30 Years of Retail


EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Monthly’s yearlong 30th anniversary celebration, we are highlighting 30 years of different industries in each issue. This month, we feature the retail experts that helped shape Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and the surrounding Lowcountry.

If the surging population growth on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton over the decades has cast an economic shadow, then the retail industry has been the shade-loving flower that bloomed alongside it. Of course, the construction and tourism industries have been robust for the most part, too, but residents need to shop, tourists need to shop, and retail stores need to employ staff to provide the goods, services and customer-friendly smiles.

About 60 years ago, between 300 and 1,100 people called Hilton Head home. There were no bridges, no stores, no stoplights, a dirt road and not much of anything else, really.

The island’s future would take a dramatic step forward in 1955 when Norris and Lois Richardson opened a small grocery store at what is now Coligny Plaza. Almost like fate, a two-lane swing bridge swung opened the next year connecting the island to the mainland — and the island would change forever.

Over time, the plaza grew and would serve not only as the beach area’s retail hub of shops and restaurants, but the entire island’s as well.

When planning visionary Charles Fraser put his innovative stamp on Sea Pines Plantation in 1969, clothier Knickers opened for business just steps away from the celebrated Harbour Town lighthouse two years later.

From 1975 to 1985, the island’s population grew nearly threefold, doubled from 17,000 to 34,000 by the year 2000, and now numbers a 40,000. More than 2.5 million tourists also spend their time and money here.

The Back Door | Since 1988 — The Shops at Sea Pines Center

Shortly after graduating from college, Joni Rosser eloped, and she and her husband headed to Hilton Head in 1977, where they’ve been ever since. He’s an architect, and she had a teaching certificate but couldn’t find a job on the island back then, so she reverted to the retailing “career” of her teenage years.

She has owned The Back Door for 20 years after teaming with partner Leisa Tram for seven years at the then jewelry store of the same name located at Harbour Town marina.

“We were a small jewelry store in Harbour Town then, with no clothing,” she said. “We started introducing clothes, little things, accessories, wraps and vests, then we outgrew the space” and moved about 18 years ago to their current location.

Now, The Back Door sells shoes, handbags, clothing, fine and costume jewelry and are well known for their merchandise’s value and quality.

“Your store ends up having a personality of its own,” she said. “We have a big mother of the bride, mother of the groom and guests of the wedding business. People know us for that.

“My inventory is for a woman who’s confident, a woman who shops for herself; I think she can be completely wardrobed in our store for any part of the day and occasion,” she said.

As the local economy and buying tendencies of the consumer have changed through the years, The Back Door adapted to the changes.

But one thing will never change, Rosser said. “There are so many more ways to get customers now, but the key thing now is the exact same thing it’s always been: good personalized customer service. Everything is different, but everything is really the same. There’s all kinds of ways to get them, but you have to keep them.”

Not only does the economy change, but new fashion trends are also constantly changing. Fashion fever has undoubtedly gone through its extremes. From skinny jeans to mini skirts, boyfriend blazers to cargo pants, flats to platforms, the fashion trends are almost as unpredictable as the economy.

And The Back Door has been there to embrace it at every turn.