island that’s mine.”
started looking at properties for several months – and had even put an
offer on a property she wasn’t too crazy about - before the perfect
opportunity happened to come into view.
saw that the Gray House was for sale, and I used to go there all the
time as a kid – everyone did,” she says. “I was going to Connor’s one
day, and was thinking about it, and then I just made a turn, drove down
the road and talked to Mr. Dewey [Parr.] A couple days later, I put in
an offer, and after a couple months they accepted it.”
wanted someone who was from the island and who would make it their own,
but not just turn it into a hotel – they wanted it to stay special,”
she says. “And I am so thankful that they chose me, and sold [the
property] to me.”
many ways, Mariah feels like it was a sign. “I found out later, after
the offer, that Dewey actually bought the Gray House and gave it to
Mary on the exact date of my birth – February 14th 1991.”
closing day was just two days after Hurricane Matthew, and Mariah
waited anxiously after the storm to leave her flooded home and see if
the site of her new venture was still standing.
drove by it as soon as we could – we had four feet of water in our
yard,” she says. “But as soon as we could, we drove up there and said
‘Good! It’s still standing!’ Yardwork was all that needed to be done in
terms of clean-up, so we were very lucky.”
then, it’s been a long road to turn the property into Mariah’s own
shop. Like many islanders, Mariah wears a lot of hats and has other
jobs and work to do – in addition to setting up shop – which has
resulted in a lengthy process to get to a grand opening date.
the hurricane, we were so busy with our clean-up work, and regular
work, and I wasn’t able to give the house attention for a while,” she
says. “But we’ve been working hard, and every day that I spend time in
there I think, ‘I had no idea that this was my dream, but it is.’”
“It makes me appreciate so much more that Mr. Dewey and Ms. Mary took a chance on me.”
And the property she inherited looked a lot different from what she remembered – in the interior, at least.
someone asked me what the walls and floor looked like [when it was the
Old Gray House], my memory would have been fuzzy because it was always
full,” she says. “When I arrived, the place was empty except for a few
shelves, so it was just a completely blank slate.”
roof had a few spots that needed to be replaced, and Mariah went to
work repainting, making repairs, and putting her own signature on her
took out all the carpet, and are refinishing the floors, which are
heart pine floors and are so beautiful. Part of the floor that was
covered by carpet had fallen in, so a section needed to be replaced,”
she says. “We were able to borrow floors from someone who was redoing
their floors – which was also a historic home – so we were able to keep
the historical [feel] intact.”
She also notes that there are many elements of the property which predate the use of hardwood floors and store-bought materials.
main part of the home was built in the 1890s, and then it was added
onto over the years,” she says. “Back in the day, they would take
[materials] that had washed up on the beach, haul it to shore,
repurpose it, and use it in the building,” she says.
there was a lumber store to go to, you just used what you had. [I
think] that the upstairs tongue and grove bead board must have come out
of a ship.”
the renovations and remodeling comes natural changes, and Mariah is
working on stocking her new store with a collection of different items.
the kitchen room, we’re going to keep it as a pantry and have canned
goods in there for sale,” she says. “We also just had an inspection to
have drip coffee and coffee beans for sale. We just spruced up the room
– we didn’t want to rip out the kitchen - and everyone loves the smell
of fresh coffee.”
for what items will be for sale, Mariah attests that there will be lots
to peruse and admire. “It will be a fun mix. A number of crafters want
to sell at the store and I’m thrilled to have them, so there will be a
lot of handmade things,” she says. “We’ll also have yard art, concrete
statues, and a plant room we’re calling the ‘green room.’”
also carving out a corner for a “Thrifty Nickle” section with vintage
goods and antiques, and concentrating on showcasing local talents in
the form of handmade cards, mirrors, and many more goodies. “I know
someone who recycles plastic bags and makes purses, and bags, and all
sorts of really cool things,” she says. “We also got [our] home kitchen
to pass inspection so [my mom] can sell her famous jams in the store.”
“Essentially, we hope to sell everything that makes you smile.”
addition, on the second Saturday of every month, Mariah plans to pick a
local organization or non-profit and donate 20% of all sales – not just
the profits – to that organization.
first one will be Hatteras Island Meals, but it’s open to anyone who is
trying to raise money for good causes,” she says. “It will be a way to
give back to the community.”
original Old Gray House Shells and Gifts will be resurrected in the
near future in another form – (and more on that highly anticipated
development will come in a future article.)
for now, the property which was always a gift shop will continue its
longstanding function, but with a new owner, a new look, and hopefully
a new wave of future generations of visitors.
just hope that people will embrace the change and not be horrified that
it’s not exactly the same,” says Mariah. “I hope that Mr. Dewey and Ms.
Mary will want to come back and see it. I still can’t believe that they
let me buy the [the property.] I’m so thankful for them.”
“People evolve and change, and that’s what the [former] Gray house is doing too.”