Beekman Webb can remember a time when there were a dozen country stores on St. Helena Island.
"In my childhood, most people on St. Helena did not have cars," said Webb, a member of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust board of trustees. "They walked to the stores."
Once people had cars, the country stores on the island began to close. Some of the structures still stand, Webb said, but most have been long vacated.
One, however, is about to be revived.
The Carolina Cider Company will soon occupy the former Blocker Store and St. Helena Market at 505 Sea Island Parkway, according to the store's co-owner Jessica Lehnert. She estimated major construction on the historic building would be completed by January, with a store opening sometime in April.
The Open Land Trust acquired the market from the Blocker family, the original owners and operators of the Blocker Store, in 1998, according to stewardship director Josh Bell. He said the building and 2.38 acres surrounding it were purchased at the time to prevent the construction of an Exxon gas station.
"The market, to many, has become an iconic landmark reflecting the traditional rural character of St. Helena," Bell said. The vision of the Open Land Trust for the property, he said, is to retain the "historic, nostalgic" feel of the market from years past.
Lehnert said her store reflects that sentiment.
"It's like a piece of the old South," she said.
The Carolina Cider Company, with locations in the Gardens Corner community of Yemassee and in Pocotaligo, fits the Open Land Trust's vision for the structure, Bell added, with its rustic, country store feel. Carolina Cider Company sells jams, ciders, canned vegetables and pies and has been in operation for 18 years.
In addition to its usual inventory, Lehnert said, the St. Helena store will include a full espresso shop and locally made baked goods.
"Our stores appeal to people from out of town," particularly tourists who seek local flavor, she said. The idea for the St. Helena store is to also appeal to locals who don't have a place nearby to get a cup of coffee.
"It's definitely an area not well-serviced," Lehnert said.
As Webb had described, the Carolina Cider Company aims to pay homage to a time when country stores in the rural South were family enterprises.
"The (original) store was the hub for all people who lived in the community," Lehnert said. "It had a little bit of everything."
The Blockers operated their country store beginning in 1955. After the Open Last Trust acquired the property, it was leased to another local vendor who operated it as a produce market until 2012, when the tenant was evicted for failure to pay rent, Bell said.
It became a priority for the Open Land Trust to restore the property, especially considering its prime location.
"The old market has become an eyesore," Bell said. "(The site) is basically the entrance to St. Helena and the Sea Islands."
The 1,728-square-foot market is now undergoing renovations. The Beaufort County Historic Preservation Review Board approved plans July 16 to demolish and replace a rear addition built in 1974. The plans call for retaining as much of the original building as possible.
The project will be reviewed again at the Historic Preservation Review Board meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday. A mural for the east side of the building has been proposed.
Follow reporter Ashley Fahey at twitter.com/IPBG_Ashley.
- Past, present and future converge at Gardens Corner, February 19, 2011