The spring and summer beach season may be big for business on Tybee Island, but city residents and entrepreneurs want to remind everyone that the work doesn’t end when the season does.
Tybee Development Authority and Main Street Director Chantel Morton said recently the bulk of the retailers, restaurants, professional offices and other service providers operating on the island today are small and independently owned and they’re open not just during beach season for the tourists, but all year long for the their neighbors.
That’s why the Tybee Island City Council eight years ago dedicated an entire week to their independent businesses, she said, and why business owners have worked with the Tybee Island Development Authority in the time since to push the Buy Local Tybee initiative, which was amended in recent months to add a tag line that encourages residents and visitors alike to stay on Tybee to “Shop.Dine.Do.”
“When people think of Tybee, it’s not just the beach,” Morton said. “There’s so much more here. … We are extremely fortunate to have so many locally owned and operated businesses that serve the citizens year-round, as well as citizens that support the variety of businesses year-round.”
Kelly Swope, who owns, operates and makes all the items she sells with her daughters, said that since she opened Kelly & Co. Essential Oils on Tybee two years ago, she has seen the customer base change in that short time from being mostly made up of short-term visitors to include a growing number of locals. And Swope herself is part of a majority-local customer base for Angela Caldwell’s Caldwell Cottage Boutique, which sells embroidery work and other hand-crafted items just down U.S. 80.
Across the street from Caldwell’s, Tybee resident and city councilwoman Julie Livingston runs Tybee Golf Carts, where she rents carts to visitors and sells — and occasionally barters — with the locals. Livingston said the new tag line for the Buy Local Tybee effort captures something unique about Tybee and the way its business owners and residents work together.
“I think it’s become a way of life for people,” she said. “It’s more than just a slogan or a tagline. You support each other.”
Michael Flores, who manages operations a T.S. Chu’s Department Store on Tybrisa Street, said it’s that way of life that has kept the store in business for the past 85 years.
One of the first businesses on Tybee when it opened in 1933, Chu’s has lasted so long in part because of the city it’s in and because of initiatives like Buy Local Tybee and Small Business Saturday, Flores said.
”It’s hard during the winter time to make a buck down here,” he said. “These little events, it helps us and our neighbors. It gets the community into our stores.”
ON THE WEB
For more information about Buy Local Tybee and for a directory of participating businesses, visit www.cityoftybee.org/323/Directory-of-Businesses-bricks-and-morta