Written by Clay Bonnyman Evans
Photos by Rob Kaufman
Less than two miles from the end of the J. Wilton Graves Bridge onto Hilton Head Island, two longtime friends have opened a small, eclectic general store they hope will become a much-needed pit stop and community hub for residents and visitors alike.
Bluffton real-estate engineer Erik Olson and Hilton Head Island resident Shane Harpham, owner and operator of Bluffton’s Sea Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, opened the Jarvis Creek General Store on the southwest corner of Spanish Wells Road and U.S. 278 in February.
“It seemed like a really good spot to stop and gather if you need a place to sit down with somebody for a cup of coffee or a beer, or grab something on the way to the beach,” Olson says.
“We want to be a local resource and a good ambassador for visitors, an indicator to everyone coming in and out of town of what Hilton Head Island is all about.”
Olson and Harpham have partnered on other development projects, but this is their first time owning a retail business. The two had long admired the small building and perfectly placed corner lot, well before previous owner, attorney David A. Berry, put it up for sale.
“It’s such a great location, kind of like a gateway to the island,” Olson says.
After Berry “put up the smallest 'for sale sign' ever,” Olson says with a laugh, the two friends made a pitch for opening a small store with lots of local flavor, featuring locally sourced food, beverages, arts and crafts, as well as more commercial staples, sundries and treats.
“We got the impression he could have sold to anybody he wanted,” Olson says. “But our timing was good, and he liked the vision we described: two local guys doing work to the building and doing something to keep some of the local history and flavor.”
The building features 1,300 square feet packed with local beer, wine, and food —everything from pickles to artisanal coffee — as well as a small selection of beach toys, T-shirts, basic items such as toothpaste, and more.
But the building is just one piece of the picture. One recent weekday afternoon a dozen customers ate lunch at shaded picnic tables, chatted next to the ever-burning firepit and scanned the menu at a local food truck in the parking area. On Saturday afternoons you can find local musicians Pete Carroll, Kyle Wareham and others performing live outside.
Olson and Harpham have more plans for the future.
“We’re building a stage for the music, and all this fun stuff is coming along. We have a vision that during the fall we’ll offer pumpkins for sale and Christmas trees from North Carolina,” says Harpham, whose brother serves as general manager of the store. “What we wanted was a local trading-post vibe that will hopefully continue to grow into something residents can be proud of.”
The property has a storied local history. Gateway to the Spanish Wells Historic Gullah Neighborhood, it was the birthplace in 1905 of Charlie Simmons, Sr., who later bore the monikers “Mr. Transportation” and “Cap’n Charlie,” among others.
Simmons owned a fish camp off Marshland Road and was the first local to own a motorboat. He ferried passengers to and from Savannah three times a week, returning with everything from butter beans to seafood and livestock for sale to island residents.
Simmons died in 2005, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday, and in 2014 the South Carolina Legislature named the bridge over Jarvis Creek on Spanish Wells Road in his honor. The building where Simmons was born burned in 1993, according to The Island Packet newspaper. Virginia’s Country Kitchen eventually opened at that location.
“There’s some undefined north-end history to the building, which is kind of fun,” Olson says. “As busy and active and vibrant as it now is, there are periods when it’s sat dormant. We still don’t know the whole history, not just of the building, but of the Gullah district.”
Olson and Harpham carefully restored the building’s tabby-shell stucco exterior, made from ground oyster shells. They cleared and re-landscaped the rest of the property to make it an appealing place for customers. Though its age is uncertain, a towering live-oak tree shading the property likely pre-dates Simmons’ birth.
Olson hopes that between the perfect location, the focus on local fare and wares, the history and the beauty of the property, it will become a community hub for years to come.
“We just want to have this place be a little bit unique; a place where you can come and eat and drink, with no time limit,” Olson says. “It’s not a bar, it’s not a grocery store, it’s a gathering place.”