U.S. 278. If you live in southern Beaufort County, you’ll likely find yourself driving that road every day. Running from the Hardeville line to the bridges to Hilton Head Island, the highway moves locals and visitors past a long line of car dealerships, businesses and neighborhoods. Along the way are people, places and stories you don’t know. Come drive the road with us.
A truck driver from Jacksonville, Fla., bought $14 worth of golf balls.
He was hauling “used restaurant grease.”
Sherrel Craft, of Tillman, spent $101.46 on fireworks, about her usual amount.
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She was going to pick up her granddaughter on Hilton Head Island.
A tan tourist wrapped in a floral-print dress — which looked like it might, in its spare time, adorn a curtain rod in a beach rental — bought a wide-brimmed hat, and from his perch behind the cash register, Troy Ramsey told her that wearing it would make her look like Greg Norman.
It was a fair comparison on this afternoon, the Friday before Memorial Day, the start of the busy season at Hardeeville’s Golf Ball Outlet and Fireworks Mega Store, located at Exit 8 off of I-95, where it intersects U.S. 278.
Like Norman — an Aussie golfer famous for two British Open wins and a shark-motif clothing line — the tourist had spent some time in the sun. And like Norman, her hair looked to have been bleached by it.
Her image was captured overhead in a half-dome security mirror that reflected shelves and rows and stacks and tables and walls of fireworks — with names like Acid Raid, Bamboozle and One Bad Mother — the colorful packaging of which almost drowned out her dress.
But she never ventured into the pyrotechnics section, the store’s largest by a factor of three.
And she either didn’t understand what Ramsey was getting at or was not familiar with her doppelgänger, Norman.
Ramsey, in his gentle voice — a touch of rasp, almost soft enough to be a whisper — tried to educate her. She smiled and nodded. He took her money and thanked her.
She was the seventh customer between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the only one to buy a hat.
She’d come in just after noon, just after Ramsey — a walking smiley face in his yellow shirt — strode through the front door, activating the store’s chimes and signaling an end to Tom Wyatt’s shift.
“Troy, my man,” Wyatt said, greeting his coworker in a Spencer, N.C., accent heard on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in May, when he bantered with the late-night host during a segment that spotlighted some of the weirdest stores in America.
“What’s going on?” Ramsey replied.
Ramsey came with the store, said owner Ron Granick, who purchased it in 2008.
Granick, a Maryland transplant who’d previously retired from sales, had never sold fireworks.
Ramsey, 56, started selling them when he was 17 — “the mayor of Hardeeville,” Wyatt calls him; “Employee of the Decade,” he’s anointed himself, with a framed picture behind register that says as much.
Wyatt’s only been selling a year. He left a job at a department store on Hilton Head, where he lives, for the gig. Why? Because selling fireworks is more fun.
And fireworks are the money-makers, netting four times as much revenue as the golf merchandise, according to Granick.
When he bought the store, he toyed with expanding the golf department. The previous owners advised him otherwise. Now he keeps inventory sheets for “repeat offenders” — 571 of them, at last count — who buy fireworks in bulk, or who — like “Robert,” whose sheet identifies him as a mechanic at a local dealership — buy a little each week to compile an arsenal.
Big spenders are honored on the Wall of Flame.
A $500 purchase gets your picture tacked up behind the register — folks like a NASCAR pit crewman who initially dropped $400 dollars and got talked into moving the needle a bit more, or a software tech up from Orlando for a conference on resort management systems who told Ramsey and crew to fill up his Tesla.
“In South Carolina, fireworks are kind of a lifestyle,” Sherrel Craft said, as she left the store with more than $100 of merchandise she and her family would enjoy during the holiday weekend.
“Like some people eat fried chicken, like some people eat ribs on holidays,” she continued. “In South Carolina, you gotta buy fireworks.”
Kind of like what Wyatt said to Jimmy Kimmel, she said.
“And in South Carolina, fireworks is just like a culture, here in the Lowcountry,” Wyatt had told the late-night host. “Everybody loves to shoot them off.”
Unless you’re a truck driver hauling grease who’s prone to losing golf balls.
“I found me a new place to buy golf balls,” the man said. “I rent golf balls!”
“Do you shoot fireworks?” Granick asked.
“No,” the man said.
“That stuff would be a waste of money for me.”