For its thirty-odd years on Sullivan’s Island, the Heron has gone through many changes. Most of the long-time island residents remember it as Gruber’s Wishing Well, and for a time it was The Green Heron, but throughout its switching of hands and occasional facelifts, the Heron has remained a place for islanders to walk or bike to, enjoy a snack and some conversation and not get harassed for arriving in just their bathing suit, sandy shoes or sans shoes.
On May 1, The Heron will celebrate its once year anniversary under the management of Heather and Tim Holbrook, and many would argue that their concept of the island’s only all-purpose meeting place is its best incarnation yet. With a color scheme right out of an island sunset and a selection of groceries and sundries that meet just about every household need, the Holbrooks are quickly learning that The Heron isn’t just a place to pick up a Popsicle and a dozen eggs: it’s a vital component to the island community.
“When we first opened, I almost didn’t know what to do,” smiled co-owner Heather Holbrook. “I thought to myself ‘I have real customers!’ and I was amazed with how many people stopped by.”
The store has been a community project from the moment the Holbrooks first announced their purchase of the island treasure. Resident Bill Lynch remembers dropping by when Tim was working on the renovation. “A number of us would come by, drop a six pack on the counter and help out,” said Bill. “People wanted this place to stay here.”
He couldn’t be more right. In fact, the day after The Green Heron closed its doors for the last time in January of 2009, a petition signed by more than two hundred students at Sullivan’s Island Elementary was slipped under the door, asking that the store remain open. Heather treasures this note and plans to add it to her collection of hand-crafted “thank yous” that already adorn the store, such as the painting of a white egret by Ralston Smith, a twelve year old island resident who wanted to show his appreciation for The Heron.
Other small but significant touches that the Holbrooks have made include the bricks lining the entrance to the “lounge” area at the back of the store. Several were inscribed with the names of local children, and Heather and Tim hope that these children will come back in fifteen or twenty years with their kids and show them their little place in island history.
“This is such an easy place to visit,” said customer Bill Lynch. “It’s a like a local coffee shop meets a Ben Franklin Five and Dime meets Dean & Deluca. You couldn’t ask for better coffee,” he grinned as he took a long sip from his mug.
Along with a growing selection of environmentally-friendly household items – many of which were selected with the help of Mary Gatch, owner of DwellSmart in Mount Pleasant – The Heron also offers a wide array of beach items, Sullivan’s Island memorabilia, basic grocery needs and penny candy.
“We once had a seventy year old man stop by the store who couldn’t believe we had Squirrel Nut Zippers candy,” said Heather. “He was so surprised! Apparently he hadn’t seen them in almost 60 years.”
Another endearing moment for Heather was when another gentleman dropped by the shop and tried one of their infamous chocolate cupcakes. “He cried,” said Heather with a smile. “A grown man actually cried because he enjoyed his cupcake so much.”
Cupcakes are a regular item on Saturdays at the Heron, but other items will be a little more seasonal, such as The Heron’s Mother’s Day display. The Holbrooks are currently talking with Mike’s Bikes in Mount Pleasant and hope to have a complete display of bicycle items at the front of the shop just in time for the holiday. Streamers, horns, mirrors, baskets – anything your mom could need for her beach cruiser will be available in the shop during Mother’s Day weekend. Along with the bike items, The Heron will be taking pre-orders for homemade Mother’s Day fairy cakes. Each cake is about 6 inches tall and decadent, but orders need to be in at least one week before Mother’s Day.
In all, the Holbrooks are thrilled not only to still be in business after one of the worst economic years of the past century, they are overwhelmed with the kindness and response of the local community.
“It’s the community that has supported us,” said Heather. “We are so grateful.”
“We anticipated that this would be a community gathering place from our own experience as customers,” said Tim Holbrook, “but this has more than met our expectations. This is the community center of the island and to be here and working is so gratifying – like the look on a kid’s face when they get a rainbow sno cone.”
The Heron is located at 2019 Middle Street on Sullivan’s Island. For more information, call 883-9474 or visit their Facebook page, “Fans of The Heron” for specials.