Anyone driving out to Sullivan’s Island takes notice: The Sea Island Shopping Center off Coleman Boulevard is bustling. It’s the quintessential stop before heading to the beach and beyond. Residents and visitors stop in to Harris Teeter to pick up groceries, sit down in Mr. Causey’s chair for a haircut or peruse the racks of clothing and home goods at the local Goodwill.
What patrons may not know is the unique history behind one of the oldest centers in Mount Pleasant. What once was a quiet, sleepy fishing village and small town grocery is now a busy epicenter in one of the fastest growing areas in the Southeast. Over the past 50+ years, the center has evolved into a 95,000-square-foot operation with more than 25 tenants and a strong customer base.
The Sea Island Shopping Center was originally owned by the Langley Family and was sold to the Hewitt Family in the early 1960s. Batson L. Hewitt took ownership of the property after his father died unexpectedly in 1962.
The center was Hewitt’s first piece of commercial property and the one that started him on the road to a successful career in commercial real estate. He continues to manage the property today along with other innovative projects such as the Spectator Hotel, the Bee Street Home Historic Restoration and the French Quarter Inn. He was named Commercial Realtor of the Year in 1998 and has held many leadership positions in various commissions and associations over the years.
Back in the 1960s, the center had a strong set of anchor tenants: Piggly Wiggly, Western Auto, Belk and Eckerd drugstore. The economic downturn in the 1970s caused the center to fall on some rough times. Faced with losing two important tenants, Hewitt began plans to redevelop and expand.
Brooks Pharmacy bought Eckerd, which is now Rite Aid. Hewitt slowly began filling in the spaces with smaller, mom-and-pop stores. Goodwill signed on in the late 1970s and remains a core retail entity today. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, businesses have come and gone and changed ownerships and names – with one sparkling exception.
Causey’s Barbershop, nestled on the corner, has been around as long as the center itself. The shop’s walls are decorated in vintage sports memorabilia, and some of Dan Causey’s customers have been loyal patrons for decades.
A crucial transition for the center occurred three years ago, when Harris Teeter acquired Piggly Wiggly. The grocery chain spent millions of dollars to renovate from the roof down, creating a brand-new, state-of-the-art retail space that has, in turn, attracted more strong tenants to the center.
Surrounding Harris Teeter today are various stores and restaurants, including a delicious French bistro, a nail bar, a post office, Dante’s Spirits and Baroni’s New York Style Pizza. Local residents come to the laundromat or stop at Charleston Fabrics to begin their next big project. Overall, sales are booming.
Hewitt is extremely pleased with the current mix of retailers in the center.
“A good tenant mix is critical in a neighborhood shopping center like this. There needs to be a certain synergy around the anchor tenants, and I think we have that,” he explained.
One important issue to address in the future is the sheer volume of people expected to move to the area in the coming years.
“The population of Mount Pleasant is going to continue to accelerate for years to come, “ Hewitt said. “Sea Island is in a very strategic position. Coleman Boulevard is a central hub.”
In 2008, the Mount Pleasant Town Council came up with a proactive solution to the growing population and traffic concerns. The Coleman Boulevard Overlay District Plan designated the Sea Island Shopping Center as a high density, mixed-use development consisting of retail, office and residential space. Hewitt plans on making that a reality down the road.
Consultants have said the center should be more pedestrian-friendly. Hewitt promptly answered with colorful landscaping, more overhead lighting and speed bumps around the parking lot, making it a safer and more enjoyable place to shop.
Another concern for the future is the manner in which people shop. These days, customers are looking for convenience and instant gratification.
Hewitt said Harris Teeter is a great example of adapting to evolving retail trends. Customers can now order their groceries online and pick them up in a drive-through, without having to step foot inside the store.
Crystal Bruce, a longtime resident of Mount Pleasant, is pleased with the look, feel and easy shopping experience at Harris Teeter. She lives across the street from the Sea Island Center and regularly shops online for groceries.
“It saves me a lot of time. I hop on my bike, and my groceries are ready to go. It’s nice to have this option within biking distance,” she said.
“Shopping trends are changing. Habits are changing, and you’ve got to adapt,” Hewitt commented. “You can’t just crawl in a hole and rest on your laurels. I think that’s probably true in any business today.”