Burbage’s grocery store finds a buyer

Burbage’s Self-Serve Grocery regulars Jill Davidge (right) and Jemision Gale chat with new owner George Bowen on Monday. “One way or another, I’ll have the Diet Cheerwine by tomorrow,” he promised Gale.

A new owner is taking the reins of Burbage’s Self-Serve Grocery, a corner store and meat market that was in the same family and South of Broad neighborhood for more than 67 years.

Owner Al Burbage has handed over the business on 157 Broad St. to George and Lisa Bowen of West Ashley. The couple said they will keep the name, concept and all the homemade recipes that have been essential to the long-standing business.

Burbage’s father, the late Robert A. Burbage, opened the first Burbage’s on Tradd Street in 1948. About a decade later, the grocery moved to its current location, a building with an upstairs apartment where Burbage now lives.

He took over the grocery store from his father in 1985 and started serving up made-to-order deli sandwiches and soups, which only bolstered the grocery’s already devoted clientele.

Earlier this year, Burbage announced that he planned to retire. Without any successors to inherit the business, Burbage put it up for sale and hoped to find a shopkeeper that would carry on its legacy.

He was close to selling it to a buyer who announced plans to make the store more like a restaurant by adding more tables and serving alcohol. The deal fell through after neighbors complained the proposed changes.

George and Lisa Bowen had been planning to open their own furniture store until they found out that Burbage’s was up for sale.

When the news broke that Piggly Wiggly was selling most of its local supermarkets to Bi-lo and Harris Teeter, Lisa Bowen said it dawned on them that taking over Burbage’s was both an opportunity to save a local grocery store and to get back to their roots in the grocery trade.

George Bowen once owned two corner stores on the peninsula, Queen Street Grocery and George’s Grocery, now known as the College Corner at Beaufain and Coming streets. He sold the stores in the early 90’s and went to work for Piggly Wiggly, where his future wife also worked.

“There’s a lot of grocery in our family,” Lisa Bowen said.

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Two of the couple’s daughters, Olivia and Michelle Bowen, were working at Piggly Wiggly in West Ashley’s North Bridge area when the company announced the sales.

“It was a real blow for our family to see (Piggly Wiggly) go, and we didn’t want another local store to go. It felt like a divine intervention for us with the timing of all this,” Lisa Bowen said.

Michelle Bowen, 20, is now studying under Burbage to learn all of his recipes for baked goods, soups and sandwiches.

“George and Lisa gave me the feeling that they wanted something that their family could carry on,” Burbage said. “I’m actually pretty pleased. It’s a family business, and hopefully it will provide for this corner and downtown Charleston for a lot longer, which was my plan when I put it on the market.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail