February 7, 2019
Passion and Perseverance in Washington, North Carolina
Written by Cameron Potts
When you live on the coast, you learn to make peace with the water, with the weather, with whatever is thrown at you.
Yet for any resident, for any small business owner, there can be limits. Like when Hurricane Florence wiped out Lianne Harsh’s business and home in the same day. How do you make peace with that? How do you come back and decide it is ok to rebuild?
Harsh started Inner Banks Outfitters in Washington, NC some 13 years ago. A former teacher in the Fort Lauderdale area, she’d been active in biking and kayaking her whole life and decided to make those passions into a business. Her shop was once a vacant building owned by two friends who own the Tiki Bar next door. Her friends, Cathy Bell and Laura Scoble, offered up the place to start her business.
“Moving here was really a culture shock financially,” Harsh said. “But I came from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather put all the cousins through college and many of us have that gene to want to build something.”
Inner Banks Outfitters is on the edge of Main Street, located next to the Pamlico River, which empties out into the Atlantic Ocean. Harsh rents kayaks, double kayaks, paddle boards, and bikes. She also sells high-end road bikes and fixes bikes as well. There is a robust biking community in the Washington area. She has even delved into the world of events, offering paddleboard yoga and wine and cheese paddles where customers paddle to a small island.
Her building, along with Backwater Grille and Tiki Bar, is subject to flooding when bad weather hits. Normally, Harsh can move her equipment into sheds on her property, elevated from the water. Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence was a category 5, leveling everything in its path. While they moved everything out to higher ground, it would take months until she felt things were back to normal.
Harsh’s house flooded as well and some six months later, she is still out of her home.
“Emotionally, it took a month to really get ready to re-open and it wasn’t until Christmas until I felt like the business was truly back on track,” she said.
At first, Harsh wanted to find another building for her business, maybe one on higher ground. But her location is ideal for access to the river and for what she does for events, especially tied into the bar next door. She helps host road races and time trials and after, people gather at the Backwater. Plus, she has basically an empty roadway in front of her building where she can test out the bikes she is fixing.
Her struggles with Mother Nature are only one part of being a small business owner on the coast. Harsh readily admits that she is a teacher, so knowing the ins and outs of financial planning is not her forte.
“I am not a business person. I am a teacher. I am a biker and kayaker. I just feel like I should be doing better,” she explained.
Like every other community in the Top 10 tour for the Small Business Revolution, Harsh expressed a deep admiration for Washington. She has received great backing from those in town because, in her words, they believe in shopping local.
Washington, North Carolina is both a tourist community and a tight-knit family. As Harsh tinkers away on bikes, she often has several customers or friends drop in to just hang out.
“I never seem to get done what I want to get done,” she says with a laugh, “because this is a landing pad. People just come in to talk. I love it, though.
“I used to live 10 miles from the ocean when I lived in Fort Lauderdale, and I never saw it. Now I see the river every day. How can I not love this?”
It is that kind of resolve that sets small business owners apart. She will always revere the water and its power, but it is hard to leave what you love so much.
To learn more about Harsh’s business, go to: https://www.innerbanksoutfitters.com.