The homes nestled between tall oak trees and marsh grass have names in homage to families – “Wright by the Creek” – or island life – “No R-Egrets” and “High Tide.”
Longtime landmarks dot the historical pathway through the seaside of Pawleys Island, giving visitors and locals alike a glimpse into the detailed, interesting city of the South.
The untouched, white sand beaches span for several miles, drawing in both sunbathers and surfers. Kayaks and canoes are welcome on the salt marsh that winds around the island, inviting crabbers and fishermen to catch the day’s spoils.
A day in the life of Pawleys Island holds history, intrigue, fun and relaxation for all who call the ‘arrogantly shabby’ community home.
Morning on the sleepy isle
In the sleepy town of Pawleys Island, some residents prefer to stay in bed long after the sun rises, opting to start their day once earlyrisers clear the roads. But not all islanders miss the sunrise.
Max Goree, owner of Pawleys Island Bakery, starts preparing his rolls, doughnuts and pastries every morning at 1 a.m. By 5 a.m., there’s a line of fishermen outside his doors.
“We’re very lucky that people visit us all day long,” Goree said, adding the bakery averages about 200 customers per day. “We wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have a relationship with the locals.”
Goree partners with other local business, nonprofits and charities to keep business-to-business relationships steady. He says the strength among local business owners keeps money in the town during the tourism industry’s off-season. “It’s an amazing community,” Goree said. “When somebody needs something, they can just ask; it’s really important that we all take care of each other.”
Over time, things change
After grabbing coffee and a croissant, some locals head down to one of the many marsh piers or opt for the white-sand beach to fish. Lifelong resident Billy Hall spends his days on the creek or near the ocean, casting a line or netting for oysters.
“This is my home,” Hall said. “I love Pawleys Island. It’s just a part of my whole life.”
Throughout his lifetime, Hall has seen Pawleys change; some change has been good, some hasn’t.
In 1986, Pawleys Island incorporated with Georgetown County, a move that Hall says kept the community free to lead the quiet island life it has always known.
“The town incorporating, that was a good thing,” Hall said. “It gave the town the power to keep Pawleys as it was and help preserve the way of life here.”
One major change, obvious to long-time residents, is the population growth, especially after Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Grand Strand in 1989.
Jon Jackson, owner of Inlet Service Shops and a retired professional surfer, has spent most of his life in Pawleys. After Hurricane Hugo, the community rebuilt up to new safety standards; though the new architecture met state code, it took away some charm.
“It used to be ‘arrogantly shabby,’ but after Hugo it just became arrogant,” Jackson said. “They built back up bigger, which is up to code, but it lost some of the small-town feel.”
Jackson, who has been surfing for 40 years, echoed many retirees and snowbirds in saying that this population growth has been the biggest change Pawleys Island has faced.
A decent portion of Pawleys’ population is comprised of snowbirds and retirees, such as JoAnn Boehm, a retiree from New Jersey. She and her husband bought a condo in the area a few years ago after debating a move to other warm climates.
“We would always choose Pawleys over other places because it’s such a quiet community,” Boehm said. “I like the fact that Charleston is near by, we’re close to shopping, the nearby beach, and the camaraderie of the people is nice.”
Though there’s more people in Pawleys Island now than ever before, Jackson hopes to always call the cozy, seaside town home.
“I’ve been all around the world, and this is the most laid-back, relaxing beach in the world.”
‘If you can crochet, you can make a hammock’
After a morning relaxing by the beach or fishing on the marsh, take the island up on its offer to visit shopping and crafting destinations for an afternoon of fun.
Since 1938, the Original Hammock Shop in Pawleys Island has been a source of fun, fare and rope hammocks for locals and tourists. The shop, which began as a gift shop and plant nursery, has morphed into the hub of a shopping complex along U.S. 17.
“Back in the day, it was the only place to shop,” said store manager Darlene Adams. “There were no roads, no lights. I remember when the Circle K gas station went up.”
Now home to a fudge counter, T-shirt collection and book cove, complete with local works, the shop acts as a retail store with gifts. But the reason the store has had 75 years of success in a small town is attributed to something simple: tradition.
“It’s a very small town place,” said manager Michael Cameron. “It became something to do when you were around. It established a routine, it’s ingrained in people’s trips to Pawleys Island.”
During the winter months, after the tourists return home, snowbirds flock to the Strand to stay warm and aid the local economy. Though many choose to stay in Myrtle Beach, Adams said the Hammock Shop is always on the list of places to visit.
“We have return visitors year after year; they bring their children, then their grandchildren, then their great-grandchildren.”
T-shirts and homemade fudge are just two aspects that have kept the shop going strong, but the real draw is the handmade hammocks.
Marvin Grant has spent the last 20 years weaving strands of rope together inside the weaver’s studio behind the Original Hammock shop. He’s fond of 2 p.m. lunch breaks, oatmeal-colored rope and postcards, and makes about four to six hammocks each day.
“If you can crochet, you can make a hammock,” Grant said in between weaves. “It’s the same thing.”
Grant learned the Lowcountry craft from his cousin, bouncing off an interest in weaving fishing nets. He grew up in New York, but was stationed at Fort Jackson in 1989 and preferred southern humidity over northern snow.
He soon found work at the Hammock shop, carrying on a tradition popularized during the Great Depression era. In the 1930s and early 1940s, people relied on cheap, simple means of comfort and relaxation.
“Anything you can put between two trees and lay out, people want it,” Grant said.
Though most of the hammocks are no longer made by locals at the Pawleys Island shop, they are still hand crafted in North Carolina. Grant spends two to three hours on each hammock, sending the weaved rope to North Carolina for its wooden braces. Sometimes he employs curious children he catches looking in on the shop.
“I believe in child labor,” Grant said through laughter. “A lot of kids want to come in and try to make a hammock, and I tell them it’ll cost $1, but I don’t want their money.”
So what does Grant ask in return for a lesson?
“I want a postcard from your hometown. That’s why I have so many cards.”
Scenes of snowcapped mountains, dusty roads and clear lakes cover every inch of Grant’s studio, all of which have come from people he taught to weave. All it takes is a postcard, a little bit of patience and a willingness to learn.
“If you’ve got patience, you can do this,” he said. “It’s not very hard. It’s just the same thing day after day.”
Island life eateries
If you’re hankering for a taste of the island after fishing on the pier or learning how to weave hammocks, Pawleys has a variety of cafes and eateries perfect for a relaxing, well-fed afternoon.
Stop by Island Cafe and Deli for soups, salads and burgers with a patio perfect in late summer weather. The eatery, which opened in 1988, celebrated 25 years of business earlier this year and remains an important part of the island.
If you’re lucky enough to gain invitation to an island wedding or special event, chances are the food provided is courtesy of Carefree Catering. Owned by Cris and Jeff Tuttle, the company opened its doors in 1988 and has been spicing up its menu ever since.
The Tuttles first began their business out of the Waccamaw House, now Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort, where Jeff was the executive chef. As Carefree built a reputation and the resort began its own catering service, the couple opened up their own building in 2000.
“As years went by, Pawleys grew and my catering grew with it,” Jeff Tuttle said. “When you’re in Pawleys, everybody knows everybody; we all do business together.”
Though originally from upstate New York, the Tuttles chose Pawleys Island because of its quaint atmosphere and personality. The island’s growth in the past decade has changed the area’s personality somewhat, Tuttle said, but some of the transformations are beneficial.
“There’s a whole bunch more people; the traffic is crazy,” Tuttle said in between chuckles. “But it’s a good thing, it’s good for the economy.”
Especially the catering economy.
Tuttle reworks his menus every once in a while, but always keeps old, Southern favorites on tap. Barbecue, potatoes, finger sandwiches and vegetable plates are popular items to snack on during a bridal shower, wedding or fancy reception on a Saturday afternoon.
Tuttle said dishes come at different prices, targeted to locals from all walks of life.
“From the business standpoint, you have to be able to hit all price points, even in Pawleys Island,” he said. “Some people want a $10 barbecue plate and others want a $50 sit-down dinner.”
Show off your creative chops
After spending some cash or browsing through historic shops and feeding your appetite, All Fired Up pottery allows both residents and locals to express their creativity through paint. The studio offers “paint your own pottery,” classes, glass and clay work.
Owner Carla Minervini said she opened a pottery store rather than another type of craft store because of it’s functionality.
“This is unique because you can come in and express your creative chops, but also you can pick up a piece of functional pottery,” Minervini said.
Since it takes time to paint and detail a piece of pottery, Minervini said the craft provides a perfect way to bond with family and friends. A few years ago, she spent an afternoon painting pots with her daughter, and it gave her the idea for All Fired Up.
“It was just time spent together, time spent bonding,” Minervini said. “It’s really nice to just talk sometimes, and you’re being creative.”
If arts and crafts isn’t your cup of tea, Breathe – pieces of the soul boutique off U.S. 17 offers boutique items, antiques and local art. Owner Buffy Patterson chose the island because of it’s proximity to Myrtle Beach, as well as the connected community in Pawleys.
“It’s like it’s own little secret place here,” Patterson said. “It’s a good local base here.”
The shop supports other local shops and artists, and displays their crafts inside the boutique. This way, Patterson said money stays in the community and supports local creativity.
The shop also houses a cafe and coffee bar, the former operated by brothers Mike and Murray Stahler who also have a small cafe in Myrtle Beach.
When the sun sets, history comes out
After a full day, the setting sun provides a radiant background for sight-seeing.
Several Pawleys Island landmarks are scattered along the coastline, including the historic Sea View Inn. Opened in 1937, the inn boasts 20 rooms and no air conditioning, harkening back to the days before modern technology complicated beach life.
“You have to be a character to stay in a place with no A/C, and Pawleys Island is full of characters,” said John Henry Whitmire, owner of Whitmire Fine Jewelry and longtime Pawleys resident.
Whitmire said all the old houses on the island were built similar to the inn, with large floor plans, cracks in the wooden floors and wide, open windows. The good thing about constantly open windows, Whitmire said, was that everyone went to the beach to cool off.
“You would see everyone down there, you knew everyone,” he said. “Now people just stay indoors; there’s no camaraderie.”
Right down the road from the Sea View is the Pelican Inn, one of the first structures built in Pawleys Island. The island became a popular refuge for the wealthy during the early 1900s because of the threat of malaria from mosquitoes. At the time, many people didn’t think mosquitoes could fly across the salt marsh, Whitmire said.
Wealth and political influence are no strangers to Pawleys, and many early homeowners came from other parts of the state. The Pelican Inn housed many of those prominent people.
“They all dressed casual, and they were all very humble,” Whitmire said. “They came here to get away from the neck ties.”
Those influential people hosted parties during the summer, but since Pawleys was so small and secluded, everyone would be invited just to fill out the house.
“If you had a party, you’d have to invite the CEO and the dishwasher to have enough people,” Whitmire said, laughing. “There were crosses between races, monetary classes, religions – everyone was welcomed.”
Whitmire moved to the area in 1972 and started selling his handmade jewelry in Myrtle Beach’s Gay Dolphin a few years later. By 1975, he opened up his own shop in Pawleys Island.
“The thing I loved about it was it was one of the only places in South Carolina where you could be creative, eccentric, and still be accepted,” Whitmire said. He recalls having long hair and a beard in his younger years, and was always involved in social activism.
“That’s what drew me to Pawleys Island – people accepted me and my crafts.”
Since then, Whitmire has sold jewelry in every state and more than 20 countries. He’s a household name around most of the island, servicing families through weddings, deaths, engagements and anniversaries.
“One of the real joys of a jewelry business is the relationships you make with people,” Whitmire said. “Your best payoff is the friendships and camaraderie with people.”
An ‘arrogantly shabby’ day well spent
Just before the sun disappears, stop by Pawleys Chapel, which sits right on the marsh and hosts several weddings every year.
The chapel is built on wooden slats sticking out of the bog and boasts the old-fashioned charm found all around the island. Be sure to drive, walk or ride by before high tide, unless you’d like wet feet.
Pawleys Pier offers dramatic views of both the ocean and island behind, perfect for watching the sunset. Just don’t get caught during high tide without a beach towel.
Year after year, Pawleys Island grows with the incoming population, but the quaint, small-town charm is deeply rooted in everyday life. Residents cycle through their days on the island without many changes to routines or way of living, similar to the tide’s timely movements.
Fishing on the creek, walking along the beach and shopping in family-owned boutiques is as much a part of Pawleys Island life as hammocks and crabbing. Longtime residents are ingrained with the city’s relaxing atmosphere and “arrogantly shabby” lifestyle, and welcome all who are looking for peace and quiet.
Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0377 or follow her on Twitter @NeckNews.