A few Awendaw business owners are working to transform a former stop for those traveling through town into a destination: one where people can shop, eat and be entertained.
A furniture and gift shop, a restaurant and a concert venue are operating out of what used to be the Kick'n Horse Saloon, once a watering hole for bikers who were traveling on U.S. Highway 17.
And farther north, an Awendaw resident opened a used furniture store and boutique in the former Awendaw Grocery at Highway 17 and Doar Road.
Another man is constructing a commercial and retail building at the same intersection.
The Lowcountry Mermaid, offering new and renewed furniture, home decor, accessories and gifts, opened in the bar portion of the Kick'n Horse Saloon in January. A brown outline on the ceiling left after the bar was knocked down is about the only sign that Kimber McFadden's store was a former bar.
The Kick'n Horse opened in 2001 and closed a few years later. Residents complained about the noise, and McFadden said it seems the bikers and the bar's owner rode off one day, never to return. The place was a mess, and McFadden found the saloon's paperwork under the wooden bar when she asked to rent the space at the end of last year.
The only thing McFadden left after the remodel was a horseshoe hanging above the door. She named her furniture business the Lowcountry Mermaid because she likes to collect them, and she asked a Charleston artist to paint a mermaid on the exterior of the brown brick building.
McFadden hopes that in time the area will become a destination and that her mermaid will be a new landmark. One day, people might say, "It's right by the building with the mermaid on it" instead of the Kick'n Horse, she said.
McFadden of James Island chose the Awendaw location because the rent was low and there's plenty of room.
"The potential for growth around here is huge," she said.
Farther north, Barbara Mays of Awendaw was looking for space in Mount Pleasant to open a similar furniture business when a Realtor persuaded her to stay closer to home and open Sister Kitty in the former Awendaw Grocery Store space. She'd been selling refurbished furniture and collectibles out of Mount Pleasant locations since 1994.
"Why go to Mount Pleasant? You need to stay out here," Mays said a Realtor told her.
"So here I am," she said.
Mays opened Sister Kitty in June. The rent was the same as the Mount Pleasant locations she was looking at. But the Awendaw site offered much more space.
Half of Mays' clientele is local; the rest are traveling to and from Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
In McFadden's store, 80 percent of her customers have come from the North. She's caught people from Georgetown and McClellanville on their way to Charleston, but hopes that will change soon.
The Funky Little Kitchen, a 32-seat restaurant next door to the Lowcountry Mermaid, opened in December, serving a menu classified as Americana eclectic to welcoming locals.
Chef Andy Harris of Mount Pleasant said residents bring him food to sample and have asked him and his business partner and girlfriend Erika Mueller to come have dinner with them.
Harris was planning to move to Key Largo, Fla., to take an executive chef position when a friend, Bruce Abbott of the Awendaw Sound concert venue, asked him to take a look at the space the Funky Little Kitchen now occupies.
"This was perfect, how it sits on the road," Harris said of the restaurant.
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday, and the Funky Little Kitchen's first event, a chili cook-off, takes place 1-4 p.m. Sunday with entertainment provided by Sarah Cole & the Hawkes.
Abbott of James Island plans to operate Awendaw Sound, which is expected to draw crowds of 3,000 people around an outdoor stage. Henry Kuznik, the current owner of the Kick'n Horse property, talked Abbott into coming out of retirement and bring events to the 13-acre parcel. Abbott once arranged events at The Plex in North Charleston.
Abbott signed a lease on the property around Thanksgiving and has been working to fix it up. Residents often walk up asking if there's anything they can do to help, he said.
"The people are so welcoming. They're some of the nicest people on Earth," Abbott said. "I'm thinking about moving out here; it's been a lot of fun."
Reach Jessica Miller at 937-5921.