After a 46-year career, which includes 37 years on Hatteras Island, Beach Pharmacy owner Steve Evans is retiring in 2022, but he’s transferring his built-from-scratch pharmacy business to capable and close-to-home hands.
Steve has a decades-long connection to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, (which entails local legends about his efforts to stay open after hurricanes), and this connection began shortly after he launched his career as a pharmacist.
After attending undergraduate school at Campbell University and the pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill, Steve moved back to his hometown of Ash, N.C., to intern at Thomas Drugs, before taking a job at Peoples in Elizabeth City.
He became a registered pharmacist 1976, and began working at Millers Pharmacy in Nags Head that same year, before starting his own Nags Head-based business – Beach Pharmacy – in 1981.
At the time, Hatteras Island did not have a pharmacy of any kind, and locals had to trek up the beach to fill prescriptions, but Steve filled that gap in 1985 when he opened up a Beach Pharmacy in Buxton.
“There was definitely a need,” says Steve, “and then Tim [Morgan] and I kind of hooked up, and it was meant to be.”
Longtime pharmacist Tim took care of the Beach Pharmacy in Buxton while Steve maintained the Nags Head branch, until a small wave of changes in the 1990s occurred. Steve opened up a new Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras village in 1991, and moved his Buxton pharmacy to Avon in 1998, and the two pharmacies have been in continual operation ever since, with Steve taking the reins of the Hatteras store, and Tim managing the Avon locale.
The fact that Steve is responsible for starting the first-ever pharmacy on Hatteras Island is, by itself, a sign of a remarkable career. But it has been Steve’s response after storms, alongside the Beach Pharmacy team, that has made him famous in local circles.
Ask any local resident who has stuck around for one of the Outer Banks’ more devastating hurricanes over the past 30 years, and they’ll likely be very aware of Steve’s Herculean efforts to deliver medicines to people in need, and in the worst conditions imaginable.
After 2003’s Hurricane Isabel cut an inlet in between Frisco and Hatteras, isolating Hatteras village for weeks, Steve was on the first boat available to set up a makeshift and water-bound route to transfer prescriptions from the Avon Beach Pharmacy branch to Hatteras village.
In 2016, after Hurricane Matthew devastated Hatteras village once again, Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras Village was open just two days after 20 inches of saltwater poured into the store, due to Matthew’s storm surge.
Steve has also made arrangements with the U.S. Coast Guard to get prescriptions to Ocracoke Island after a destructive storm, on more than one occasion. He once chartered a boat during a rare and ice-cold winter storm to deliver medications to Ocracoke, a ride he now remembers as “the coldest I have ever been in my life.”
He has had to rebuild the Hatteras Beach Pharmacy from the ground-up three times due to storm damage since the branch opened in 1991, an endeavor he says was made easier by the quick response of Revelle Builders of Murfreesboro, N.C.
This is in addition to numerous remodels and repairs, such as replacing an entire floor, or regularly moving shelves and store items off the ground level before a storm hits.
Steve has even had his brushes with crime, as after one hurricane, he returned to the Hatteras Beach Pharmacy as soon as possible, only to find bullet holes in the front door – a sign that someone had tried to break in during the immediate aftermath to steal narcotics. “They were never there,” he says. “I always took them out of the store to protect them.”
Remarkably, after nearly four decades of hurricanes, all of these startling incidences are now a bit of a blur for Steve, although some aspects of hurricane and storm recovery certainly stick out.
“Honestly, I’ve lost track of them all,” he says, referring to the dozens of storms that have altered life on the islands since the Buxton Beach Pharmacy opened in 1985. “I spent many nights sleeping on a hospital bed in the pharmacy before we had a place on Eagle Pass Road… And when ocean or sound water gets into a building, you will never forget that stench. Right now, I can smell it, just thinking about it.”
But over the decades, Steve and the Beach Pharmacy crew developed a routine. They would get the pharmacies prepared beforehand, safeguarding medications and storing items, and would find creative ways in the aftermath to ensure that there was no interruption in service.
“I was always the last one to leave the island, and the first one back,” says Steve. “We had a generator, so we could get the lights and a computer going. Then, we could get information to Tim [at the Avon Beach Pharmacy] and transfer the prescriptions to him, and he could fill them and send them back, or if the road was out, we would find whoever would ferry us back and forth and get them back that way.”
“We just always made arrangements so that we could get [medicine] to people without interruption. It was a community effort – the U.S. Coast Guard and Dare County helped, and we always tried to do our best to open the day after a storm.”
Steve also credits the community for helping after every weather event, with local volunteers continually pitching in to clean, clear water, and make repairs so that the pharmacies, (particularly the Hatteras pharmacy), could conduct business as usual.
“It was a family affair, and I treated it as such instead of a business,” says Steve. “I feel like I’ve given it my all on Hatteras Island, and I hope I’m leaving them with a better situation [than when I started.]”.
In addition to local accolades, Steve was honored for his lifetime of efforts on a statewide level in 2019, receiving the Community Pharmacy Practice Award from Campbell University.
But now, Steve is ready for the next adventure.
Steve and his wife of more than 40 years, Anna, have three daughters, and he is looking forward to having more time with his family. But he will likely still be a fixture on the Outer Banks, (at least part of the time), where his first 1976 job in Nags Head gave him an opportunity to spend his days working, and spend his free time surfing.
“I’m 70-years-old and I need to retire and do something different,” says Steve. “I might even get back into surfing, who knows.”
Steve also has an inherent and deeper love of fishing and hunting, as well as stamp collecting. “If anyone has any United States stamps or Duck Stamps, give me a call,” he says.
Steve’s imminent retirement may come as a shock to some islanders who have been connected to Beach Pharmacy for a generation or two, but it’s not a hastily planned exit, or a changeover that will alter the above-and-beyond level of service.
Morghan Stallings, pharmacist at the Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras village for years, will still be running the Hatteras branch, and Tim Morgan, who has been instrumental for Beach Pharmacy on Hatteras Island since the beginning, will still be a regular presence at the pharmacies for the foreseeable future.
But the new owner of Beach Pharmacy, Matthew Thornbrough, has connections to Hatteras Island as well, and the transition is a surprisingly natural and logical one.
Like Steve, Matthew also has ties to Campbell University, which is where he attended pharmacy school after pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wingate University and East Carolina University.
And during these early years of training, Matthew served as an intern on Hatteras Island, working under the tutorship of Steve Evans for months at a time, from 2006 until 2009.
“I learned a ton from watching Steve,” says Matthew, “and we’ve stayed in touch for all the years I’ve been here.”
For the past 12 years, Matthew has been the pharmacist/pharmacy manager at the CVS Pharmacy in Kill Devil Hills, a position he earned after he moved to the Outer Banks in 2009. He met his wife in Rodanthe, (and his brother-in-law is the owner of Lisa’s Pizza), so he has had close bonds with the island, outside of Steve’s mentorship.
“My last [internship with Steve] was 2009,” he says. “I’ve been in the corporate world ever since, and have been trying to figure out how to get out of it.”
Matthew’s education and work history certainly makes him qualified enough to take over an island institution, but his familiarity with continuing services after a disaster is what stands out.
After Hurricane Irene hit northern Hatteras Island in 2011, ripping the highway to shreds and cutting the island off from the rest of the world for more than a month, Matthew, (working at CVS at the time), made regular trips via the emergency Stumpy Point-Rodanthe ferry to deliver prescriptions to island patients in need.
“I understand what it’s like to have to overcome obstacles in order to practice pharmacy [work],” says Matthew. “Sometimes, it’s not your standard situation, but that’s one of the things that I love about working here.”
In the summer of 2021, Matthew and Steve had a catch-up chat which essentially laid the groundwork for the transition to occur.
“We just had a conversation towards the end of last summer, that I would stop by and see him when I was in his neighborhood,” says Matthew. “I figured he would be retired by then, and I was surprised that he wasn’t.”
According to Matthew, Steve basically asked him if he wanted to buy the pharmacy, and the plans went from there.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I’m beyond excited to get started,” says Matthew. “This is really why we moved to the Outer Banks – to pursue this opportunity to serve a small community. It just took a little longer than I thought to get back down here, because we have had four children along the way.”
The transition is scheduled to occur around April 1, although regular Beach Pharmacy patrons likely won’t notice a change. It will be the same faces, same service, and if another storm occurs in the future, (which is basically a certainty), it will be the same dedicated response to deliver medications to people in need.
“We’re here to take care of the whole island community,” says Matthew. “That’s our goal – to be a true community pharmacy. They’ve already done that, and our goal is to continue that [level of service] – We want to make sure we take care of Ocracoke and Hatteras, no matter what happens.”
“There will be no changes in terms of service, and we’ll continue rolling as we always have, and look forward to the future,” he adds.
The transition has been in the works for months, so an official date of the changeover – whether it’s April 1 or later – will likely go unnoticed by Beach Pharmacy patrons.
Regardless, and at the very least, the changeover marks a window for islanders to express their gratitude to a man who initially brought pharmacies to Hatteras Island, and then did his absolute best to keep them open, no matter what obstacles the island’s strange weather patterns brought to his doorstep.
“I hope I made a difference here,” says Steve. “That was the game plan. Since the beginning, that was the game plan.”