Business on Ocracoke is returning to about what people expect at this time of the year.
Many business owners report that they have seen more customers since Highway 12 reopened on Hatteras Island on Oct. 11, though not in the numbers they had before Hurricane Irene came through seven weeks ago.
“This was the best week since we had the hurricane,” noted Rufus Keel, owner of the Sunglass Shop, which relies heavily on day-tripper traffic. “This past weekend felt like there was life on the island. I had to wait at a stop sign for tourists to pass.”
Business owners definitely have noticed increased traffic in the village and beyond.
“I returned today from Norfolk and traffic on the highway slowed me down,” noted B.J. Oelschlegel, owner of the Slushy Stand, which sells ice cream and coffee. “And the Hatteras Ferry was full.”
Her ice cream shop, too, had steady business through the weekend, although she does not know if that was due to more day-trippers or from folks attending the three weddings that took place on the island over the weekend.
Business has definitely picked up at the Fudge Shop in Community Square, noted Keith Knox, though he couldn’t say by how much. SMacnally’s, a restaurant on the harbor, reported a little more day-tripper business, too.
Mickey Roberson, owner of Teach’s Hole Pirate Exhibit, noticed an upturn in business immediately upon the opening of Highway 12, though her daily numbers are not as high as in the high tourist season.
“Our daily numbers were up before the hurricane from a down year last year,” she noted, though she declined give specific numbers.
The end of August through September is when she and all the other businesses on the island make their sales to carry them through the winter, and that came to a screeching halt with the hurricane and its aftermath.
“We really needed those two months that we lost,” said Heather Johnson, who works in Books to be Red on Schoolhouse Road.
Betty and George Chamberlain, owners of Captain’s Landing, noted that with the difficulty some vacationers may have had getting ferry reservations in the last month, those people have gone elsewhere and that business was lost to the island.
But now, it’s just kind of typical, or maybe a little less, for later in October.
Nevertheless, after the last six weeks, business owners are glad to have whatever customers that make the trip here.
Some of the shops closest to the ferry noted that they did have customers while the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries were the only means on and off the island and Dare County routed folks going to Hatteras through Ocracoke.
“We had a captive audience,” said Mickey Baker, owner of Mermaid’s Folly, about the folks who hung out in the village waiting for the ferry. “We had to sell them on Ocracoke.”
“I’m amazed we’ve had any business at all,” noted Kathy Scarborough, owner of Over the Moon gift shop. “Obviously, it’s been slow, but some people I talked to made a real effort to get to here, rearranging their schedules, and that’s good.”
Sally Lunsford, an associate in the Down Creek Gallery, has talked to several day-trippers in recent days.
“People have come down from Waves, Hatteras, and Rodanthe,” she said. “They’ve extended their stays from up the beach to here on Ocracoke because they discovered Ocracoke after coming through here.”
Liz O’Mara was one such day-tripper visiting the gallery from Salvo.
“We love it here,” she said.
Cindy Gaskins, in the Harborside Inn shop, said business is a bit better this week but not as busy as it usually is for this time of the year. She has noticed that October in recent years has been busier than September, probably because of all the storms that arise in late August and September.
“It wasn’t just the storm. It’s the economy, too,” she said. “But we’re blessed.”
Businesses might also feel a boost from employees of Twiddy Realty in Corolla — 20 of them are on the island on all-expenses paid trip from their employer.
Ross Twiddy, marketing director, explained that each year, if the company reaches certain goals, full-time employees are rewarded with the chance to take a trip.
Some years it’s been Rome, Belize, or, in one year, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
This year, Ocracoke and Washington, D.C., were the choices for the 82 eligible employees of his company, he said.
The company pays for room and board and give them walking-around money.
“We wanted to support Ocracoke and let our employees relax and enjoy your beautiful beaches,” Twiddy said.
Tuesday, Oct. 18, was a warm and sunny day, and there was evidence that day-trippers were returning to Ocracoke.
In the early afternoon, four stacking lanes at the Hatteras village ferry docks were full with vehicles waiting to go to Ocracoke.