Southern Snaps (June 2010)
By Leslie Moore
Small, family-owned businesses are the backbone of our country, and while bigger retailers have brought changes to the way we spend our money, our area has more than a few of these jewels that have stood the test of time. Sasee spent time with three of the oldest businesses in our community, all owned by women, Eleanor Pitts, Island Breeze and Grady’s Jewelers, to find out what has made them so successful.
Petite and stylish, it is not hard to imagine that successful business owner, Eleanor Pitts, owner of Eleanor Pitts, Gifts, Jewelry, China, in The Shops at Oak Lea in Pawleys Island, started her career as a dance teacher in Kingstree, S.C. A Charleston native, Eleanor moved to Kingstree with her husband, Bill, after he bought a pharmacy there. Once Bill bought a new pharmacy, Eleanor decided to turn the old building into a fine gift shop, and her selection of unusual gifts and crystal soon drew many customers. Her shop was one of the first in the state to sell Waterford crystal, which was very hard to get at that time. Eleanor was successful and happy in Kingstree, but twenty-one years ago, she and Bill had an opportunity to buy, with partners Angie and Joey Bunn, The Shops at Oak Lea in Pawleys Island. So, one month before Hurricane Hugo, Eleanor moved her business to Pawleys Island. Luckily, the hurricane did no serious damage, and this fine gifts, jewelry and china boutique began building a loyal and devoted clientele.
I asked Eleanor her secret to long-lasting success. She paused and thought for a moment before answering, “I like people and am genuinely interested in them. I have always tried to live by the golden rule. Through the years, I’ve met some of the nicest people that come to Pawleys Island year after year, and when you see the same people every year, you become friends.”
Today the business is a family affair. Fifteen years ago, Bill gave up his pharmacy and joined the business and, to her parent’s great delight, daughter, LeAnne Daniels now runs the day-to-day operations, freeing Eleanor to focus on buying and, of course, customer service. She is assisted by a dedicated and knowledgeable staff; one staff member, Barbara Chandler, has been with Eleanor since the store opened in Pawleys Island.
During our visit, Eleanor received a phone call from a long-time customer, who reported that her daughter, a bride-to-be, had finally selected her china pattern. Watching Eleanor, it was obvious that she was in her element. “I still get excited when a bride-to-be selects her china,” Eleanor began, “and now I’m working with the daughters of some of my original customers.”
Eleanor and Bill have another daughter, Jennifer DuBose, who lives in Greenwood. I asked Eleanor how she managed when the girls were little. “We took them with us to work, one would go with Bill to the pharmacy, and one went with me to the shop. It was a way of life.” Today, Eleanor’s four grandchildren, three girls and a boy, play in the shop when they visit, much to the delight of regular customers.
When I asked Eleanor what she did for fun, she laughed and told me her business was her hobby. However, she and Bill do enjoy entertaining and have many friends. They still love to dance, and belong to a Shag Dance club in the area. She has no plans to retire. “My business keeps me young. I still get excited looking for the next great thing!”
Eleanor Pitts is located in The Shops at Oak Lea in Pawleys Island. Contact her at 843-237-8080 or www.eleanorpitts.com.
Clarice Holden met me in the parking lot of her bustling boutique, Island Breeze, in Sunset Beach, N.C. As we walked into her shop together, I immediately felt at ease with this lovely woman, who was, of course, beautifully and fashionably dressed.
A native of the area, Clarice’s family owned the first seafood restaurant in Calabash, N.C. Naturally, when she married her husband Ronnie, they decided to open Twin Lakes Seafood Restaurant. It was a success, and in 1985 they decided to buy the shopping center across the street where Clarice opened a small, 600 square foot clothing shop, calling it Island Breeze. Twenty-five years later, the store has grown to 6,000 square feet and has customers from all over the country who know they can find that perfect look in this unique boutique.
Clarice loves her work and is passionate about the relationship she builds with each of her customers. “I want them to feel welcome from the moment they enter the door. If a woman comes in and is feeling down, we dress her and it makes her feel better about herself. It’s all about the enjoyment and making women feel special.”
Clarice’s big heart extends far beyond the needs of her customers. A big part of her life is given to helping others. Recently she accepted an opportunity to help with extreme makeovers for 500 women in domestic violence shelters in New York City. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Clarice immediately went to her vendors for help. One vendor has already agreed to donate $60,000 worth of clothing. Another group she works with, “The Widow’s Mite Experience,” provides fresh water wells around the world. So far, this group of seven women in Brunswick County has funded 300 wells in seventeen countries. The money has come mainly from the resale store they operate on Main Street in Shallotte, N.C., annual auctions and individual donations. If you are interested in learning more about The Widow’s Mite Experience, please do not hesitate to call Clarice at 910-579-4125.
Charity fashion shows are another way Clarice gives back. So far, Island Breeze has done thirteen this year. This down-to-earth fashionista realized her talent had been recognized by more than just local charities when she got a call from Donald Trump’s personal assistant with a request to do a fashion show at his private club, Mar-a-Lago. After the initial shock wore off, Clarice handled this new challenge with her usual efficiency and the show was a hit.
I asked Clarice what made her such a success; a small boutique tucked away in the small community of Sunset Beach, and she told me, “I love what I do here. We try to make our customers feel at home and offer something for everyone.”
Her devoted staff also gets lots of praise from Clarice. Clarice is the first to say she doesn’t do it alone. She has a wonderful store manager, Sara Baynton, and a sales staff that take pride in their customer service and dedication to the shop. Her personal assistant, Carole Macaulay, has been with Island Breeze for eleven years and has become her right-hand woman. Susie Sellers, who’s in charge of visuals, has known Clarice all of her life and when asked about working for her says, “Her drive and excitement about the business makes it fun to come to work every day. It’s always an adventure. This is not just a ladies clothing store!”
Island Breeze is located at 101 Shoreline Drive W., Sunset Beach, N.C. 28468. Contact Clarice at 910-579-4125 or visit www.islandbreezeclothing.com.
Adelle and Dawn Richardson
The renaissance of downtown shopping can be seen locally in the lovely riverside town of Conway. A mix of nostalgia and cutting-edge innovation, business is brisk in this picturesque area. Adelle Richardson has seen it all happen from behind the counters of Grady’s Jewelers on Laurel St.
Adelle’s husband of 52 years, Grady, opened this long-running business forty years ago, mostly as a watch and jewelry repair shop. While the business was growing, Adelle worked at a local bank, but still helped her husband during her lunch hour, after work and on Saturdays. Grady remembers that they started the business with only handful of stock, but, luckily, a few suppliers were willing to take a chance on this hardworking, young couple. Within six years of opening Grady’s, Adelle was able to leave the bank and come to work with her husband full-time. By then, the couple had two children, Greg and Dawn, and a second store in Loris. Today, Grady’s has doubled in size, and Dawn has taken over management of the store.
The day I visited with Adelle, she was joined by her daughter, Dawn, and “granddog,” Max the Yorkie. Dawn never planned on going into business with her parents, but, just prior to graduating from CCU with an art studio degree, began working in the store. In 2001, in spite of her plans, Dawn took ownership of the store, and laughingly said, “My parents told me, don’t think you are going to come in and change anything…and I’ve changed just about everything except them!”
Since Dawn took over, she has added new lines and changed the look of the store. Business has more than doubled in the last few years, and Dawn has had to hire another jeweler, Daniel Thompson, just to keep up. But, the one thing she has not changed is the excellent customer service that built Grady’s into the thriving business it is today.
“My family built this business on service and trust,” Dawn stated emphatically. “I believe our customers enjoy coming into the store and seeing the same faces. They are a part of our family. If you don’t care about the people who support you, you miss the big picture… the importance of relationships. That’s how you stay in business.”
Dawn cares deeply, not only about Grady’s, but the entire downtown Conway area. “Small downtown areas are such a treasure, especially when we all work together.”
Adelle and Grady continue to work in the store every day and have no plans to retire. Grady mainly does watch repair, and Adelle manages the office. She loves taking the time to cook family dinners and enjoy her grandchildren, which isn’t hard as Greg and his family live across the street, and Dawn lives next door, all in the same Conway neighborhood.
Both Adelle and Dawn wear lovely jewelry, and I asked them about their favorites. Adelle wears a pendant crafted by her husband thirty years ago, fashioned from a wedding band and set with diamonds, and Dawn’s favorite is a diamond ring given to her by her parents. Both pieces were given and received with the love that is so much a part of this family and business.
Grady’s Jewelers is located in Conway on Laurel St. Contact Dawn, Adelle or Grady at 843-248-2624 or www.gradysjewelers.com.
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.