Four generations run Robinson’s Hardware and the Gray Gull Motel in Holden Beach.
A smiling Joyce Robinson stands by the counter at Robinson’s Hardware surrounded by family. Her daughter-in-law, Linda, rings up a sale, while her son, Herbie, carries a flat-screen television from the Gray Gull Motel into the back office for repair. Her granddaughter, Amy Causey, chats with a customer while her 5-year old great-daughter Reagan plays with some sticky notes. Amy’s husband, Wes, is in the plumbing area assisting two customers. It is just another day at the shop as four generations of Robinsons and two spouses are on hand at the 50-year-old original family enterprise.
Herbie Robinson was just 15 when his dad, Carvin Robinson, backed the pick-up truck into an empty lot on the Holden Beach Causeway back in 1967. “I had no idea what he was planning,” Herbie says.
Carvin had decided to build a store, a small goods beach shop. In 1972 he expanded to offer hardware. “Momma ran the beach goods part,” Herbie says.
Business was steady when Herbie and his sister, Sarah, each went away to college. When they returned home, Sarah became a teacher in Brunswick County Schools and Herbie joined ATMC. That is where he met Linda.
In 1975 Carvin designed and built the Gray Gull Motel behind the hardware store. It started as just 10 rooms in a building across the back of the near-acre lot. Carvin needed someone to help manage it, so he bought a small bungalow next door and offered it to Herbie and Linda.
“He offered us a place to live in exchange for us running the motel,” Herbie says, and they’ve been in the business ever since.
‘We practically raised our children here,” Linda says. The couple moved to a house a mere 2 miles away when they started their family, so their children, Amy and Andrew, were close enough to play in the store as toddlers and work there as they got older.
“I remember when I got my first schedule,” Amy says. “I was only 9!”
Keeping family on the payroll, Amy, Andrew, and Sarah’s son, Caleb, worked there throughout their school years. “Some days we thought we ran the place,” Amy says.
Now with her own children, Reagan and Rowan, romping around the store, Amy looks back on those days fondly. “The customers were always considered family.”
In 1985 the family expanded the motel to include another building with seven rooms and an in-ground pool. For more than 40 years now the Gray Gull Motel has had a steady flow of seasonal visitors. “Our guests come back year after year,” Herbie says.
Some original guests are now bringing grandchildren with them. “Once there was a local family reunion and there were at least 70 people around the picnic area and pool,” Amy recalls. “They were having a blast.”
Herbie and Linda have worked six days a week to keep the business going through two recessions and other lean years. The couple knows what their customers need, and the store is always stocked. “LED lights and shark-bites are the new hot sellers,” Herbie says.
Robinson’s is an independent ACE representative and offers fishing and hunting licenses, tackle, nets, boots and hip waders. There are shelves of plumbing and electric supplies, tools, fasteners, cast-iron cookware, grills, coolers, oils, gardening items, rope by the foot, cleaning supplies and some limited automotive parts. They even make keys and have a wide selection of tide clocks as well.
Each of the three full-time employees has his or her area of expertise. Linda is the face of the hardware store, Herbie is the plumber and Wes is the fisherman. “We all work together so well, each one has our own part,” Linda says.
One of the more popular items are boat trailer tires and repair parts. “Lighthouse Marine from Wilmington sends a rep to stock our shelves,” Wes says. “Not a lot of folks carry these parts around here.”
In the Gray Gull Motel, Linda’s sister, Kathy Smith, heads up housekeeping. The original 10 rooms had a facelift a few years ago. Each room has a bed, a full bath, a table and two chairs, a refrigerator and a TV. Laminate floors and beach-inspired décor provide a cozy feel.
“We bought all the furniture locally,” Herbie says. “Kimball’s in Shallotte carries the design we liked.”
At the Gray Gull, reservations are recommended. Check-in services are in the hardware store until 5 pm. Herbie is on call for after-hour check-ins until up to 10 pm.
This winter the Robinsons plan to close the entire motel for a month or two to complete repairs on the newer addition.
“We asked Amy and Andrew what their intentions were for the future of the businesses,” Linda says. Andrew and his wife, Rachel, now live in Clinton, North Carolina, with children Emma and Sawyer, but he comes down to do prepare the paperwork for tax season.
“When they said they wanted to keep it, we decided to go ahead with the renovations,” Linda says.
“We do want to retire someday,” Herbie adds.
“I am ready to spend more time with the grandbabies,” Linda says. “They grow up too fast.”
Over the past 50 years, times may have changed but the basics of the hardware store and motel have remained the same: Always treat the customers and guests like family. The entire Robinson family wouldn’t have it any other way.
Visit Robinson’s Hardware and The Gray Gull Motel:
Robinson’s Hardware is open from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. The Gray Gull Motel is open seven days a week. Both are located at 3263 Holden Beach Road, S.W. in Holden Beach; (910) 842-4142 or (910) 842-6775; graygullmotel.com