The Ground Floor
Editor’s Note: In the 11/20/13 issue we began a two part series on the rebirth of the historic Lipsitz building in downtown Beaufort. Margaret Evans spotlighted Atelier On Bay, the maze of artists’ studios and galleries that rambles through the entire second story of the building. Read Part One here.
For more than a century the rambling wood building on the corner of West and Bay Streets stood as the center of commerce in downtown Beaufort.
Built in 1883, the Lipsitz name first appeared on the building 1902. Three generations of Lipsitz worked in the department store. Some family members lived in the apartments on the second floor. When the store finally closed its doors for the last time in 2010 it had weathered fire, flood, hurricanes, freak snowstorms, the advent of electricity, indoor plumbing and the telephone. It served veterans of the Spanish-American war, two world wars, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and two Desert Storms. It survived the Great Depression, Prohibition, the atom bomb, the Cold War, the assassinations of Jack, Martin and Bobby, the Civil Rights Movement, the Desegregation of the South, the entire 20th century and the turn of the millennium. It also had its moment in movie history as Kevin Klein and William Hurt jogged past during a scene in 1983’s classic “The Big Chill.”
Jeff and Kimberly Bisger (left), a pair of transplanted Virginians, purchased the building a couple of years ago. Kimberly, a fine artist, was in need of studio space and the top floor of the building seemed ideal. The Bisgers saw the potential to develop Lipsitz into a scaled down, Lowcountry version of Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory with a mix of working studios, galleries and retail space. After a lengthy and meticulous restoration process, the Lipsitz Building is once again a vital hub of commerce in the historic district with a pair of diverse and unique businesses anchoring the ground floor.
OLIVE THE ABOVE
Who knew that the one thing downtown Beaufort was apparently missing most was a gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop? Barbara Meyer thought so. The Ohio native first got the idea during a visit to another historic river town, St. Charles, Missouri. Meyer and family had been regular visitors to the Lowcountry for years before making the move permanent. A former employee of retail giant Nordstrom and buyer for the Higbee Company,* Meyer was looking for a franchise opportunity and Olive The Above seemed perfect. There was just one problem. The territory was taken, or so they thought.
“It was a misunderstanding,” says Barbara (right), “sort of a case of tom-a-to, tom-ah-to.”
It turns out that the contact in the home office didn’t know that our namesake town in North Carolina is pronounced “Bo-fort.” Beaufort, SC, on the other hand was wide open. The Meyer clan also snapped up Bluffton, as well. A second store is due to open on Towne Drive.
Meanwhile, the flagship operation in Beaufort needed an ideal location. Serendipity answered the call. A similarly themed operation had recently abandoned plans to open in the Lipsitz building.
“We just happened to walk by and see the sign in the window,” says Barbara. “We made the call to Jeff [Bisger] and were ready to go.”
Apparently, so were the oil & vinegar starved masses. The shop ran through a standard six-week supply of inventory in its first ten days of business.
“It was crazy,” says Barbara. “And it hasn’t slowed down.”
The store stocks some of the planet’s finest and freshest extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars. Rows and rows of stainless steel urns called “fusti” are filled with exotic offerings like Aged Fig Balsamic Vinegar, Blood Orange Olive Oil and Organic Persian Lime Olive Oil. All of the oils and vinegars may be sampled right from the fusti with some fresh gourmet popping corn. Light is the enemy of extra virgin olive oil, hence the steel urns.
“Light breaks down the antioxidants,” says Barbara, “and that’s what you want the extra virgin olive oil for. We even have baby fustis to sell to people for their kitchens. And all our products are bottled in dark glass to help keep it fresh.”
Olive The Above stocks more than just oil and vinegar. The shop has a huge selection of family made Rossi pastas and sauces, gourmet Hub peanuts, a full line of products from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, herbs, salts and unique tools for the gourmet cook.
“I use these products myself,” says Barbara. “They’re that good. And once you get people to try them, they sell themselves.” In just a couple months of business Olive The Above has built a dedicated and enthusiastic clientele. The shop is also available for private after hours events with food pairings prepared by Chef John Marshall’s Old Bull Tavern just across the back alley.
BAY STREET OUTTTERS
“We’re a sporting lifestyle shop and ‘sporting lifestyle’ is outdoors, enjoying this beautiful country, the history and the culture,” says Tony Royal.
For nearly two decades Royal and his staff ran this destination shop and guide service out of 815 Bay Street, just half a block from the Lipsitz building. Bay Street Outfitters is internationally known for its top quality gear and unmatched Orvis certified guides.
There was just one problem with the original location: it was bursting at the seams.
“In the old location we were fairly narrow,” says Tony. “It was just19 feet wide but deep. It felt like a bowling alley. And while we made it for 18 years, when this became available I thought it was the thing to do – be able to spread out. “
The new more wide-open space means customers aren’t bumping into one another as often. Royals says it also allows for an expansion of inventory. “We’ve added clothing with Barbour and Orvis and a new line of men’s shirts – Coastal – sharp and great colors.” Royal’s also broadened the selection of fly rods from Orvis and Sage as well as the selection of Tibor Fly Reels, widely considered the finest fly reel on the planet.
Bay Street Outfitters is holy ground for fly fishermen seeking the unique challenge of boating our world famous Lowcountry redfish. “This is a great fly fishing destination because 90 percent of the redfish we catch here are in less than a foot of water,” says Tony. “So it’s a very shallow water experience. And we sight cast. You can actually see the fish and throw the fly. That’s pretty exciting.”
The shop books hundreds of fishing expeditions annually with anglers from all over the globe. Four of the Lowcountry’s best Orvis-certified guides operate out of BSO with the expertise to turn a day on the flats into the trip of a lifetime. They also offer classes and instruction for aspiring fly fishermen and for veterans looking to knock the rust off of the casting arm or simply improve technique and accuracy. Meanwhile the staff can outfit you from head to toe with the finest equipment and apparel available.
Walking around the newly renovated space in this very old building, you can almost feel the history still breathing in its bones. “It would have been a tragedy to see this building leave Beaufort,” says Tony. “When Jeff Bisger decided to buy it and renovate it I think he did the town a big, big favor.”
Upstairs the artists of Atelier On Bay occupy the crazy maze of rooms that once housed members of the Lipsitz family. Customers pack Olive The Above on a daily basis and Royal says Bay Street Outfitters has never been busier.
“Lots of folks just come in to look and we like that,” he says. “This grand old building is 125 years old and we are glad to be a part of keeping it alive and well.”
Lipsitz, it seems, has regained its status as an anchor of downtown commerce.
* Correction: In our print edition, we mistakenly said that Barbara Meyer was formerly a buyer for Nordstrom. While she was employed by Nordstrom, she was not a buyer. Meyer was, in fact, a buyer for the Higbee Company, of “The Christmas Story” fame. – Editor