Signs of the times

  • Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mount Pleasant’s commercial shrimpers are clinging to their businesses for dear life. Though their trade is unique, historic and important to our local culture, their plight as small-business owners is not.

I have a special affinity for shrimpers that began in my childhood. As a boy around Mount Pleasant for awhile and Station 11 on Sullivan’s Island for a lifetime, the sight, sound and smell of shrimp boats are forever etched in my memories. Back when Shem Creek was chock full of working boats,

I can remember seeing the horizon outside the jetties dotted from end to end with them as they trawled in the early morning sun. I could hear the hum of their diesel engines from the beach. I remember my parents taking me to the docks to watch them unload, and to this day I can see in my mind the local workers heading shrimp with two hands in constant motion, all the while keeping up a din of rapid chatter.

Today, Grace Edwards, wife of Capt. Tommy Edwards who runs the boat Miss Judy Too, says, “This may be the last Blessing of the Fleet. There are only two boats as of now that are functioning. Everyone thinks they’re supporting us by going to the Blessing of the Fleet, but we don’t see a dime of the money.”

Mount Pleasant’s government is trying to help. Greater assistance appears to be forthcoming now that the proper IRS paperwork has been completed for the nonprofit Shem Creek Fisheries, in which Grace Edwards is a key player. But Wando Seafood - a commercial dock and icehouse - on Shem Creek is closing. Only Magwood’s is left. How sad.

Elsewhere in our community, other family-owned businesses are up against their own struggles, too. You may not see their storefronts in a sunset postcard picture, but all local small-business owners put just as much heart and soul into their retail and service enterprises as shrimpers and Sweetgrass basket makers do. Just because they aren’t featured on tourism brochures doesn’t mean they are any less vital to this community. I am one of these myself, and I can say that the last five years have been a struggle for all of us. Though our businesses may not be as picturesque, we live in the neighborhoods, buy local goods and services, and pay mounting taxes and ever increasing “fees.” That’s the disguised term for a tax without political consequences.

We buy the Girl Scout cookies, advertise in school publications, and pick up trash through Adopt A Highway programs. Local small-business owners are the lifeblood of this and every community.

All we ask of our local government is less hindrance. Case in point: Mount Pleasant’s recent ordinance on sandwich boards. You know – those colorful A-frame signs that sit out front of small businesses letting passersby know about the latest deals. As one town council member wrote in a social media post, “Those sandwich boards are gone!” Why? Threats to safety? Ruining the decor of the community? Are we again following the suburban Mecca, Buckhead, where surely such amateur displays aren’t allowed?

How about a little consistency? It’s hard to understand why Highway 17 can be lined with limitless Sweetgrass basket stands and their accompanying signs, while the town is clamping down on every other small-business owner’s right to display.

Most of us applaud town efforts to protect our unique, mystique-filled local trades like shrimping and Sweetgrass basket making. But the rest of the tax-paying, job-creating enterprises could also be given some support, too. How? Some easy steps. Locals – ask for local seafood. Buy it exclusively. Support your Sweetgrass basket maker, too. Beware the fake stuff out there. Also tell your town council member to go easy on the regulations on the thousands of other locally owned businesses as well. After all, those sandwich boards add a little personality and flavor to our wonderful town.

Will Haynie has published more than 400 op-ed columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.will@gmail.com.

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