By Michele Roldán-Shaw
Every town has its famous avenue. Savannah has River Street, New York has Broadway, Paris has Champs Elysees and Bluffton has Calhoun Street. Our central artery since the days of being just a sleepy fishing village, Calhoun now extends into the modern construction of the Promenade. And like any “main street” in small-town America, the extent to which it throbs and pulses with lifeblood gives a reliable indication of how we’re faring. That’s why it’s encouraging to see so many fresh and interesting businesses come in, including shops by three new girls on the block: Ann Marie Fiore of Cocoon, LaCreasa Allen of The Roost, and Kelly Caron, ASID, of Kelly Caron Designs.
“I think it’s an experience to come into a small shop where you want to hang out for a while and actually have people hear what you’re saying,” said LaCreasa, who celebrated her grand opening at The Roost in November. “People want to get back to shopping locally the way it used to be, coming downtown and buying their Christmas gifts—it just feels better after all the years of box-shopping.”
These days it has become not only feel-good and fashionable to buy locally, but also the intelligent choice: by keeping our dollars circulating amongst ourselves, we ensure our own collective welfare. Thriving local businesses are, in LaCreasa’s words, “a reflection of the health, vitality and economic strength of the community.” Accordingly, she and her colleagues at Cocoon and Kelly Caron Designs—like other businesses in the Promenade—make it a priority to feature regional products whenever possible.
“One of the things I’ve really tried to focus on is searching out items that are exclusive to the Lowcountry,” said Ann Marie, who recently relocated Cocoon and its “Live with Style” adage to the Promenade after three years in Sheridan Park. “We carry Savannah Bee Company, Charleston Shoe Company, jewelry made in Beaufort, and dish towels hand-stamped on Hilton Head, including a Bluffton design available only here at Cocoon. Everything we have can be personalized, and our monograms are done locally.”
A browse around the store reveals an elegant yet homey coastal flavor that would be familiar to anyone in Bluffton—flatware decorated with blue crabs, haute perfume beside books by Garden & Gun, and clothing that looks fabulous yet feels like you’re wearing your pajamas. “From Exquisite to Everyday,” as Ann Marie puts it. “This is a lifestyle store for how we live and entertain in the Lowcountry, and down here we have a lot of company, so we carry products to make you and your guests feel comfortable.”
Just around the corner, LaCreasa Allen has fashioned a similar ambience at the Roost, yet with her own uniquely personal touch to “Elevate the Everyday.” Fine decanters, gourmet cocktail nuts and snacks, European antiques, custom stationary, animal prints and wood grains alongside orchids and burnished gold; her impeccable tastes come to the shopper’s aid. Many of the things she carries are Southern-made, and all of them are small-batch artisanal products. She’s particularly excited about “getting her hands on” some oyster knives from Williams Knife Company out of Edisto—finely handcrafted and regularly featured in Garden & Gun; they run in short supply during the holidays.
“We have a lot of special little things that bring that extra something,” said LaCreasa, who moved here from North Carolina because she fell in love with the natural beauty and quaint small town environment, but immediately saw the need for more shops as the economy picked up. “I like the idea that someone can call me and say ‘I need three or four gifts for the holidays and I need them to be at a certain price-point,’ then I can put together a grab-and-go gift package.”
This old-world rapport between customer and shopkeeper has been achieved by LaCreasa since her doors first opened. Local resident Heather Bender was recently in the shop and couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “I’m SO excited you’re open!” she gushed. “I’ve lived here for 25 years but I kind of feel like I’m in Europe right now. I’m in that phase of life where I finally know what my style is—that mix of modern and traditional—and I like things that no one else has. I don’t have a lot of things, but the things I do have I’ve chosen them to be nice. I tell my husband all the time, I’m low-maintenance: a nice candle, some coffee, then I can chill out and be happy.”
After perusing around raving about things and enjoying the sample chocolate-covered peanuts, Heather finally left the store with a joyful declaration: “Can’t wait to come back! I’m going to tell all my friends—this will be my new happy place.”
For LaCreasa it must feel good to know she has filled her intended niche, and provided a customer with the exact experience she was seeking. “I’ve gotten the best feedback like that,” says LaCreasa. “It’s been overwhelming.”
A stone’s throw away is Kelly Caron, ASID (American Society of Interior Design). Her new space in the Promenade is a combination retail boutique and studio for professionally licensed Kelly Caron Designs. Clients can peruse books of lighting fixtures and fabric samples, or shop the floor with its heavy emphasis on the local. Kelly’s “Lowcountry Eclectic” blends antiques with comfortable furniture, beautiful Lowcountry paintings with sculptures made out of sea coral, big oversize lanterns with jewelry and treasure boxes—all to create what she perceives as the Lowcountry style of “comfortable, casual and unique; relaxed but with a touch of luxury.” Although this rings similar to the words of her colleagues at Cocoon and The Roost, there is no competition—only friendly well-wishing.
“I feel like I’m only successful if they’re successful,” said Kelly. “I think we’re all just happy to be here. We’re excited to be women in business, this has been our goal for a long time, and now the moment has come. Bluffton’s growing and there’s a need for a strong shopping area that’s not Tanger Outlets—we’re full of restaurants and now we’re hungry for retail.”
In Kelly’s vision, however, the Promenade is more than just shops—it’s a comprehensive design center. “We have architects, realtors and a builder; we have a landscaping company and a fireplace showroom coming in; we have someone who does cabinetry, appliances and lighting; we have the Garden Gate and shops like Cocoon and The Roost that carry tableware and accessories. I really don’t think you need to go anywhere other than downtown Bluffton to make your house feel like a home, which is great! We have knowledgeable professionals right here, and we all compliment each other. We’ve all embraced the Bluffton vibe, the Lowcountry and what’s trending, and we’re working together to make sure we’re successful as a community.”
Her sentiments are echoed by both Ann Marie and LaCreasa. “I love being part of Old Town,” said Ann Marie. “There’s such a sense of community; like this morning when I got here I ran next door to the Corner Perk and got a chai latte—it’s just this wonderful sense that we’re all here because we love Bluffton, and now we simply want to give people what they need. We all compliment each other and between us we have so much to offer.”