The Hotline Thrift Store has been a Buxton fixture for roughly two decades. Popular with both residents and visitors, the shop is a resource for locals who need essentials on a tight budget, vacationers who broke something at their rental home and who need a replacement, and anyone who wants a little shopping spree without breaking the bank.
However, the charity thrift store is much more than a cheap and convenient one-stop shopping destination. On a much larger scale, it serves as the frontlines for the non-profit Outer Banks Hotline organization to connect with the southern Hatteras Island community, and it’s the place that people often turn to first when they are in dire need of help.
Outer Banks Hotline provides immediate short-term help to individuals and families in crisis, and also works with these people in need to find long-term solutions. Focusing on sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking situations, the Buxton store helps collect funds for the organization through store purchases and donations, but it also works with Dare County Social Services and other resources to help the residents of southern Hatteras Island when they need help the most.
“That store is our gateway for helping with domestic violence and sexual abuse situations on the southern Outer Banks,” said Bronwyn Thornton, Executive Director of Outer Banks Hotline. “People come in there all the time asking, ‘Where can I go?’ It’s a store, but it’s our window to reach out to that community as well.”
Now, after years and years of helping islanders, the Buxton Hotline is in danger of closing its doors for good, as the store needs to move to a new location by the end of January.
“It’s devastating for us,” said Thornton. “The gentleman we have been leasing it from wants it back for personal use… We kind of knew it might be coming, but at the beginning of January, we received the 30-day move-out notice.”
The Buxton Hotline has been in the same spot for around 20 years. The first-ever Outer Banks Hotline store opened in 1987 in Rodanthe, (a store that remains operational to this day), and a second store followed in Hatteras Village a decade or so later.
As Buxton store manager Donna Covey recalls, the Hatteras Village Hotline flooded after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and the thrift shop relocated to the now-NAPA Auto Parts store in Buxton before making a permanent move to its current home, across from Buxton Back Road.
“Anybody that needs help knows where to find us,” said Covey, who has been the store manager for 20 years. “I’ve watched so many kids grow up – They first came in here as little kids or babies, and now they’re driving to the store.”
And while Hotline’s main area of focus is domestic violence and sexual abuse situations, the Buxton store has helped with many other crises over the decades.
The store opened immediately after a devastating 2020 fire at a housing complex in Buxton displaced a number of local families, and it also opened its doors during other local emergencies as well.
“We’re always up and running after hurricanes, and coordinating with [the northern Outer Banks Hotline stores] to get supplies in,” said Covey. “Really, we’re here for anyone who needs help. People can always come to us.”
“Everybody down there knows Donna and the store,” said Thornton. “If anyone wants to talk about a situation, they will talk to Donna. She is our face and our presence down there, and has been there since the day the [Buxton store] opened.”
As of mid-January, the future for Buxton’s familiar and invaluable Hotline Thrift Store looks bleak.
The organization needs to find a new commercial space immediately that has at least 1,200 square feet of space. Ideally, the new site would also have a side room and/or back room where donations could be stored, and a satellite office could be set up to quietly help people who need assistance.
“We were paying a monthly rent, so having the [funds] to rent at a new location isn’t an issue – it’s just finding the space,” said Thornton.
Finding available places to rent is a struggle any time of year, (for residents and businesses alike), and with just a couple of weeks before the end-of-January move-out date, the options are very scarce.
In the days ahead, the Buxton Hotline is hosting a range of sales to help clear out the merchandise in case they need to move, or close their doors permanently. A $5 bag sale is happening until January 20, and more sales are likely before the month’s end.
And if a location becomes available, the Hotline store will be ready. The organization has moving trucks, volunteers to help set up the new shop, a dedicated staff that is willing to relocate, and funds for the new lease.
The only thing missing, however, is the location itself, and there are no viable options on the horizon.
“In an ideal world, we would love a 1,500 to 1,800-square-foot space in Buxton, but we are very flexible right now,” said Thornton.
Hopes are high that someone in the community can step up and help find Hotline Buxton a new home. But nothing is assured, the clock is ticking, and southern Hatteras Island is in danger of losing one of its essential assets for islanders in need.
“If there’s any area that really needs access to clothing and home goods and the things that we provide, it’s the southern beaches. We wouldn’t have kept it down there if it wasn’t a vital need” said Thornton. “We have the manpower to keep going, we just don’t have the space… and right now, we are grasping at straws.”
How you can help:
If you have any information on a possible alternative location on Hatteras Island, please contact 252-473-5121 and ask for Katherine or Bronwyn, or email email@example.com.
The new site should have at least 1,200 square feet of retail space, preferably with an additional back room. It must be zoned commercial and does not need to be in Buxton, (although Buxton is preferred.)