Beaufort leaders are working to preserve a historic Beaufort grocery store and the memory of a business model seemingly past its time.
Pruitt's Grocery on Greene Street closed in May. And longtime owner James W. Pruitt died in September.
City leaders and Pruitt's friends have worked to save downtown's last true corner grocery store. They acknowledge it is no longer viable as a traditional grocery store and needs renovation.
Members of the city's Redevelopment Commission said Tuesday that preserving the building would probably require grants. The store is on a list of possible projects for a community development block grant.
"We don't have the money to buy it, nor should we, but we want to help if we can," commission chairman Jon Verity said.
Mike Sutton, a commissioner and contractor, said he has walked the building and that it needs a new roof and foundation and has no true bathroom, among other issues. He also noted an odd layout.
Commission members said the building could be bought by an investor and leased to a nonprofit group, such as an afterschool program.
Mayor Billy Keyserling said he had talked recently with two investors interested in the property who didn't envision reopening the store.
"It's a challenge to run a corner store, and there's not a lot of money to be made," Keyserling said.
New grocery stores are popping up at a rapid pace throughout Beaufort County. A new Publix on Lady's Island will soon be mirrored by a Harris Teeter across the road, with a Walmart soon to break ground a little farther down Sea Island Parkway.
Downtown residents for 70 years could walk to Piggly Wiggly -- first at the store's location on Port Republic Street and later on Boundary Street. But the store closed in 2014.
Pruitt's wasn't a fully stocked grocery store, but a cache of loyal customers knew where to go for bologna, penny candy and cold drinks during the summer.
For many, trips to the store were a means for exercise, said Henrietta Goode, who has lived in the Northwest Quadrant for 60 years. Bay Street is within reach by foot but too expensive, she said.
The shuttered stores were also a social outlet. If you knew someone you needed to talk to would be at Piggly Wiggly on Saturday, you planned to be there at the same time, Goode said.
Children benefited most from Pruitt's, she said. Penny candy and drinks were rewards for good behavior.
The process taught neighborhood children about counting and budgeting.
Goode is not sure what will become of Pruitt's. She agrees the building can't thrive as a grocery store.
Walking to the store is what helped give the neighborhood a vibrancy, she said. Goode remembers a seafood market and horse-and-buggy parking lots among the city's vanished landmarks.
"It's hard to imagine how much has changed but still remains kind of the same," Goode said. "It's still got the serenity."
Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.
- Historic Pruitt's Grocery in Beaufort to close, May 28, 2015
- A gentleman and an icon: Longtime Beaufort grocer James W. Pruitt dies at 83, Sept. 10, 2015
- When life gets so cheap, it's hard not to be bitter, Oct. 24, 2013