The Tackle Box Tavern is a small rectangle of a building that borders the sand here in Atlantic Beach. And in the 11 years since Janice Bynum has owned the place, it has never been closed for a full day, so long as she could remember.
“Christmas, Thanksgiving, everything,” she said, with pride, thinking of how the tavern was open on those days, and every other day, even during other storms.
She thought about that Wednesday, while she and her fiance, Richard Porter, dragged bags of ice out of the outside freezer, and rearranged sand bags around doors that had been boarded shut.
Now, it’s closed indefinitely, with wooden boards nailed to its windows. Hurricane Florence is coming, and while it spun hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, the closing of the bar that never closes was representative of the concern in this part of the state, where people have come to believe that this storm might be something different than anything they’ve seen.
“I’ve lived here 34 years,” said Bynum, who said she has ridden out her fair share of hurricanes without too much fear. “This is the worst one I’ve ever heard coming in my life. I was 3 years old when Hazel came.”
That was in 1954, and Hazel has remained the most infamous, and furious, hurricane to strike North Carolina in at least the past 75 years. Florence’s impending arrival had Bynum recalling the stories she’d heard about Hazel – about how as a little girl she waited out that hurricane in a smokehouse on her family’s tobacco farm in Maysville, a small town not far from Atlantic Beach.
Hazel, Bynum said, made her grandfather fear that it was “going to tear our house down.”
Now, she said, there is similar concern about what Florence could do to this part of the state.
Residents here are used to storms coming and going. They are accustomed to the rhythms of hurricane season, to the warnings and watches that, sometimes, arrive and leave with little to remember them by.
The tavern is Atlantic Beach’s beach bar, but also its neighborhood dive bar – the place where locals come to see familiar faces, and where, until Wednesday, the doors only were locked late into the night, after closing time.
In the past, Bynum said, it wasn’t uncommon for people to come to the Tackle Box, cozy up to the bar and dare Mother Nature to show her might.
Only once before has Bynum been through this ritual, preparing the Tackle Box for a possible hurricane strike. It was 2014, and Hurricane Arthur was on the way. Bynum prepared for the worst.
“CNN news was here,” she said. “… Jim Cantore was here. And they interviewed us, gave me a hat, interviewed me on the beach. And came in the bar and came in and talked to everybody.”
The Tackle Box Tavern closed that afternoon. By the next morning, the storm was gone and the tavern was open, and people came to celebrate.
But with Hurricane Florence on her way – or at least a lot of the wind and rain she’ll produce – even Bynum sounds surprised the place won’t be open.
“We would be, but nobody else is open,” she said. “I mean, the grocery stores. Everything’s closed. And, you know, it looks bad to be encouraging people not leaving.”
Porter, her fiance, also is the Mayor pro-tem of Atlantic Beach. He said he has told news crews all day that people needed to leave the island.
That was part of why they boarded up the bar, too. Porter helped her secure the tavern, moving the sandbags to the back of the building.
With Florence on the way, Bynum said, she didn’t want “people drinking and partying, and (thinking), ‘I was going to leave and now I’m not.’”
“I’m not going to get blamed for that,” she said with a laugh. “You need to leave.”
Porter and Bynum left Atlantic Beach, too, but didn’t travel too far. They’re waiting things out in a hotel just across the Bogue Sound. It wasn’t too far away from the tavern where they met four years ago, two locals in later middle age who formed a connection.
They have hopes of reopening as soon as they can. The passage of the storm, the end of a threat unknown, might be cause enough to bring people together.
“We’ll sell beer out of coolers and use an old tin lunchbox for the cash box if we have to,” Porter said.
“Yeah,” Bynum said, listening. “We’ll have ice, and we’ll open up without electricity. If the building’s here, and in place, and the beer boxes aren’t underwater.”