Bluffton is losing one of its finest antiques.
Stock Farm Antiques opened its doors in 1953. They’ll close for good when Emmett and Teddy McCracken retire at the end of the year.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do when we close the door the last time,” Emmett McCracken said, “but I’m going to have to find something to do and, hopefully, it will be worthwhile.”
When he retired the first time, as a colonel in the U.S. Army, he said there was a lot of kudzu in the yard.
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“The kudzu is gone,” he said, “but now I have nutgrass and wisteria.”
The business was opened by Emmett’s mother, artist Naomi McCreary McCracken. It was called the Bluffton Pine Shop, a new venture for a spirited woman so steeped in Bluffton she was born in her grandmother’s home there. She liked Southern pine furniture, and that’s what she specialized in, along with two partners.
Naomi was wife of the beloved educator, H.E. McCracken. One of her partners was wife of the man who ran the monkey farm in Pinckney Colony.
In the beginning, they scoured the Lowcountry for inventory.
On Daufuskie Island, Naomi liked a table on a woman’s porch, but the owner wouldn’t sell. The story goes that Billie Burn knew the woman needed a winter coat and suggested it as a trade.
“They say my mother got that table for a coat and a six pack of beer,” Emmett said.
Emmett and Teddy can chuckle about it now — and about some of Naomi’s famous sayings.
“She said never put anything in inventory that you wouldn’t want in your living room,” Teddy said.
And she said, “Don’t worry. Everything will sell eventually.”
But even for timeless antiques, times change.
These kids today don’t seem to care what their grandmother did.
“They just don’t want brown furniture,” Emmett said, summing up the complexities of the human heart that once treasured nice finishes on mahogany and cherry.
“They like it painted,” Teddy said. “They like Ikea. I say, ‘Yeah, and it will fall apart in 10 years.’ “
“Children don’t want it.”
Teddy sometimes tries to get into the new mind with the sweet accent of a woman born in Farmville, N.C.: “I want to tell you what this is.”
“But, you know what, I’m not going to worry about it. They’re getting it whether they want it or not.”
The McCrackens consciously avoided online marketing. But they joined another trend, selling a lot on consignment.
And they said their customers have been good people. They want nice things and appreciate beauty. And they’ve left only three or four bad checks in 65 years.
Emmett and Teddy met on a blind date in 1958. He graduated from West Point in June 1959 and they were married that December.
He was a child of Bluffton, born by the river 83 years ago this November. His father was the revered principal and superintendent. A middle school still bears his name. But few may know that H.E. McCracken also was a father of mental health services in Beaufort County when most people didn’t want to talk about it.
Since Emmett retired and came home in 1989, he’s been mayor of Bluffton and chairman of the Beaufort County Council. Like his father, he served on the vestry of the Church of the Cross. He has developed the Stock Farm neighborhood on their land, starting right with the Great Recession. Today, he says, all but four lots have sold, “but the bank still has me on speed-dial.”
His parents built a home on the May River, on land that an old map identified as Stock Farm. Naomi convinced her husband to let her put her antique shop upstairs, to help pay for the house. Advertising guru Tim Doughtie of Hilton Head Island designed the logo for Stock Farm Antiques, they put a sign out on Highway 46 and customers wound a quarter of a mile down a dirt road to find another sign at the house assuring them that, yes, this is it.
Emmett and Teddy can’t say that Naomi helped pay for the house, but “that’s how she furnished the house.”
Emmett and Teddy eventually moved into that house, remodeled it and moved the business out to the highway, sandwiched between the May River Grill and Four Corners Fine Art and Framing.
Repeat customers, people headed to Hilton Head, and a lot of word-of-mouth advertising kept them in business. One year, 2,000 people signed their guest book.
The McCrackens learned how to read customers. If a couple comes in together, you may do business. If the husband waits in a running car, forget it.
They learned that the worst thing you can do is buy antiques as an investment. They’ve seen prices dropping since a heyday in the 1980s.
“Buy it because you want it,” Teddy said.
At the end of the day, the partner who worked the shop would be asked to give a report.
“We had a lot of ‘be-backs,’ ” would often be the response. That’s what they called people who looked all around and said they’d be back.
It’s sad that, come December, this true Bluffton antique won’t be back.