by David Cecelski
The glory of Carolina Beach is its old boardwalk. It’s a romantic place, where people of all ages share dreamy summer evenings. I was there last Saturday night and walked under a bright, near-full moon by the old arcades and pool hall, past the bumper cars, the Bingo parlor and the Methodist church’s puppet theater. I window-shopped at the t-shirt stores and poked my head into two of my favorite local bars, the Silver Dollar, there since 1956, and Loretta Guntner’s Surf Side, on the boardwalk since 1971.
According to legend, Beach Music was invented right there. As the story goes, in the late ‘40s, a local fellow named Chicken Hicks got tired of the music playing on the jukebox at the Tijuana Inn, one of the boardwalk’s dance halls. Chicken went over to Sea Breeze, the African-American beach resort just north of Carolina Beach. At that time, Sea Breeze was home to a dozen fish-fry and barbecue joints, a lot of them with dance floors and juke boxes. Chicken brought back a bunch of R&B records and the white folks at Carolina Beach went wild. Throngs of white beachgoers were soon crowding the Tijuana, the Plaza and other boardwalk clubs to hear the “new music” and to dance “the shag” to its intoxicating rhythms.
Though there is much lore and legend about the boardwalk, its heart is undoubtedly an unpretentious little donut shop. In business since 1939, Britt’s Donuts serves only one kind of donut, but they are absolutely irresistible—the best I’ve ever had anywhere. Always served fresh and hot out of the oven, the deliriously sweet glazed confections are made from a secret family recipe concocted by H.L. Britt, the donut shop’s founder. They just melt in your mouth.
Mr. Britt sold the shop to one of his former employees, Bobby Nivens, in 1974. Everybody agrees you’ll never meet nicer people than the Nivenses, and now a third generation of the family is running the shop and keeping Britt’s Donuts a Carolina Beach institution.
The other night, the whole town seemed to be there. A crowd of island kids had skateboarded up to the boardwalk for a Britt’s donut. Teenagers on dates were sitting at the counter. A few guys just off charter boats were in line, as well as a crowd of middle-schoolers fresh from a baseball game. An older island couple out for a stroll came by while I was there, and there was also an old couple from High Point introducing their grandkids to Britt’s for the first time, apparently continuing a family tradition.
You can join the crowd at Britt’s any time from 8:30 AM to 11 PM, 7 days a week. And while you’re there, be sure to look on the wall opposite the counter. You’ll find a photograph of Chicken Hicks.
photo by Vera Cecelski