It all began with his wife’s 40th birthday in March, and her bucket-list wish to see all of North Carolina’s lighthouses.
But like so many others who stop there, Drew Batts couldn’t stop thinking about Ocracoke, and a “For Sale” sign he spotted outside the island’s only gas station.
“We fell in love with Ocracoke, I’ve never seen a beach like it,” Batts said. He kept joking about that “For Sale” sign, and his pipe dream to own the old Ocracoke Station and Campground, also known as the “Beachcomber.”
“I finally said ‘I’m gonna message the broker and get it out of my system,’” he said.
On Friday, he and business partner Clayton Jernigan got the keys.
Batts and Jernigan, who run a successful car-lot photography business and live in the little North Carolina town of Stantonsburg, plan to start taking reservations Sept. 1 for the campground, now called Jerniman’s. The name is a hybrid of Clayton’s last name and a Batts’ joke about naming a restaurant the Man Card Bar and Grill.
The property had been for sale for more than a year. The campground, restaurant and store closed down for good in May 2018.
Former owners Sean and Laurie Death said they struggled to save the business amid financial and insurance woes in the aftermath of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which flooded the property under several feet of water.
In January 2018, Ocracoke made national news when the gas pumps were shut off by the provider for nonpayment for more than a week, leaving local officials scrambling to get the pumps running again.
Then in May 2018, the Deaths closed the campground for good, returning the property to its previous owner. The gas station continues to operate without any employees; customers must pay by debit or credit at the pumps.
Batts said the gas station part of the business will stay with the former owner for two and a half years, then he and his partner take over.
“Gas will always be on that property,” he said.
And it won’t be long until the campers are back either.
Batts said he and Jernigan plan to take reservations beginning Sept. 1 and open the campground by February. There are currently 30 camp sites, 25 are for RVs and four for tent camping.
Batts said he and his partner are aware of the former owners’ struggles and the damage Hurricane Matthew left behind. They’ve had the property inspected and the foundation and studs are in good shape. They’re making plans for mitigating damage when another storm inevitably comes, and they’re in it for the long haul.
“What me and Clayton have going for us, we’re not spring chickens, but we want to run it for 30 years,” said Batts, promising customers an experience as special as Ocracoke itself.
“I’d never been to Ocracoke,” he said. “I always heard about it, and you have these preconceived notions, but it wasn’t what I thought. It was more.”