Indian Beach residents laughed when Detroit native Allen Armstrong and his wife Nancy started selling seashells at the four-room house where he rented sailboats to people camping on Salter Path beaches in the early 1900s. 1970s.
This was before Highway 58 passed through the quiet community to transport more interior residents to the beach from Swansboro. The beach people used to throw the shells in piles where they were hidden away. When the Armstrongs started selling what they threw away, locals told him he was crazy.
Armstrong would find huge sand dollars that had been thrown away as trash. Cleaning the seashells and bringing out the colors that had been dulled by sea salt was “smelly work”, but it became a big money maker for the Armstrongs in the little shop they named “Sails & Shells”.
People heading to the beach loved the shells and gladly paid for them. So many people came that it reached a point where not all of them could fit into the store.
The small 14-by-20-foot store with an eight-foot porch in front had opened on June 1, 1971. By July of that year, the store had expanded another 20 feet. The Armstrongs continued to expand the store for the next six years.
The small boutique attracted a lot of attention once the Armstrongs perched a sailboat atop the building to attract more sailboat rental businesses. (Don’t look for it now, though. The hurricanes have taken their toll.)
Allen and Nancy were a big hit with families who came during the summer months when they inflated rafts and floats for the kids for free.
The shop remained open late on Saturday evenings, with the music of Guy Lombardo. Patrons danced in the aisles until 10 p.m. (it was late then.)
“We were very lucky,” said Armstrong, who retired and sold the store to another couple from whom it was purchased by its current manager Betty Davis and his partner Larry Link, vice president of Fidelity Bank. of Lexington, North Carolina.
“We hit the right place at the right time. There were no other gift shops here.
“After seven or eight years, the highway passed and we went back 40 feet. We left everything in the store and no items were broken.
The store was so successful that, while other stores began closing for the season in September, Sails and Shells remained open until New Year’s Day. The Armstrongs would attend gift shows and reopen the boutique in February.
When the Ramada Inn moved to the area, the Armstrongs helped with the interior design. Betty Davis pointed out that the restaurant’s décor today includes several unobtainable elements.
Betty and Larry have renamed the store “Old Island Store” and attempt to carry on the same tradition of friendly, helpful service that has made the Armstrongs popular with beach travelers and locals alike. Betty and her staff often meet the children of clients who had become attached to the Armstrongs.
Betty doesn’t rent sailboats, but she does inflate the rafts for free. She helps customers with their home decor needs and enjoys making unique lamps with unique faces. His interest in lamp making started a few years ago when a lady asked him to make a shell lamp like the one Armstrong used to carry around the store.
“The light shines beautifully through the shells,” Armstrong noted.
Always looking for something different and unusual, Betty discovers one day that there is an old figurine under the shop. He was almost rotten. Armstrong told her it was an early version of the “old salt figure”, much like the ones she sells in the store today.
Betty says it’s hard to find wood and the unusual, because all the commercials bring the same things to everyone.
The Old Island Store has things from New Bern and Kinston within its walls.
During one of many Sails and Shells expansions, Armstrong installed columns from an old building in New Bern that was being demolished at the same time.
Betty created displays made from old wood given to her by Henry Everette when he demolished an old farmhouse in Kinston.
The store has two beautiful coats, one over 100 years old from the house of Kinston and the other that Armstrong salvaged in New Bern. Both are used in a few of the store’s many displays.
Betty is always on the lookout for the unique and unusual, so give her a call at (919) 247-3414 if you have something she might like. And if you’re looking for a gift to give to the person who has everything, it might have nothing to do with the treats you’ll find at The Old Island Store. Come see her at 1600 Salter Path Road (NC HWY 58), Indian Beach, NC. And if the drive to the beach has become long and tedious, stop to enjoy some southern hospitality.
For the kids, there are hermit crabs, taffy and a mechanically-talking ‘Toby the Pirate’, all decorated as Blackbeard.
Mom and Dad will have 5,000 square feet of retail space filled with everything from seashells and corals to lawn and garden accessories, rugs, netting, souvenirs and beachwear.