Things in Kitty Hawk are just not the same this week as the new year brought to us the loss of a trusted friend and the closing the doors of our unofficial town hall. Wink’s grocery store in Kitty Hawk is closed. The familiar yellow happy face sign on the front of the store that had the right eye winking is down.
Wink’s has been much more than a convenience store on the beach road in Kitty Hawk since it first opened in 1957 by its founder “Wink” Davis. Wink’s was in a word -iconic. As you can clearly see in this picture from the Outer Banks History Center Wink’s (it is the square building on the corner of the beach road and Eckner street) was one of the first businesses in Kitty Hawk and was one of the first buildings between the beach road and “by pass.” In fact there was no “route 12” when Wink’s was first built. There was Rt. 158 Business (beach road), and Rt. 158 By-Pass. This is in the day when the by-pass actually wasn’t a misnomer…you were indeed by-passing the more congested oceanfront road.
As a child growing up one mile south of Wink’s the author of Everything Outer Banks, Tim Cafferty can remember walking to Wink’s in the 1970’s with a dollar or two in his pocket to pick up a quart of milk and a loaf of bread for mom, and maybe have money left over for a special treat like a bottle (no cans) of coca cola. Wink’s was also an integral part of Tim’s learning his right hand from his left hand. The family neighbor, Mr. Carr, taught Tim one day which was his left hand. He said “Tim, face the ocean…. Your hand closest to Wink’s is your left hand.” That lesson from Mr. Carr has never been forgotten, or from Wink’s. Wink’s taught us all that it is always there when needed. The entire Cafferty family knows Wink’s just like hundreds of other people in the area do – as an irreplaceable part of the community where we live, work and vacation, and a place that was always there for us when needed.
It is the place where we go to get the Sunday paper. The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Virginian Pilot, Washington Post, Raleigh News and Observer, New York Times Newspapers were all here every day waiting to bring the world to the Outer Banks. It is the spot to pick up a hand made sandwich for lunch (the greatest egg salad sandwich on the planet resided there). Wink’s is the place to go to shoot the breeze with Mr. Miles Davis (Mr. Wink’s Son and current owner) about the state of affairs with N.C. State University athletics or the current sports standings in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It is the place to see anyone who is anyone in the front “lobby” of the store as typically there is a group of morning coffee gentlemen (Wink’s always had good, hot, and fresh coffee brewing) some with cigarettes in hand there ready to exchange opinions and stories of what the news of the day is. Wink’s is also the place that is just across the street from the beach, so a bag of ice or cold beverage is just steps away from one the of the best surf spots on the northern Outer Banks. Some area children also know Wink’s as the place where if they are especially good maybe they will be able to get an ice cream treat out of the freezer box by the front door.
Mr. Davis was there as well behind the counter in the 70’s and he was there most of the time lately too with a smile, and a good word, and never in a rush – it was just what he did. He was Kitty Hawk’s mayor – whether he was elected to that position or not.
In the 1960’s and early 70’s Winks was one of the ONLY stores that was open in Kitty Hawk from Labor Day to Memorial Day. It was a place where an 18 year old with only $10 in his pocket could open up a line of credit (that amounted to writing down whatever you wanted to buy in a spiral notebook behind the register), on nothing more than trust and that know that Mr. Davis would allow him to pay it off without interest, as soon as he could. Winks was a news outlet where folks would come first whenever they caught a fish worthy of a picture, and then have that same picture grace the east wall by the check out counter for all to see and envy. Kitty Hawk beach resident Dick Thompson’s picture has been up on that wall so many times with various fish that some would joke that all he did was sell real estate and catch fish worthy of Wink’s wall.
Wink’s was also always a place where Mr. Davis would respond to the needs of his customers by taking care of any special requests with delight. Whether it meant ordering a case of special Sauers Barbecue sauce for a vacationer each summer so the vacationer could take it home to enjoy the rest of the year, or providing the only place in Kitty Hawk where one could purchase kerosene in the winter time Wink’s was always the answer to any question for residents and visitors in Kitty Hawk.
Before the days of highly competitive chain grocery stores Wink’s was also the place where one could get the best cut of meats anywhere on the OBX. Speaking of OBX, it was also the first place anyone saw the wildly popular oval OBX logoed merchandise sold that is now sold in hundreds of stores and now adorns the bumper of thousands of cars all over the country.
It is said that the store’s closing has nothing to do with progress or a big offer from some conglomerate that wants to take over the location. Mr. Davis is just tired, and needs some time to enjoy the fruits of his family’s labor of a lifetime. Mr. Davis has every right to be tired. 52 years of keeping a community tied together is tough work, and he deserves time to himself and makes that run for the Senior PGA tour that he’s thought about for so long (just kidding). He closed Wink’s without any fanfare. He just locked the door and left.
Forgive us all however if we feel like we’ve lost a member of the family without a chance to attend the funeral. Wink’s is part of the fabric of our lives, and just a little more than a week after its closing many of us are just now starting to realize how much the place meant to us. Like the loss of a family member whom we didn’t quite appreciate enough when they were with us, we are all struggling now to figure out how to replace the void.
Where do we get our Sunday paper or take our kids to get a treat when they’ve been on their best behavior? Who do we talk to now about ACC basketball?! What do we do with pictures of our next big fish? And how can one find an egg salad sandwich that compares to Wink’s? The answers to some of those questions will come with time, but whatever the answer is it won’t be the right one. The right answer is “Wink’s.”
While Mr. Davis is taking some time away this winter to relax out west and work on his golf game it is everyone’s collective hope that he will return with the keys to the honorary town hall of Kitty Hawk, and welcome us all back into his living room so we can go about our normal lives with Wink’s holding that special place for all of us.