Just over the Line: Beaver Empire

By Connie Barnard

Just over the Line: Beaver Empire

First off, her last name really is Beaver, thanks to a former husband. Creator and owner of the sprawling, thriving Beaver Bar complex just over the Georgetown County line in Murrells Inlet, Leslye Lanier Beaver is a living lesson in the power of hard work, foresight and fun. She is also a study in contrasts:

a bar owner who neither drinks nor smokes
a quintessential good old girl whose favorite music is opera
a walking success story who loves to poor mouth
an unlikely patron saint whose local generosity is legendary

Leslye Lanier Beaver grew up in the Southwest Georgia town of Albany, a rural fertile crescent that also produced legendary singer Ray Charles, food queen Paula Deen, novelist Sue Monk Kidd, former President Jimmy Carter – and yours truly. She has deep Carolina roots as well. Leslye’s mother grew up in Columbia where her father was a family physician, and the South Carolina State Hospital was named in honor of her uncle, William S. Hall. Leslye grew up spending summers at her aunt’s Garden City beach house where her mother relocated several years after her husband’s death.

In 1988 Leslye moved to the Grand Strand “with four children and $500,” as she describes it. A year later Hurricane Hugo devastated the area, and in its aftermath Leslye found opportunities plentiful for those willing to work hard, which she was. She did construction, owned a structural steel company, and used her earnings to buy and develop land in Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island. Her motivation and endless energy are easy enough to explain, Leslye says: “When you have four mouths to feed, you learn to do what it takes to get the job done.” In addition, those who know Leslye say she possesses an innate ability to anticipate the next big wave before it breaks the surface.

In 1996, Leslye acquired a small tract of land from her mother at the intersection of Highway 17 in Murrells Inlet, just north of the Georgetown County line where a hot dog stand and miniature doll house stood. For years her mother had let vendors and bike riders park there when the spring and fall rallies were in full swing. Harley Davidson had recently moved its operations north, and SBB was establishing a stronghold on the adjacent site. During the spring bike rally that year, Leslye filled a large garbage can with ice and bottled water which she sold to bikers for $2. The next rally, she added a second garbage can for beer. Standing in the parking lot hawking her beer and water, Leslye noticed a man nearby on his phone attempting to give directions to his location. She tried to help the confused man – finally saying, “Just tell them you are at the Beaver Bar.” And that, my friends, is the origin of the legendary watering hole’s eyebrow raising name!

For over a decade Bike Week at the two adjacent venues was a phenomenal success. Over time, however, noise concerns brought mounting complaints from nearby residents and increasing control efforts by officials. By the spring of 2009 Leslye was tired of trying to deal with the turmoil and ready for a new location with room to spread out. She acquired the former Ghost Ship seafood restaurant on a half acre of land just over Georgetown County line. Though she still operates the original “Little Beaver” during Bike Week and periods of nice weather, the new 13,000 square foot facility has become the heart of a booming operation that also includes a spacious outdoor picnic pavilion Beaver built on the wooded site of a former used car lot. A short time later, she acquired the gas station across the highway to use for overflow parking. Then, in what she calls an epiphany, Leslye and her sister Electa Drake converted the property’s former convenience store into a primitive antiques and Beaver Bar memorabilia shop. Electa, the previous owner of Ricefields Antiques in Georgetown, handles day-to day operations of the shop which the sisters look forward to expanding. Just outside it sits the wildly painted “Beaver Bus” that provides free rides after a night of dining and dancing.

Leslye’s shrewd business eye and the area’s recent economic challenges have provided the Beaver Bar with opportunities to go main stream. In the last year, civic and political organizations across the community have hosted events at the spacious picnic pavilion which she offers at no charge except for food and beverages provided. Terri Larkin of the Surfside Rotary Club says, “Our club held its end-of-year celebration and officer installation there in May. At first a few members were wary of the District Governor coming to install new officers at a biker bar! It was a great time, however, a perfect spring evening with really good food and service. We would do it again without hesitation.”

Monday through Friday the Beaver Bar draws crowds of locals. Especially popular is the Wednesday night Flounder Special followed by free Shag lessons. A very diverse group of people gather each week to learn the S.C. State Dance, one which includes tourists, locals and even some bikers. Surfside residents Lynn and Bill Livesay are Wednesday night regulars. Lynn laughingly says, “The Beaver Bar has made a real contribution to my baby boomer social life.” Another regular, Brenda Quincannon of Murrells Inlet, has been Shagging most of her life. Several years after losing her favorite dance partner and beloved husband, Brenda longed to dance again. She started attending Shag Night at the Beaver Bar and says, “It’s a great place to hang out with my friends, enjoying the music and dancing. Leslye and her staff always make the Shaggers feel welcomed. That’s why we keep going back.”

Perhaps the Beaver Bar’s most popular weekly event is the Sunday Breakfast. Several hundred customers gather on a regular basis to enjoy an amazing full spread buffet and help a good cause. Leslye gives all proceeds from the breakfasts to local non-profits, an average of $700-$1,000 each week. Leslye says, “I believe in giving back to the community. We have worked hard and been lucky. We need to help our own.”

Despite these successful ventures, Beaver makes it very clear that the bikers are still the basis of her business and her remarkable success. During Bike Week upwards of 30,000 bikers flock there every day. Many know one another and have ridden long distances to re-unite with fellow riders once again. Though she is known for her laid-back, easy-going attitude, Leslye gets fired up when the subject of bikers arises: “By and large, they are good and generous people. In these hard times, they have made a huge contribution to the local economy and to the area’s tax base. I think some people are starting to realize how important they are to our economic survival. Unfortunately, the economy has affected many of them as well. Some have had to sell their bikes; others can no longer afford the trip to come here.”

All agree that behind Leslye’s laid-back approach lies a shrewd business mind and innate ability to visualize the next step – like her latest one: concerts in the outdoor pavilion. Country singers Colt Ford, Sunny Sweeney and Lee Brice performed before large crowds in October and plans are under way for more outdoor concerts. Beaver is also looking at new and innovative ways to develop her property across the highway.

Though she is a walking success story in a time when such is rare, Leslye often gives the impression she is just getting by. Whether this is an intentional effort to connect with those around her, a ploy to mask her sharp business acumen, or a long term effect of her early hard times, one thing is clear: she is unreservedly proud of what she believes is her greatest accomplishment, her four well-adjusted and successful adult children who all live nearby with their families: James “Bo” Price, twin daughters Ava Doutt and Allyson Antol, and Charles “Bean” Beaver, owner of Driftwood’s Seafood and Steak across from St. James High School.

She credits her grandmother as a tremendous influence on her life and her outlook. When facing challenges while raising her children alone, Lesley remembered her words to her: “After a day of hearing me whine, she asked if I was cold or hungry. When I said no, she said, ‘Then you are fine.’ And she was right.” Leslye’s congenial personality and natural likability are perhaps the greatest keys to her success. A former elected official who for years wrangled with Leslye over regulations says of her, “Even when you are on different sides of the fence, you can’t help but love Leslye Beaver and admire her hard work and innovative approach. She is a good businesswoman and a good person.”

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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One Response to “Just over the Line: Beaver Empire”

  1. This was a well writte great story about a great person in our community! Good job!

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