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Pregnant stingray Charlotte brings in traffic, business to North Carolina town

Charlotte the stingray became a social media star when she got pregnant without a mate.
Lydia Wilson
Charlotte the stingray became a social media star when she got pregnant without a mate.

The world is waiting for news on how astingray mysteriously got pregnant without a mate at a small aquarium in the Appalachian mountains of Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Visitors like Sylvia Jones of Staunton, Virginia, and her niece Lilliana, of Ellenboro, North Carolina, have been flooding Main Street businesses on the weekends since the pregnancy announcement.

"We're here to see Charlotte the stingray for my niece's birthday," said Jones. "We saw her on TikTok... We were just talking about how it's any day now that she might give birth, so we're hoping we might be lucky to see something happen."

Jones drove almost five hours from Staunton, Virginia, to see family. They turned the Charlotte excursion into a day trip, an example that "the Charlotte effect" is real for area businesses.

Weekend visitors hoping to see Charlotte at Team Ecco Aquarium and Shark Lab
/ Lydia Wilson
/
Lydia Wilson
Weekend visitors hoping to see Charlotte at Team Ecco Aquarium and Shark Lab

"We're gonna check out the Gem and Mineral museum," said Jones. "And we went to HenDough: Chicken and Donuts. I got the Southern Fried Chicken sandwich with Brussels sprouts and the Nutella Peanut Butter donut."

A couple of doors down at the Mast General Store, manager Travis Spencer has been getting more customers, too.

"Absolutely," he said. "There's been a great uptick in foot traffic. The weekends have been a lot busier for us. No complaints because this time of year can be kind of slow. So it's been nice to have the Charlotte craziness going on to help to drive business."

The local coffee shop has seen visitors from as far away as Washington state and even Germany. Mark and Kristen Pavao, the owners of Black Bear Coffee Co., created a latte named for Charlotte.

"So we came up with the stingray shuffle. We did some flavors of dulce de leche and coconut," Pavao said.

Part of the proceeds go back to the aquarium to honor the work of the Team Ecco Aquarium and Shark Lab founder, former teacher Brenda Ramer.

"Brenda does great stuff locally with the kids," said Pavao. "She trains them to scuba dive and be interested in marine biology. So it's amazing things that she does, and any way that we can return that to her, it's our pleasure."

Mainstreet Hendersonville is seeing more visitors because of Charlotte the pregnatn Stingray.
/ Lydia Wilson
/
Lydia Wilson
Mainstreet Hendersonville is seeing more visitors because of Charlotte the pregnant stingray.

Hendersonville is a small mountain city of 15,000 where tourism is one of the major drivers. But not in winter. Each October, overnight tourism peaks along with fall leaf color - local motels and inns sell out with guests there to see the vibrant yellows and reds.

Michelle Owens is the executive director of the Tourism Development Authority for the county. She says the Feb. 8 slow season announcement of Charlotte's mystery pregnancy was excellent timing, as February is traditionally the second slowest month of the year.

"In the tourism world, it's an anomaly," said Owens. "It's not just a biological anomaly. So, we wanted to see, what did it mean? Was it just a social media phenomenon or did it translate into visitorship?"

Owens said it will take a few more months to get hard data about where visitors came from and how long they stayed. But the tourism website has already had 40% more unique monthly visitors in February.

Shops in downtown Hendersonville continue to have fun with Charlotte the pregnant stingray and gladly welcome her pups to the downtown family.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lydia Wilson