It's hard to say goodbye after four decades.
Pineland Station, at 430 William Hilton Parkway on Hilton Head Island, will soon be torn down, making way for a shopping center that developer Wheeler Real Estate Co. will call Sea Turtle Marketplace.
The center's age is visible. Paint is peeling on the corners of buildings. A water wheel stands dormant over a murky pond in the back. Storefronts are shadowy; signs advertising long-expired sales occasionally peek out of windows.
If the creepy factor wasn't obvious enough, an old haunted-house advertisement hangs just beyond a chain-link fence that has a sign declaring, in scary bold red type, there is DANGER and you are in a HARD HAT AREA.
It's clear that it's time to renovate and restore.
The remaining tenants -- and there are only a handful -- must vacate by the end of the month, with the exception of Starbucks and Stein Mart, which will remain open during the renovation.
But where will the others go?
Some have chosen to move to a brand-new, sleek shopping center with waterfront views: Shelter Cove Towne Centre.
Others have chosen nearby north-end spots.
Still others will shutter permanently.
The French Bakery has been at Pineland Station for 18 years, one of the longest-running current tenants at the center. Particularly recognized for its breads -- which it supplies to local restaurants, golf clubs, hotels and Hilton Head's Whole Foods -- the bakery has become a staple on the north end of the island.
Fresh, made-from-scratch breads baked in the wee hours of the morning will still be served, owner Marek Belka assured me. The restaurant will just have an updated look in its new space in Shelter Cove Towne Centre.
"We're really excited to move to our new location," he said. "The tools (we'll have there) will be better, which will allow us to add more items to our menu."
Belka said the new space has outdoor seating and is much larger, allowing more than twice the number of customers to sit and enjoy a croissant and coffee near the waterfront.
And it will be a "one-way move," he said, despite the number of years The French Bakery has been in Pineland Station.
Most important to Belka and his family is staying community-centric.
"We are very focused on locals," he said. "We want them to give us feedback."
The French Bakery will close its Pineland Station location on May 15 and is expected to reopen in the new location by the end of the month, Belka said.
FUTURE OF THE OTHER STORES
"We have a store-of-the-future design," said store manager Jay Bausher. He said it was one of the first AT&T locations to have such a design, which the company is rolling into its stores nationwide. With sleek furnishings, an open floor plan and digital screens throughout the store, the look seems to suit Shelter Cove's facelift -- and Bausher said the store will be staying put, as they are "happy with the new location."
"I like that the center has a lot of small businesses," she said. "I had choices, but Port Royal Plaza fits like a good pair of shoes."
Overcast, whose clothing store has been at Pineland Station for 15 years, isn't sure if she'll stay at Port Royal Plaza permanently, citing a fondness for her current location.
"I will consider relocating back (to this shopping center)," Overcast said. "We'll see how it turns out, but I want to keep my options open."
Di Wang, manager and chef, said the restaurant will take up residence in the south end of Hilton Head in Park Plaza, at 33 Office Park Road.
In addition to a new location, Wang plans to expand the menu.
"It will be pretty much the same, but we're going to add dinner," he said.
He, too, may consider coming back to the Pineland Station shopping center, but said he will "see how it goes."
Like all other remaining Pineland Station tenants, Relish Cafe will be closed by the end of the month, but the new location isn't expected to be open until June at the earliest, Wang said.
Philip Bernier, who has operated Island Bath Boutique at Pineland Station for 16 years, will not continue the business elsewhere.
"There are too many online shoppers (to compete with)," he said.
But that hasn't stopped Bernier from trying something new.
"The Internet may have closed this store, but it's opened the doors to other opportunities," he said. "I'm excited to pursue other businesses."
A sale is ongoing until the store's closure on May 31.
Whatever their futures may hold, business owners who have been neighbors for 10-plus years must part ways at the end of the month.
Let's bid farewell to Pineland Station with the memory of small specialty shops that came and went over the years, the many business owners both Lowcountry-bred and foreign, the locals and tourists who walked along the corridors of the plaza.
Despite its age and outdated look, Pineland Station reminds us why specialty stores and hole-in-the-wall cafes and European bakeries are still treasures in the Lowcountry.
Follow reporter Ashley Fahey at twitter.com/IPBG_Ashley.
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