Coligny Plaza: How One Store Became Hilton Head Island’s Downtown
Full disclosure up front: the author of this piece hosts Coligny Plaza’s trivia night every Saturday during the summer. Mention you read this on southmag.com and get one free answer!
Hilton Head Island was a far different place when Norris Richardson first arrived in Hilton Head Island in the mid-50s.
There was no bridge, few paved roads and not much by way of a tourism economy yet, as Sea Pines was still very much in its embryonic stage and Harbour Town was little more than sketches on paper.
A born entrepreneur, Richardson had worked his way up from sweeping floors to owning a chain of five grocery stores in his native Georgia, and he was looking to start a new empire on this tiny island in the middle of nowhere. Clearly he saw some potential few others did at that time.
Shipping in the materials by barge, he started Forest Beach Market at the heart of what is now Coligny Plaza. It would be the first real supermarket on the island, and Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser would be its first customer. For the scattered pockets of island residents, the market represented the first place they could all convene as neighbors on an island built for those seeking seclusion.
That one store grew to be many, with shops and restaurants filling in the many spaces around Forest Beach Market. The island’s first real estate office was here, as was the first bakery, laundromat, ice cream parlor and pharmacy (built and stocked before a pharmacist had been located). As a piece of historic trivia, the first Wild Wing Café location was located in Coligny Plaza in what is now the locally sourced seafood restaurant FISH.
And as it added shops and restaurants, it continued to serve the same vital role the market had: Hilton Head’s downtown. For a community that largely lives behind gates and in small pockets along the island’s main corridor, Coligny Plaza gave them a spot they could come together to chat over a hot coffee or a cold beer. It gave beachgoers a quick and convenient place to pick up supplies for their day in the sand. It gave the island its first sense of community.
And to the hundreds of thousands of visitors it entertains every year, it gives a chance to shop for that perfect souvenir or try some authentic local cuisine. Just as Norris Richardson formed the nucleus of a young community, now his son JR continues the tradition of giving the island a true downtown with regular festivals and special events from summer concerts to the annual visit by Santa Claus.
It’s been 60 years, but even after all this time, it’s still Hilton Head’s downtown. Not to mention, by way of a plug, a great place to see trivia during the summer, starting every Saturday at 6:30.
To learn more about Coligny Plaza, upcoming events and shop information, please visit colignyplaza.com. To read more about the greatest places to eat, stay, play and shop in the South, subscribe now or pick up the August/September issue of South magazine.