When Gary Pope opened his store in 2011, he named it Islands Art & Books because it’s halfway between Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach and he wanted to be welcoming to both communities.
Gary Pope was born in Manhattan and grew up in southern Connecticut. After graduating from Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, in 1973, he joined a band in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He played electric guitar in the band for two years in gigs all over the Southeast. In 1977 Pope went to Shallotte to stay with his grandmother for two weeks and help her after a hospitalization. He fell in love with the area and decided that he didn’t want to leave.
“The whole Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Calabash area was very rural then, and I liked everything about it – the wide open fields, the horses and cows, the ocean and being able to sail often,” Pope says. “I’d grown up swimming and sailing in the Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut, but that was tame compared to sailing in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The laid-back feeling appealed to me, plus wherever I went it seemed that people were really friendly and helpful. I quickly realized that I had found a new home here in Brunswick County.”
His parents, Helen and Miller Pope, sold their house in Connecticut and moved to Ocean Isle Beach in 1975 so family was close by. Pope met his future wife, Martha, who’s a native of Greenville, South Carolina, through a mutual friend in Ocean Isle Beach.
Pope worked in construction plus helped manage The Winds Resort on E. First Street in Ocean Isle Beach, which his parents opened in the 1970s. When the Internet came along, Pope created his first website for the family’s resort. He then went on to set up the initial “official” town websites for Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach and Shallotte, and for the past 25 years he’s been a web designer.
Pope’s father, a longtime professional illustrator on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, had opened an art gallery at 6885 Beach Drive SW in Ocean Isle Beach. Afterwards, a bookstore took over the space but relocated. When Pope looked at the space and its location, he realized that it was ideal for Islands Art & Books. The shelves and lighting were already there.
“Our customers are locals but many people drive here from Wrightsville Beach, Oak Island, Holden Beach, Southport and other areas,” Pope says.
Islands Art & Books focuses on local books and high-quality prints of local art and photography. Folks can purchase the prints in multiple sizes that all fit standard frames.
“They can purchase just the prints, but we also carry frames that we buy direct from the factory so we have great prices,” Pope says.
The store also features handmade gold and silver sea glass jewelry plus note cards, hand towels and more. Some of the most popular books they sell are about how to find seashells, how to find sea glass, shark-tooth hunting on the Carolina coast, The Southern Surfcaster and Gardening in the South. “We’ve noticed that customers love how-to books,” Pope says.
Islands Art & Books carries an assortment of fiction novels as well as romance novels. “Our Beach Reads section has romance novels that take place along the beaches of the Carolinas by popular authors,” Pope says. “Marybeth Whalen and Mary Alice Monroe’s books are always in demand.”
Pope also notes that people who have relocated to or visit Brunswick County want to know the history of the area. “It seems that people are really hungry for knowledge about their new home towns, about what it was like in the old days before the area grew, so any local history books go quickly,” he says.
He adds that people love their vintage beach prints, which offer a heartwarming glimpse into yesterday. They also come in all the same sizes as the other prints. The black-and-white photos that fly off the shelves are of the people and the towns 60 and 70 years ago, the old ferry that once serviced Ocean Isle Beach, the old pier, 1960s billboards and the filling stations.
Pope estimates that about 50 percent of his customers are locals and 50 percent are visitors. His busiest time at Islands Art & Books is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but people can order books, artwork and sea glass jewelry any time from his website.
Want to go?
Islands Art & Books
Beach Drive Center, 6885 Beach Drive SW, Unit 3, Ocean Isle Beach
Hours are Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday from noon to 5 pm.