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Closing the door on Deals

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 Connie Kling retiring, shutting down business after nearly 40 years on Bay Street

By Mike McCombs
Photos by Bob Sofaly 

Across the windows at 724 Bay Street are big white signs. 

“Retirement Sale.” 

“Store Closing.” 

Behind the signs, the window displays, once a hallmark of Deals, are all but empty, housing just a few old mannequins, which, by the way, like most everything else, are for sale. 

Inside, the store seems grand now without nearly enough merchandise to fill it. 

At the front of the store sits a beautiful old mammoth of a desk from a different era. In fact, several different eras ago. For sale, of course. 

And when it’s sold, it might take three or four men to move it. 

Three women walk in and begin to browse the handful of racks of ladies clothes that still remain. 

“All of the clothing is 30 percent off, ladies,” Connie Kling tells them in an accent that betrays her Irish origins. 

Toward the back are two big, heavy wooden tables. Those came from the old Belk’s store when it was downtown, Kling says. 

There are display shelves and drawers and dress forms and framed artwork. All for sale. Like Kling and Deals itself, by the end of the month, it will all be gone. 

A fixture on Bay Street since 1985, Deals is closing, and its owner, Kling, is looking forward to retirement.

“It’s going to be a new phase in my life,” Kling says, “and I think I’m ready to not have the responsibility of owning a business anymore.”

Kling came from Ireland – Clare, in the West of Ireland – in 1982. She didn’t intend to stay.

“I just wanted a change, something different. I came to see some friends on Hilton Head, and then just happened to come to Beaufort and met my husband and I’ve been here ever since.”

She didn’t own Deals, initially. In fact, she says, it just happened.

She actually worked at the store for original owner Randy Dennis.

“I told the owner that I was looking for something myself, and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you buy this?’” Kling says, “and that’s how I ended up with the store.”

Kling made a change early on, going from selling men’s and women’s clothing to essentially just women’s clothing. Turns out she made a good call. But that wasn’t all she changed.

There are several shelves of men’s hats and a selection of Irish charms, as well as some Irish rugby jerseys. And some Irish artwork and fragrances.

“The Irish imports have just sort of taken over over the years,” Kling says. “People just sort of enjoyed the caps, the hats, the jewelry, the fragrance. So I just built it up part Irish and clothing for ladies.”

Kling says the Deals’ business has been very consistent over the years. She credits the store’s very loyal customers, as well as a lot of people who live in the area part-time but always return. But clientele hasn’t been the only factor.

“It’s been a very good location. The fact that we have a big window has always been our best advertisement,” she says. “People would drive by and look at our windows or just walk by and see our window displays, and we sold more from window displays than we did from any advertising.”

Kling says Deals’ business has been very consistent over the years. But Deals – not necessarily the business – may have been the constant.

While Deals has remained solid, Kling has seen the shops around her come and go for the better part of four decades. She guesses there have been between 10 and 15 businesses in the two spots next to hers in the same building.

“I wish I’d written down the names of all the people that have come and gone, either next door or over here,” she says. “So many. It’s just too many to remember, really.”

But Kling says one thing she’s always noticed about Bay Street is that when a business closes, another business opens. It’s seldom there’s a vacant space.

“About the only time I remember a vacant space on Bay Street was the last recession,” Kling says. “There were several. In fact, one particular time, I was the only tenant in this building. The two places next to me were empty. And at the time, the landlord we had was wonderful. She never raised the rent. She was just happy to have somebody here. But now, of course, it’s different.”

Kling says she thinks the early 1990s were a turning point for businesses in downtown Beaufort. She credits Streetscape and an effort to draw people to Bay Street. And she credits Pat Conroy’s books, of course, for “Beaufort getting on the map.”

Now she thinks it’s getting tougher to own a business downtown. The rent is simply too high.

“I think everybody has a dream when they open up a business, but I do think it’s a little more difficult,” Kling says. “I think rents are increasing and pushing some of the smaller mom and pop businesses out of downtown.”

The last couple years may have set Kling up for the perfect time to walk away. The pandemic was hard on the vast majority of businesses.

“It was very challenging. We even had a rent increase in the middle of COVID,” Kling says. “Our landlord deferred our rent for two months, but we still had to pay it back. Considering other parts of the country, I think we did reasonably well here last year.”

It wasn’t all bad, though.

“This year has been a really good year,” she says. “I mean, it’s been some of the best months I’ve ever had in the store. So I’m happy to be going out on a high.”

Kling has no intention of going anywhere else. She may be Irish, but Beaufort is now her home.

“Truly, I wake up everyday and I’m just happy to live here in such a beautiful place.”

Kling says she is looking forward to doing some volunteer work and has already set up some meetings. But outside of that, she has no idea what she’ll be doing.

“It will be the first time I my life that I haven’t really worked,” she Kling says, “so I don’t know what to expect.”

The remaining time that Deals will be open should now be counted by the days, rather than the weeks. Kling says she has until the end of August to sell everything and be out and she’s confident she will.

Despite being prodded, Kling insists there aren’t many things she’ll miss about coming to work each day. She says there aren’t any routine tasks from her work days that she’ll find herself absent-mindedly performing over the coming weeks and months.

When it comes to something Kling will struggle to leave behind, she says there’s only one thing.

“The people, definitely the people,” Kling says. “I’ve had the most wonderful customers who have supported me. In the last couple of months when people have known that I’ve been closing, just the outpouring of love from people and how much they’ve enjoyed and love the store has been amazing.”

“They’re just sad to see the store go, but they understand it’s my time to retire. It’s my turn.”

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

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