Portrait of a Small Town Gift Shop
Last summer I started working for a small, local walking tour company and gift shop run by a friend of my family’s. Her late husband started the business, the Spirit of Old Beaufort, around fifteen years ago; he was originally from the state of New Jersey, where he had taught English for years, but swore up and down that the fact he was from South Jersey made him a true Southerner. Though I never had the privilege of meeting Peter Stevenson, I have heard many stories about him and sincerely wish I could have.
I work as a tour guide and shop keeper. My duties as shop keeper include answering the phone and answering questions, running the cash register and endless dusting, dusting, dusting. Leading tours is a more exciting: I dress up like a pirate queen in a green colonial dress and a pistol, and I get to do three of my favorite things–walking, talking and singing–at once.
Appropriately enough, the shop is located in a big, white house built sometime in the 1850s. We are located in the basement of the house; upstairs there is an art gallery and right across from us there is a coffee shop and antique store. The coffee shop brews exactly three kinds of coffee: regular, decaf and the Yankee Hair Raiser–my personal favorite. They make specialty coffees as well, but I never get them. The whole shop is piled up with old things, as is the hallway.
Our shop is very small–about the size of a dorm room at school–and is one of the quirkiest little shops you will ever step into. Ms Evelene, the shop owner, sells antiques for her mother, so our half of the hallway is laden with its fair share of ancient treasures. Inside the shop itself you can find everything from books on local and Civil War history to pirate flags to sweetgrass baskets to South Carolina teddy bears. The walls are hung with water color paintings of local landmarks by local artists and the windows are full of little knicknacks and oddments. The shop smells like my great-grandmother’s house.
There is a cd player with five rotating cds. We switch out cds occasionally, but usually not before all of Ms Evelene’s workers never want to hear those five particular cds again. We have cds of bluegrass bands playing Civil War era songs, a few cds of a local singing group called the Hallelujah Singers, a guitar cd recorded by Ms Evelene’s brother-in-law and currently we have not one, but two Glenn Miller cds. The Glenn Miller cds are my favorite.
If you peer past the window displays and the Marina Ship Store across the way, you can see the river from the shop. The weather is almost always warm here–unbearably warm at times in the summer–but there is always a breeze off the river. There are usually flowers too. The day we took down the Christmas decorations was a funny day: the sun was shining, flowers were blooming in the front yard and the birds were singing sleepily. The Spirit of Old Beaufort is a sleepy spirit.