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Bring Your Own Paper Goods: Beach Towns

A meat case in a Morehead City grocery store is nearly depleted in this March 21 photo. Since then, many stores on the North Carolina coast have put limits on meat and other grocery items. Photo: Jennifer Allen

As beach towns up and down the North Carolina coast begin reopening vacation rentals, incoming tourists ready to trade out weeks of stay-in orders for open, salty breezes and sand-between-the-toes walks are getting an unusual message: BYOG.

Bring your own groceries. Bring your own (paper) goods. The meaning slightly differs depending on who you ask, but the point is all the same.

As they are seemingly everywhere now in this pandemic, shelves in grocery stores on the coast are still sparse on goods like toilet paper, paper towels and disinfectant wipes.

And, with reports of meat shortages continuing to make headlines, some stores have responded by limiting per-shopper sales.

The result has locals store-hopping on the hunt for what they need and worried how the demand on grocers at beaches, where the number of shoppers easily quadruples in the summer, will affect the ongoing scarcity of some supplies.

“It’s been daily on social media,” Sunset Beach Mayor Shannon Phillips said of locals expressing their woes about tourists adding to the strain. “They’re worried right now that there’s not enough to go around at the moment. It’s just a bad situation. A lot of people are upset about a lot of things, but at the end of the day no one saw this coming.”

Shannon Phillips

The board during its May 4 meeting voted to lift short-term and long-term rental restrictions effective May 22. The following day, the town posted a short message on its website.

“As restrictions are lifted and you begin to make your way here for vacations, we are encouraging everyone to bring necessary supplies, food and beverages with you as our stores have not rebounded from the pandemic.”

“We just ask that if you get here you may not be able to find the items you’re looking for,” Phillips said.

Food Lion is the only grocery store in the Brunswick County town. A Dollar General and Walgreens offer a smaller selection of goods.

They’re all on the mainland side of town, a short drive from the causeway that leads to the barrier island.

“We just don’t have a big variety and that is where a majority of our citizens shop at,” Phillips said. “We encourage people not to hoard. The main thing I look for in my town is we’ve got to look out for each other. I want our beach known as a friendly beach and I would like to see neighbors reach out to each other and share during this time.”

An automated message informs callers to Food Lion in The Village at Sunset Beach shopping center that truck delivery and restocking updates are unavailable.

Jeff Melchione, the store’s manager, said he understands why the town is asking renters to bring their own goods.

“From a product level standpoint, I don’t know where we’re going to stand,” he said about the approaching vacation season. “I really don’t know. It’s super busy in the summertime here, probably four to five times what our normal winter and springtime is. We’re decent in some spots. Our warehouse could get better by summer.”

The store has been restricting shoppers to buying two of each kind of meat.

Surf City IGA store manager Don Clements said everything is pretty well stocked in the store, which is in the heart of that beach town’s business district on Topsail Island.

“It’s just keeping it as full as you can,” he said. “I order maybe 700 or 800 pieces of groceries and I’ll be lucky to get half of that. I would suggest (renters) bring paper products and I would suggest that they bring disinfectant wipes. Other than that, we’ve been pretty good.”

Rental restrictions on the island were recently lifted in all three towns, including Topsail Beach and North Topsail Beach.

Surf City officials instituted a mandate with the easing of restrictions that requires shoppers to wear face masks in all businesses.

Clements chuckled as he talked about the new requirement. The IGA’s customers get an old-time feel of beach life if they so choose – shoes and shirts are not required to shop there. Now, face coverings are.

“I would say to renters just be mindful of the fact that the people that live on the island here like myself, we’ve had it pretty nice these past couple of months as far as being safe from COVID-19,” Clements said. “We’ve been very fortunate. Now we’ve got 500 people coming through our doors from all over.”

Owners of rental properties are taking precautions seriously, said Bob Bourassa, a Sneads Ferry resident who owns the website carolinavacationhomerentals.com, which offers rental listings in North and South Carolina.

Judging by the number of inquiries hitting his site recently in a single day, Bourassa said people are ready to get out of their homes, their towns, their Groundhog Day lives.

“The website has just been boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said. “We’ve lost our spring rentals, but it’s probably going to be a banner summer. As far as what we’re advising, yes, tell your guests to bring their own toilet paper and bring groceries if you can. People, when they come here on vacation, they do a lot of cooking. There’s certain items you’re not going to be able to find. It’s going to be a challenge to all of us, but it’s nothing that if we use a little common sense we can’t get through.”

About the Author

Trista Talton

Trista Talton is a native North Carolinian who, shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University in 1996, took her first newspaper job as a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She has since migrated to the coast, covering everything from education and local governments to law enforcement, the environment and the military, including an embed with Marines in Kuwait for the start of the Iraq war in 2003. She has been a Coastal Review Online contributing writer since 2011 focusing on coastal-related issues from Onslow to Brunswick counties. She lives with her husband and two sons in Jacksonville.