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Bear Hugs from Washington County


If there’s one thing the town of Plymouth, North Carolina loves, it’s bears. All across downtown, Plymouth, there are signs welcoming people to Washington County, Bear-olina, and warnings to watch out for bears. From our first drive down the main road, it was clear that bears are important here.

The main strip of downtown Plymouth was welcoming. At dusk, the streetlamps shined and stringed lights framed every window display. Naturally, we started our exploration at the Welcome Center. The business was crowded when we entered; people flocked around the room reading displays on the wall about the history of the town, bears (of course), and attractions to visit. Caroline and I took time reading each display, careful to walk around the large wooden canoe displayed in the center of the room—which the tag labeled as for sale.

We continued to the back of the welcome center, stepping into the gift shop. All the products, according to the gift shop co-owner, Tara Thomas, come from her family and local vendors creating unique products. The gift shop contained a wide array of things, ranging from fresh candles to handmade garments to every imaginable bear-themed souvenir, of course. The items for sale in the gift shop were a clear reflection of how caring the people around Plymouth were. 

Thomas told us how, like others, she leaned into the idea of living in a smaller town. She explained that she’d lived nearby her whole life, but moved away to a bigger city when she raised her family before eventually moving back to Plymouth a few years ago. It’s where she considers home since her family has been here for generations.

Thomas also told us about some of the beloved traditions in the town, one of which was happening the night we visited. The First Friday was a monthly tradition in downtown Plymouth, and it featured different food options, vendors, and live music. It was gatherings like that which made Plymouth such a wonderful community, one patron of the Welcome Center said on her way out.


Before leaving, we asked about the bear obsession that the town had. Thomas told us about how common bear sightings were in Plymouth, and how most of the interactions bears had with the town was when they stole snacks from unattended tables outside. Still, Thomas told us, we had to be careful about bears on the highway.

As Caroline and I prepared to head to our next stop, we agreed that Plymouth definitely had a small-town charm to it. The people were friendly and the streets were nice to walk on and the businesses were great to explore. We got back onto the highway and drove east—watching out for bears, of course.


-- Gayatri Chopra 

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