On Tuesday evening, The Wine Cellar in Southern Pines was kept at a chilled 58 degrees. Inside one of the town’s few open businesses, patrons huddled in jackets as Holly Armstrong served drinks behind a dimly lit bar.
Armstrong hopes everything will go back normal as early as Wednesday afternoon. As the bar’s manager, she’ll be able to ditch her own coat, switch off the humming generator, and turn the heat and main lights back on. But for at least another day, she made do as much of Southern Pines and the surrounding Moore County remained powerless after a weekend attack on two electrical substations.
“A lot of businesses rely on sales in December to carry them through the leaner months — January and February — when spending slows,” Armstrong said. “This is usually our busiest season.”
There is never an opportune time for a mass blackout, but for a place like Moore that relies on service and recreation, losing electricity during the holiday season has sent a rippling blow through the community.
Pinehurst a ghost town
Moore County covers about 706 square miles in the small but geologically distinctive region of North Carolina known as the Sandhills, about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh.
In 2021, Moore County saw an all-time high in visitor spending, and the county ranked 10th out of the state’s 100 counties in that category according to the tourism advocacy organization Visit NC. According to the Federal Reserve, more than three-fourths of the local economy derives from service industries, with the prestigious Pinehills Resort only behind the local school system and hospital as the county’s largest employer.
Yet on Tuesday, the stately lobby of the Carolina Hotel on the resort grounds was mostly empty. Overall, Pinehill Resort’s director of hotel operations Matt Chriscoe said only around 30 of the resort’s 400 hotel rooms were occupied. The staff maintain basic operations through a generator, but the rooms lacked hot water and WiFi.
“With hurricanes and snowstorms, you can prepare a little bit,” Chriscoe said. But with this blackout, which hit Saturday night, the resort was caught off guard. Guests were reimbursed for their stays on a case-by-case basis while employees had their work hours scaled back due to the lower occupancy.
December is a slower month for the resort’s famous golf course, but Chriscoe noted it’s a popular time for the hotels to host conferences. One 600-person conference that had been scheduled to start Tuesday was canceled, he said.
Slowly getting back to business
A few blocks away from the resort, Pinehurst’s downtown was similarly sleepy. Among the few people walking by the rows of closed stores were local real estate agents Debbie Darby and Linda Criswell, who described how this section of the village would typically be filled with mid-day shoppers.
“It’s like a ghost town now,” Darby said.
“To not see people is so bizarre,” Criswell added. “You’d think a snowstorm was coming.”
While Duke Energy announced many Moore residents may be without electricity until Thursday, the energy company alerted some that their power would be reestablished around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday. And on Tuesday morning, electricity returned to downtown Carthage, Moore County’s seat.
At the City Barber Shop, which has been in Carthage since 1950, manager Nick Arnold was snipping hair by a beaming ring light.
“Lighting is a big factor with the haircuts, obviously,” he said. “We’ve done haircuts in the dark many of times, but it’s not something I was ready to tackle.”
Martha Quillin contributed reporting.