Hampton Roads' Love For The OBX: From Leisure to Business

With its pristine beaches, breathtaking beauty and weather moderated by ocean currents, the Outer Banks has lured visitors since the earliest times. Even before the first Europeans set foot on Roanoke Island, there is evidence that neighboring tribes visited the Croatan tribe of Native Americans that lived in the area. It’s hard to say when the first American citizen paid a vacation visit to the Outer Banks, but the beginning of land speculation can be placed in 1830, when Perquimans County plantation owner Francis Nixon bought 200 acres of sound-front property for $100. Nixon built a house and sold the adjacent land to his friends so he and his family would have neighbors when they visited the Outer Banks.

By 1840 there was a small but thriving tourist community in Nags Head, complete with a hotel on the sound–with a boardwalk to the beach–and a dock to service the regular packet steamer that came from Elizabeth City.

There were fits and starts along the way, but the Outer Banks was firmly established as a summer getaway for families, and as the 1960s dawned, roads were improved, bridges built and reaching the beach towns of coastal North Carolina became nothing more than a day’s drive from almost anywhere on the eastern seaboard. The improvement to the roads and the potential of the Outer Banks was not lost on Hampton Roads businessmen. Forbes Candies was a well established by the 1960s, when first owner and founder, Charlie Forbes, began looking to expand the family business beyond Virginia Beach. At the time, Nags Head was still the center of the tourist industry on the Outer Banks and the biggest draw in Nags Head was the Nags Head Casino just across from Jockeys Ridge (where Kitty Hawk Kites is today). In 1963, Forbes candy opened next door to the Casino.

The first manager of the Outer Banks operation was Charlie Forbes’ son Leigh. According to Leigh’s grandson, Kyle, his grandfather was already familiar with the Outer Banks. “He had spent time surfing and hunting Penny’s Hill as a teenager and young man,” he says.

The move also provided Leigh a chance to start over. “It gave him a place to live (it had the apartment above the store) away from Virginia Beach and the memories of a divorce,” Kyle writes. “It gave him a fresh start in a fun, growing, virtually untapped tourist market. A perfect match.” Knowing the Outer Banks market was family oriented, the Nags Head Forbes Candies store was a little different. “He (Charlie Forbes) . . . put in a miniature golf course,” Jody Crosswhite, the current owner of Forbes Candies, recalls. Other stores quickly followed– one in Kill Devil Hills, another in Nags Head. The original store is no longer there, although there are now two stores in Nags Head.

At one time Forbes Candy had stores throughout the United States, although they have pulled back their retail operation to four stores on the Outer Banks and three stores in Virginia Beach and an outlet store, and the company seems to be thriving. “We’re doing well,” Crosswhite says. “So far we’re doing very well.” Crosswhite has worked for Forbes Candies his entire adult life, starting in the warehouse in Virginia Beach over 30 years ago. He came to the Outer Banks to manage one of the new stores, and never left. “I came down to the Outer Banks 25 years ago this January (1986) to run the Nags Head store,” he says. Two years ago he purchased the company, realizing that Forbes Candies carries with it a tremendous responsibility. “There’s a real Forbes family legacy in this company,” he says.

It is that family legacy- -that sense that everyone is welcome–that Crosswhite believes is the key to the success of Forbes Candies. “The importance of that part of our legacy–the family. It’s more so now,” he says. “It’s keeping that family atmosphere.” It was the family atmosphere that drew Terry Gionet, owner of Beach Braids and Temporary Tattoos, to the Outer Banks when he opened his business

in 2005. Already a successful business man and entrepreneur with successful catering businesses in New Hampshire and Hampton Roads, Gionet had first visited the Outer Banks in 1982 when he was stationed in Norfolk with the navy. He went back to his native New Hampshire after the navy, but returned to the area in 1996. “I grew tired of cold winters in New Hampshire, so I came back to Virginia Beach,” Gionet says.

His brother had a hair wrap business in Florida, and he asked Gionet about expanding his operation. “He was asking about the Virginia Beach market, and I told him the Outer Banks was really more your demographic. Terry’s wife, Donna, had worked with her brother-inlaw, knew how to wrap hair and how to teach others and Gionet knew what the target market was. “Being in business a number of years,” he says. “I recognized a market for it (hair wraps). It’s (the Outer Banks) predominantly a family type location. It was pretty much a no brainer.”

The first Beach Braids and Temporary Tattoos opened in Nags Head in 2005 and stores in Duck and Corolla followed. “I knew it was going to be successful,” Gionet says. “The key is customer service. Parents bring in their kids from all ages and they love how we treat them. It’s how you get lots of referrals.” The Outer Banks is a unique market, though, and Gionet had done his homework and knew what to expect. He points out that the seasonality of the market is very different from Virginia Beach. “You make enough money in three months. to last the entire year,” he notes. Although he has been successful on the Outer Banks and knows the market well, he is planning on expanding beyond North Carolina. “I have every intention of putting this kind of store in Virginia Beach either this year or next,” he says.

These are just two examples of the success stories linking Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks. As the roads have improved and traffic grown the stories have become more and more a part of everyday life. From restaurants, to real estate, to surf shops, the list is long and growing.

Outer Banks' Recommended Merchants

The Blue Point
Over 20 years of dining excellence on the Outer Banks, The Blue Point offers unequaled southern hospitality and dynamic southern cuisine overlooking the beautiful Currituck Sound. 1240 Duck Rd., Duck N.C. 27949. 252-261-8090 www.goodfoodgoodwine.com

Brindley Beach Vacations & Sales
Brindley Beach Vacations offers over 500 vacation homes, 2-10 bedroom, Oceanfront to Soundfront, elevators, pools, hot tubs, pet friendly! Linens and towels provided. 877-642-3224 www.brindleybeach.com

Hilton Garden Inn
Centrally located in Kitty Hawk, between the North and South Beaches, The Hilton Garden Inn’s gorgeous design and outstanding amenities are only surpassed by endless oceanfront views! 252-261-1290 www.hiltongardeninnouterbanks.com

Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates
Providing quality vacation rental accommodations to Outer Banks visitors since 1968. Over 500 affordable vacation homes, condominiums & townhomes, Nags Head to Duck. Real Estate Listings & Sales. 4607 N. Croatan Hwy. Mile Post 2.7, Kitty Hawk, NC 800-552-6257 www.joelambjr.com

The Lost Colony
An Outer Banks tradition since 1937, The Lost Colony tells the story of the first English settlers in the New World. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paul Green and performed summer nights at the open-air Waterside Theatre. For more information call 252.473.3414 or buy tickets online at www.thelostcolony.org

Outer Banks Beach Club
Come explore the sand and surf at the Outer Banks Beach Club, with one-, two- and three-bedroom condos with private balconies. To book, visit www.outerbanksbeachclubresort.com or call (252) 441-6321

Outer Banks Taste of the Beach March 17-20
Presented by the Outer Banks Restaurant Association. 4 Days of Food, Drink & Fun on the Outer Banks of North Carolina! A weekend you won’t want to miss! www.obxtasteofthebeach.com

Quality Inn Carolina Oceanfront
Centrally located on the Outer Banks of NC. Breath taking views, fresh coffee, a wonderful deluxe continental breakfast and all the amenities of home….you just might move in. 401 N. Virginia Dare Trail Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948 800-854-5286 www.qualityinncarolinaoceanfront.com

Ramada Plaza Hotel
Located in Kill Devil Hills, the Ramada Plaza Resort offers a beautiful oceanfront, full-service catering/bar, an oceanview ballroom and restaurant, an indoor/outdoor pool with Jacuzzi and much more. 252-441-2151, 800-635-1824 www.ramadaplazanagshead.com

Sun Realty
Representing the best of the Outer Banks. Sun Realty offers the best selection of fine vacation homes on the Outer Banks. Pet friendly, luxury, short stays & more! Exclusive online specials available. 888-853-7757 www.SunRealtyNC.com

Categories: Weekends