Located on NC-Highway 12 in Hatteras, and operated by local families since its start, Lee Robinson General Store has been a Hatteras Village tradition since 1948! The general store has a wide range of products on offer, with an emphasis on local brands, and a true dedication to Hatteras Island.
Excerpt from The Island Breeze article for the 60th anniversary (July, 2008):
“Sixty years after opening his general store on the south end of Hatteras village, Lee Robinson and his rocking chair are still welcoming visitors to stop in front of his large sign overlooking N.C. 12.
This summer marks two milestones for the store: 60 years of operation and 20 years in the building as it stands today, the bright yellow and white two-story storefront that looks – and feels – like an inviting country home.
This was Lee’s vision when he retired from fishing and built the store in 1948, explained Virgil Willis, who has owned and operated it with his wife, Belinda, for the past 35 years.
“He just wanted somewhere to be social,” he said. “Afternoons, people would gather ‘round and talk. They didn’t have television.”
Lee Robinson was born in 1890 and found great success as a commercial fisherman. Virgil Willis remembers that Lee, who never married, had the first closed-in car on the island, as well as the first store with a cement-paved driveway and air conditioning.
“I don’t think anyone who knew him would have had a bad thing to say,” said Willis. “He was very kind to our family.”
This legacy explains why the store keeps the name, and the sign out front keeps the image of a friendly man in his rocker.
“It was never even a consideration to change the name of the store,” Willis said.
Willis has seen his customers change from fishermen in the 1960s and ‘70s to tourists in the ‘80s and ‘90s. On July 4, 1988, the existing building, designed by Ray Smith and built by Tex Balance, opened. The general store has plenty of repeat customers.
“Some are the children and grandchildren of our customers,” Willis said.
Willis, the youngest of 10 siblings whose mother worked for Lee, was running around the store even before he was taller than the countertops. They put him to work the summer after the third grade and after graduating from high school in 1973, he took over the store. In fact, the Willis’ have been operating the business longer than Robinson did himself.
Belinda Willis was born in Bogota, Colombia, and her artist father relocated the family to McLean, VA, when she was 10. She visited the Outer Banks as an 18-year-old and never left. Belinda chooses the inventory, Virgil works on maintenance, and both are backed up by what they called “great employees, each and every one.” Virgil is a master carpenter who did all the second-floor finish work as well as the big circular counter that is the focal point of the downstairs market.
Over the years, they’ve built up a well-rounded inventory with “anything people would need on vacation,” including a North Carolina wine and beer selection, Virginia fudge, local jellies and breads, a reading corner filled local-interest books, kids’ toys, and beach supplies. In the early ‘90s, the second floor was added to expand the gift section."
Today, the tradition continues, with Virgil and Belinda still running the store and providing Hatteras village and its many visitors with "something for everyone." The collection of books and gifts, locally-made products, and beer and wine selection has grown even more over the years and continues to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the island. They have also added Sticky Bottom Produce, located directly across the street, which has been a great addition for anyone looking for fresh produce in the village. Stop by while visiting the island and make Lee Robinson's one of your family's traditions!