By Kendall McGee | April 30, 2020 at 7:03 PM EDT – Updated April 30 at 7:20 PM
OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) – Ocean Isle Beach became the first area beach town to drop many of their restrictions and open the beach strand to everyone Thursday.
The mayor announced the changes to the emergency order earlier in the week. The amended order allows people to use the beach for activities other than exercise, utilize public parking and lifts the ban on short term rentals, allowing visitors to rent houses and stay in hotels.
Groups are limited and social distancing rules are still in effect, town leaders say.
The stormy weather made for a slow start Thursday morning, but as the clouds parted, people began to venture out to surf, walk or just enjoy the serenity of the sand.
The lifting of the restrictions was especially important to the town because Ocean Isle Beach only has a small number of full time residents. The island heavily relies on renters to keep its businesses thriving.
The owner of Sharky’s says restrictions from the virus forced them to shut the restaurant down for six weeks. Closing was incredibly hard for a business that’s operated year-round for 30 years.
“We have to survive. If we don’t, we’re talking about 100 people that don’t have a job. We have too much invested here to take it lightly,” said owner Ray Harris.
The restaurant began as a stand for takeout and sandwiches and ironically enough, they’re back to their roots again. While it’s been a challenging time, Harris and other business owners say they’re thrilled to begin moving towards some semblance of normalcy again.
“People are chomping at the bit to get back and they’re gonna be here rain or shine, we hope,” said Harris. “I think a lot of people are watching us and if we do it property and effectively, hopefully it will spread through the rest of the state and get back to everyone enjoying a normal lifestyle.”
People who live in the area say they wouldn’t be surprised to see the crowds return this weekend.
“As long as everyone follows the rules, i’m glad to see it happening. What bothers me is it only takes a few that can cause lots of problems if they don’t follow the rules,” said Ocean Isle Beach resident Dean Shoe.
Shoe says he heads to the Ocean Isle Beach Pier several times a week for the fishing and the sightseeing.
“There’s no better place than the Ocean Isle Beach Pier,” said Shoe. “Everyone seems to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing, as far as spacing themselves. That makes me happy. I feel a lot safer out here being on the pier with the breeze, it makes you feel pretty safe.”
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