November 2017

Avis Rollison Going Out in Style: Goodbye Porcupine, Hello New Adventures

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Sitting in a corner booth at The Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar, Avis Rollison takes her first deep breath of the day over a glass of cabernet. We’re here to talk about the closing of her beloved, one-of-a-kind boutique, The Porcupine, serving Hilton Head Island for 42 years. It is, indeed, the end of an era, but at the same time, a new beginning for Rollison.

As is the case for most business owners and entrepreneurs, so foreign is the concept of time off, she is practicing in advance for retirement by easing into a day of play on occasion. (As a trial run, she recently took a day trip to Beaufort with a friend—on a Monday.) But her work is not yet complete. The doors will close at the end of this month, and until then, she is firing on all cylinders, dressing Lowcountry ladies and visitors like there’s no tomorrow—because that’s what she does.

Women from near and far have come to rely on Rollison’s fashion savvy and distinctive selection of clothing for every occasion, from daily work wear to their Heritage outfits to their daughters’ wedding. According to 13-year Porcupine sales associate, Patty Walling, The Porcupine was the first stop for many out-of-town visitors and the place to shop for locals as well. “People are coming in in tears,” she said—sad to see the store closing, but happy for Avis to finally have “her time and her turn to enjoy life.”

Those who have worked with Rollison over the years admit the job can be challenging but readily sing Rollison’s praises. Joni Rosser, current owner of The Back Door, who worked at the Porcupine for five years, starting in 1977, credits Rollison with teaching her the ropes in retail and inspiring her to continue in the fashion world. “She’s tough but really smart and willing to go after what she wants,” Rosser said. “She set the bar for retail on Hilton Head Island, and she taught me a lot about work ethic.”

“She is the most amazing woman I have ever known—an icon,” Walling added. “Her intelligence, compassion for people (both customers and employees), and attention to detail are unmatched.” In terms of her own career of 42-year sales career, Walling said Rollison has made her stronger. “She gives us the merchandise to sell. She expects a lot, but she gives a lot. I learn something from her every day.”

In the beginning…
Although Rollison did not dream of a career in retail, growing up outside the city of Boston, she caught the fashion bug early. “My mother and father were both fashion people,” she said. “Shopping was just a part of our culture; it became a hobby.”

She also witnessed the entrepreneurial spirit of her uncles, who all lived and worked in the Boston area, perhaps sparking her own independent edge and confidence required to succeed in business.
But owning Hilton Head Island’s premier boutique was not Rollison’s goal when she arrived here in 1973. She majored in nutrition and health, attending several schools, ultimately landing at the University of New Mexico where she worked on an Indian reservation, helping people transition from food stamps to surplus food. She taught them how to make something from canned goods and even how to open the cans. In return, they gave her handcrafted Indian jewelry, which would become a source of cash flow later, as she knew the traders and how to buy and sell the best pieces.

The rest happened rather organically when a young, self-described hippie-type girl took a job at The Porcupine Craft Shop, a small gift store in Coligny Plaza. Rollison (and her former husband Joe) purchased the store in 1975, keeping the name “Porcupine,” but freeing her to grow the brand. And grow it she did, expanding into the space next door, adding Seventh Avenue fashion, lingerie, shoes and more, all while establishing a top-notch team and providing unparalleled customer service. She orchestrated fashion shows at local clubs and restaurants and, in 1978, instituted the island’s first “Men’s Night,” which became an annual holiday tradition for many years, giving the guys a fun night out and an opportunity to shop for their wives and girlfriends.

By 1993, bursting at the seams at her Coligny store, she moved to the newly renovated Gallery of Shops (with Reilley’s and Murray’s Grill Room as neighbors), expanding her shoe department and opening a children’s shop, The Porcupine for Kids.

A devastating fire destroyed everything in 1995, forcing Rollison to move her store to a temporary location on New Orleans Road, and in 1996, she found her permanent home in Village at Wexford, where she is today.

Through the looking glass
For Rollison, helping women dress well and feel good about themselves is a driving force that energizes and inspires her. But those who know her well will tell you that she is more than an ambassador of retail therapy. She has mentored fashion leaders, nurtured sales careers, provided countless job opportunities to women in need of employment, and even shoved a few employees out of the nest by encouraging them to chase their dreams.

Always a bit under the radar, Rollison has given back to the community in numerous ways, contributing to every charitable organization who ever knocked on her door, sending boxes of clothing and shoes to families whose homes burned to help them get a new start, and even buying a new trailer for one of her former employees.

Her decision to retire is a bit like stepping into an alternative world. It’s all about time: time to spend with her two sons and four grandchildren, to fix up her house and garden, to relax, travel, and do as she pleases. She is also contemplating community involvement with an eye towards work-force housing and feeding the hungry. Bringing her education and background full circle, her number one wish for the world is that there will be no hungry children. “That is really who I am,” she said.

As the closing date draws closer, Rollison reflects on her decision and is certain the timing is right.

“My biological clock is ticking,” she said. “I will miss the people—my staff and so many of my customers I’ve grown to know so well. It’s bittersweet.”

The Last Hurrah!
Now is the time to hightail it to The Porcupine and take advantage of all the fabulous close-out sales. Doors will close permanently by the end of the month, and all merchandise must be sold. Pick up bargains for yourself, get a head start on holiday gift-giving, or just stop in to wish Avis well. She’ll be going out in style, and so will you!

The Porcupine is located at Village at Wexford, 1000 William Hilton Parkway, E4. For more information, visit porcupinestyle.com or call (843) 785-2779.

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