Story and Photography By Carolyn Bowers

Customers on their way to the Cape Fear Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway lingered long enough to hear Jon Morris play a variety of country, rock and blues on his guitar, accompanied by his own pre recorded sound track.

Around the corner on Moore Street, a large crowd gathered in front of The Christmas House to watch the Boiling Spring Lakes First Baptist Church “Kick 4 Christ” Taekwondo Team demonstrate some typical moves. Instructed by black belt Ronnie Hicks, the performers topped off the evening by splitting the equivalent of a two-inch board with their fists or their feet. The church group also put on a puppet show with the kids and puppets singing “Jesus Loves Me,” and other well known Christian tunes.

Across Howe Street, in front of Bull Frog Corner, Gracie the Clown and her partner, Tic Toc, entertained kids and adults as they twisted balloons into monkeys, hearts, swords and animals. Gracie explained her signature blue hair to an inquisitive audience by saying she had washed it that morning in blueberry juice.

Heading north on Howe Street, shoppers could hear Tyler James playing the guitar, ukulele and saxophone in front of Port City Java.

Farther up the street, Dawson Sexton, 11, played the guitar and sang in front of Cattail Cottage. His band, “Dawson and the Flatland Ramblers,” is a favorite in the Calabash area.

Suzanne Cassidy belted out some familiar show tunes and big band favorites, while customers enjoyed a glass of wine in The Wine Rack courtyard. Ben Edwards, the popular South Brunswick Middle School band director, played the euphonium in front of Boo & Roo’s and Magnolia Gifts.

Uptown, Lori Roshon sang a variety of blues, country, jazz and folk tunes for the shoppers in the Olde Southport Village. And Jim & Honey Martin challenged passersby to try their luck at a corn bag toss in front of The Painted Mermaid.

This is “Shop to the Beat.”

On the first and third Thursday evenings of every month from now until mid-November, visitors to Southport will enjoy this event, with music and entertainment from every corner of the town from 4 to 6 pm. And they will find bargain prices, discounts and one-night specials in almost every store and restaurant.

Karen Sphar, executive director of the Southport/Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, promises an exciting line-up of musicians and performers for this twice-a-month event.

As if all this entertainment weren’t enough to draw visitors and locals to Southport on the first and third Thursdays, there’s more. Each participating store and restaurant, and there are more than 40 of them, also offers shoppers bargains and discounts. Some, like Boo & Roo’s and Magnolia Gifts, both upscale specialty shops, plan to offer something different for each Thursday evening’s event, just to keep the customers guessing. Other stores, like The Christmas House and Thrifty by Nature, are sticking with a predictable bargain of 10 percent off all merchandise storewide.

Feedback about Shop to the Beat from the entertainers, customers and store owners has been very positive.

Penny Watkins, owner of Boo & Roo’s and co-chair of the event, says the store owners are delighted with the increase in foot traffic and the musicians are pleased to have a venue to showcase their talent. And what shopper isn’t thrilled to find a bargain?

Shop to the Beat - Southport 2011