By Lanier Laney
How can you tell when one tide ends and another begins to come in or when the seasons just start to change? It’s subtle but you just know it’s happening, through a dozen little changes you start to notice and you know will add up to a bigger change. I’ve been in Beaufort for the past 12 years and actively covering the day to day “social scene” for the past four and I can tell you without a doubt that change is upon us! There’s a new era being born this spring in Beaufort. Four restaurants and an upscale market opening.
Two of Beaufort’s restaurants expanding to other cities, real estate bouncing back, unexpected deaths of beloved longtime residents, and happy births of new ones. Traffic where there use to be none. I’m sure you can feel it too!
One couple who have been key players in this passing era are Marianne and Steve Harrison, owners of the Rhett House Inn and I wanted to acknowledge their contribution to this city and what they helped it become these last 20 years. They are retiring and moving back to their apartment in New York City to spend more time with their two children there and three grandchildren. Their beautiful home behind the inn, which was featured in Southern Living magazine, has just become part of the inn and can be rented by the night or month.
One of the reasons the Harrison’s decided to move to Beaufort was because of the “many colorful fun characters” they found here and they quickly became “colorful” characters of their own in Beaufort’s cast with their strong New York accents lovingly imitated by Southerners bemused by things they said.
Says Marianne, “When we came here 25 years ago to visit a friend, Beaufort was really depressed, the downtown was empty, and what became the Rhett House Inn was a run down dark building that had been empty for two years. But Steve fell in love with it and thought he could make it into a great business because of his love of people and he said I could decorate it. So with architect Jimmy Thomas’s help we brought it back. And we did every job at the inn in the early years, from cooking to waiting on tables in the restaurant.”
Over the 25 years, Marianne and Steve took the inn from five guest rooms (and one telephone) to 19 beautifully appointed rooms today. And they have been awarded the AAA 4 Diamond 17 years in a row — the only inn in South Carolina that has done so.
But beside the inn, they helped put Beaufort on the map nationally and worldwide and here’s how: They both came from big fashion careers in New York (Marianne’s father started Anne Klein). So they had dozens of contacts at the New York-based magazines and newspapers. Within the first two years of opening the inn, Beaufort was featured in 10 national publications including Vogue, W, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Travel & Leisure, to name just a few.
Marianne said, “We wrote up the press releases and called our friends at the magazines in New York and invited them to stay at the inn when they came to do the story. We loved Beaufort and wanted it to be more important. We always promoted Beaufort first and foremost to them. We wanted to help the world to see the city we loved.”
Says Steve, “From day one we were amazed at how open and inviting and nice people were to us and made us feel so comfortable here. We both have a lot of love for the people of Beaufort and it’s been the hardest decision of my life to leave.”
Another major boon they gave to Beaufort was this: Barbra Streisand bought the film rights to “Prince of Tides” and was set to direct it. But she was going to shoot the movie in Wilmington, N.C., because it was cheaper than shooting in South Carolina. Barbra and her crew came to the Rhett House Inn to photograph sites in Beaufort from the book. Marianne met Barbra and arranged a dinner party at the inn and invited Pat Conroy and Harriet Keyserling. Pat and Barbra hit it off that night, and the three of them convinced Barbra to shoot the movie in Beaufort instead of Wilmington. Marianne found Barbra a house to rent for three months and the rest is history. The movie became a worldwide hit and audiences around the globe got to see the beauty of Beaufort on the big screen. Some recent visitors to Beaufort from Germany who stayed at the inn vividly remembered the movie and always wanted to come here. Plus, the filming of the movie brought millions into the local ailing economy. Other movies followed in its wake and the Rhett House became a celebrity destination. Among those who have stayed have been Gwyneth Paltrow, Nick Nolte, Ben Affleck, Sandra Bullock, Blythe Danner, Ridley Scott, Demi Moore, and Sharon Stone to name a few.
Marianne also served on the board of CODA and was chairwoman for six years and was also on the board of Hope Haven. Steve’s been a part of every downtown organization that promoted Beaufort.
Says Marianne, “We love Beaufort and it’s the hardest thing in the world to leave, but we feel for the inn to go to the next level it needs young energy with new ideas.”
It’s on the market now represented by Will and Deena McCullough at Lowcountry Real Estate.
The Harrisons leave Beaufort with a heavy heart, but they leave it in much better shape than they found it. From all of us in Beaufort, we say to you Marianne and Steve, “Job well done!” And THANK YOU for all that you did for Beaufort!
… As a new one begins
I’m sure you know people who have second homes here but work and live in Atlanta or Charlotte fulltime. But have you ever heard of someone living in Beaufort fulltime while still working fulltime in Charlotte? Well, meet Kim and Rich Steinbruck who not only do that but Kim was also recently promoted to Sr. Vice President of Bank of America for her outstanding work for them. And her husband Rich “telecommutes” to his insurance company job there too.
Says Kim, “We simply fell in love with Beaufort — the natural beauty, the small town vibe, the wonderful people … We bought our home in the summer of 2005 as a vacation home and eventual retirement home. We decided to move here fulltime as soon as our jobs (and technology) would allow it. We got the go ahead in January 2011. We were here fulltime two months later. It was an opportunity to simplify our lives and fulfill a dream. We still pinch ourselves each day. We can’t believe we’re fortunate enough to call this amazing place our home.”
They and others represent a new generation of 30 and 40-year-old working “telecommuters” who are moving to Beaufort. Barbara States is another example of this. She recently moved to Beaufort fulltime while still continuing to work fulltime for a publisher of books in Boston. Laura Bowles moved to Habersham and continues to work fulltime for her investment company in Baltimore. Together these newly transplanted couples are helping to change the Beaufort “scene,” including its night life.
Last weekend Kim’s husband Rich gave her a 40th Birthday Bash downtown at the beautiful new hi-tech event space and rooftop deck called Old Bay Marketplace Loft & Rooftop Deck (rented through The Beaufort Inn). That included great dancing and a DJ with catering by Southern Graces. The fun, young crowd was filled with many familiar Beaufort faces but an equal amount of new faces I did not recognize. Friends from Charlotte who are now vowing to look for second homes here after sampling Kim and Rich’s great Beaufort lifestyle.