Outer Banks Power Outage Inspires Customer Support for Buxton Village Books

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    Buxton Village Books in Buxton, North Carolina, was among the many Outer Banks businesses that suffered financial losses due to a power outage last week, but owner Gee Gee Rosell said her spirits were buoyed by the outpouring of support from regular customers.

    Packages from Buxton Village Books
    Buxton Village Books sent out 10 packages a day to customers who called in after their vacations were cancelled due to the blackout.

    The week-long outage hit at 4:27 a.m. on Thursday, July 27, when a construction company accidentally cut a transmission line, disconnecting power to Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands, two popular vacation spots in the Outer Banks, a collection of barrier islands off the state’s coast. Visitors were evacuated from the island on Saturday, July 29, and were not allowed to return until noon on Friday, August 4.

    However, the bookstore, located on Hatteras Island, stayed open throughout the week, powered by a generator, said Rosell. Buxton Village Books remains open year-round, although customer traffic is mostly seasonal; Rosell said she doesn’t close the store unless the situation is truly dangerous, like in the case of a hurricane.

    “This was traditionally the island’s busiest week of the whole summer,” said Rosell, when stores are usually able to replenish their working capital for the year and begin to put money away for the coming winter months. “We’re pretty much a family vacation resort/beach, so our summer months are the heaviest traffic.”

    Buxton Village Books chalkboard sign
    After the power returned, Buxton Village Books' chalkboard sign bore a love note to the local electric cooperative.

    Rosell said she is able to spread her basic operating costs, for overhead and insurance, over the entire year, but many other local businesses have larger staffs and can’t afford to stay open the whole year.

    “I’ve been in business for 33 years now, and folks traditionally take their vacation the same week every year, so those who could not get here reached out to us to say they wanted to support us,” said Rosell. “We’re truly a community of independently owned businesses, and I heard from many other business owners who said their regular visitors whose vacations were disrupted or canceled also contacted them.”

    During the week the power was out, each day the store received calls from and sent out packages to about 10 regular customers ordering the books they would have bought had they been on Hatteras Island. Other regular customers whose vacations were scheduled for later in the summer also called to order books just to show support. Rosell said these orders made up a fiftieth of what her income from that week would have been, but the impact of those calls is about more than money.

    “This past week was an exercise in discerning what matters,” said Rosell. “When I look at the big picture, that support is even more meaningful than the cold hard cash. Every year I do some restoration work on the building, so I’ll probably change that plan for this year and do something that is not quite as expensive, even if we have a busy fall. But having so many people call — it felt wonderful, even more than on Christmas or on American Express’ Small Business Saturday.”

    She added, “I really get the feeling that our visitors know the difference between an indie owner and a chain, and they take ownership of the success or failure of that business; they know that where they choose to spend their money matters, and this week it surely did matter.”

    Visitors returned to the island on Friday, August 4, after Cape Hatteras Electrical Cooperative (CHES), the island’s own electric company, got the transmission line repaired. Highly trained technicians from out-of-state electric cooperatives had also come to help repair the line, as CHES brought in generators to get the island up and running as soon as possible. Rosell said she is extremely grateful to CHES as its staff worked hard to fix the situation, which many agree could have taken much longer to rectify.

    The day after the power went out was brutally hot and there was no air conditioning, said Rosell, but the store was full of people.

    “That last day before the evacuation was the best summer day we’ve had during the busiest summer we’ve ever had,” said Rosell. “But it was really hot. My building is from the 1860s, so it has good air flow, but there was such a crush of people; they would go out on the porch to cool off and come back in. It was an interesting experience.”

    Rosell plans to adjust her annual budget to accommodate last week’s financial losses, but, she said, the overall outpouring of customer support made the experience a meaningful one that showed the growing strength of the shop local message.

    “I want my community to be made up of shops owned by people who care about the community they live in,” said Rosell. “Four-lane highways and strip malls are, in my mind, a dystopian model of the future.”