By SCOTT GRABER
When I moved to Beaufort — in 1971 — Bay Street came with two hardware stores (Fordham’s and Beaufort Hardware); a drug store (Luther’s); and a movie theatre (The Breeze). There were also places to buy a seersucker suit (Wallace and Danner and Schein’s); dress shoes (Lipsitz) and lingerie (Pink Pussycat).
Just off Bay Street there was a grocery (Piggly Wiggly) and a boarding house for traveling salesmen.
The point I’m trying to make is that one could find soft goods, dry goods, and hardware on Bay Street — or within walking distance of Bay Street.
Today that is not the case.
Today one finds restaurants, realtors, fudge and flip flops along Bay Street. These days one must travel if one wants aspirin, asparagus, ammunition or a chain saw — gasoline or electric.
One must get in one’s Range Rover and drive several miles to several locations if one wants to meet one’s bodily or material needs.
There have been theories about the demise of Bay Street shopping but some — and I hasten to say there is no empirical evidence on this question — say the arrival of Walmart hastened the death of serious downtown shopping.
Surely Walgreens, Lowe’s and the relocation of Belk’s pulled people away and put the kibosh on downtown shopping. But now we know that Walmart (and even the large grocery stores like Publix and BiLo) face a new competitor — the dollar stores.
Every day four new dollar stores open in the US — and, apparently, there are 30,000 dollar stores versus 5,000 Walmarts.
Actually there are more dollar stores than there are Walmarts and McDonald’s combined. Why?
In an effort to understand the lure of the dollar store — to understand why there are three on Ribaut Road alone — I decided I would see for myself.
The first impression one gets is a room, jammed floor to ceiling, with stuff. One must navigate narrow, canyon-high isles that pass under walls of merchandise. I was, of course, first drawn to the lingerie department where one can purchase a brassiere for $4 or a bag of panties for $5. This section didn’t have the same allure one might find at Victoria’s Secret but my mind was diverted to The Pink Pussycat.
The Pink Pussycat — a store that specialized in women’s undergarments — thrived on Bay Street in the early 70s. Its success was related to the fact that men were encouraged to shop, linger, and not be embarrassed.
The highlight of the Christmas Season in Beaufort — before they began lighting-up sail boats — was the Yuletide, men’s only fashion show at the Pink Pussycat. We’re talking live models, lingerie and yes, we’re talking about Bay Street.
Then it was over to the dollar store’s hardware section where one can buy a plastic box of nails for $1.50. This took me back to Fordham’s where nails came out of huge, galvanized buckets arranged in the shape of a huge pittosporum plant. Nails were purchased by the pound and came with commentary and the dry wit of Duncan Fordham.
Then I wandered into groceries — mostly frozen pizzas, red and yellow colored sports drinks and huge, $1 bags of red hots. This took me back to the “downtown” Piggly Wiggly (actually it was on Port Republic Street) where one found rice in 50-pound bags and Adluh all-purpose flour in 20-pound bags. This particular Piggly Wiggly was ground zero, on Saturday morning, for the African-Americans who lived north of the Broad. They were, in many cases, ferried in from St Helena by Maceo Griffin who owned and operated Beaufort’s only taxi.
And, yes, there was also entertainment — The Breeze Movie — which operated out of the Panini’s Building. The Breeze had current films but the projectionist would sometimes get confused and put the reels on the projector in the wrong sequence. Given the quality of movies in those days — Animal House, Straw Dogs, Young Frankenstein — this error was not immediately apparent. But, finally, my wife would lean over and whisper;
“Are you going to go up there? Or am I?”
Today Bay Street is mostly the domain of the tourist. And I suppose tourists are the folks who “saved” Bay Street and, of course, there is the stunning beauty of our Waterfront Park.
But I do miss the shops (that came with parrots); and dentists (Hymie Lipsitz) who would work on your teeth while your wife and dog were in the same room. I do miss seeing the old men gathered for their eggs and grits at Harry’s Restaurant; and the smell of new leather at Tom’s Shoe Repair.