The island has a fresh water well that made it a concealed location for pirates to rest in the 1750s-- the largest pirate gathering in recorded history (organized by Blackbeard) happened on the beach at Springer's Point.
In WWII Ocracoke had immense strategic significance. A man-made harbor (Silver Lake) served as a safe port for Allied ships. An important radar station on Ocracoke (now in ruins, and practically forgotten) helped design technology that could locate U-Boats that blockaded the United States' eastern shores.
Since then, it has become a mildly populated island with business geared toward summer tourism. A large part of the island remains a protected nature reserve, and wildlife abounds-- including a wild pony population supposedly descended from livestock abandoned by a ship in the 1550s.
You learn to live without certain things: strip malls, shopping malls, pizza delivery, chain restaurants, and you grow accustomed to the limited resources available (clams, shells, more clams). For example, I know that on Ocracoke, unless I'm at Howard's Pub, my beer choices are likely to be Corona or Bud Light. Wine? Fuggedaboutit. But you give up access to certain items to gain so much more.
Each summer I've always gone to Ocracoke prepared to drink mass produced skunked beer out of coozys. This is why I was so amazed to discover Zillie's Island Pantry in 2011. I went back again this year, and it was still kicking.
Zillie's is a wine/beer retail shop that also sells artisinal cheeses, cigars, crackers, and fancy condiments. They have a front porch where you can drink the products you purchase. What's really incredible is the breadth and depth of the global selection of wines and beers. Now, the ultra fine wine market on Ocracoke is pretty tiny, and Zillie's has to turn a profit to stay in business, so due to the demands of the local economy you will not find Pradikat rieslings, Grand Cru Burgundy, First Growth Bordeaux, or cult cabernet (I also imagine they probably have limited access to wine/beer distribution companies on the island), but you will find a nice selection of Qualitatswein, mid-range Napa cabs in a wide assortment of vintages, several different larger brand name Champagnes, selections of cava/prosecco/moscato, Bourgogne AC, New Zealand sauvignon blancs, great affordable Australian shiraz, Chilean carmenere, and some decent AC Bordeaux. By the glass they pour 20 global wines including a tasty Vouvray.
In any US town, this would be considered a great shop. For Ocracoke, having this selection available is nothing short of incredible. Furthermore, and possibly most important, Zillie's manages to integrate into the larger local food/beverage market without pretension or snobbiness. They have brought a global variety of delicious beverages to a semi-secluded community, and in doing so, they have raised the bar for the community.
<--- This fisherman guards the front door.
Zillie's is named after an Ocracoke legend:
Barzilla O'Neal (October 30, 1859 - June 10, 1939)
Barzilla ("Zillie") was an "Old Maid," famous for her cooking, and her nephews were famous for their homemade "Meal Wine."
On the front porch you can relax under strings of lights and enjoy whatever bottle you have just purchased. On this particular day, it was a moscato day... and a mosquito day.
The staff is knowledgeable about beers, and I got some serious details on the hops used in this tasty brew.
This is Zillie's Great Wall of Beer-- full of over 300 global artisinal selections, including mostly micro-brews and even some local selections.
They also carry several draft choices, and allow guests to mix & match 6packs.
Some mid-range classics from around the world, organized by varietal.
You can even buy glassware!
Zillie's offers pantry items as well-- so you can geek out with some marinated artichokes or walnut pesto to go with your cheese and wine.