January 2008

Babbie!

Author: Paul deVere

An All Too Brief Look at Babbie Guscio

Maybe the easiest place to start is how you pronounce her first name. “My brother couldn’t pronounce ‘baby’ when I was born. He called me ‘Babbie’ [rhymes with abby]. Of course my real first name is Elizabeth, but that’s only for bill collectors,” Babbie Guscio said with a laugh. Laughter and smiles seem to punctuate her conversation.

Don and Babbie Guscio move to Bluffton in 1972 via Paris, France. “We were going to live in Europe,” Guscio said. “But it was so expensive we only stayed six months.” That was the “City of Lights’” loss, but Bluffton, South Carolina’s gain. It is difficult NOT to find Babbie Guscio’s name attached to a social, civic or cultural event that has happened in Bluffton over the past 30 plus years—from dog parks to the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society to the event she is most proud of, the Bluffton Village Festival, which she founded. What began as a reasonably small gathering 30 years ago to exhibit art, local entertainment and good food, now attracts over 10,000 locals and visitors who come to sample what Bluffton happily once was, “a state of mind.”

Her name also appears as the byline on her social column, “Our Town,” in the Bluffton Packet, a weekly supplement to the Island Packet. She writes it in a style that is both quietly hip and down home local. It’s something she’s been doing for 12 years, since the Bluffton Packet first came off the presses.

The column speaks volumes about Guscio. In October of last year she wrote a left-handed paean about friend Graham Bullock’s 60th birthday party. Bullock, who owns the printing company, Village Graphics, in Bluffton, was the publisher of the Bluffton Eccentric, a newspaper that captured Bluffton’s “state of mind” from 1987 to 1991. Some, including Guscio, would probably say Bullock named it after himself. In a few words, Guscio displayed a kind of affection and humor about Bullock in a style that left the field of journalism a few decades ago.

But the column, as it always does, goes on to mention the comings and goings of prominent Bluffton citizens, schedules for events, and a Lowcountry recipe. She doesn’t seem to miss a beat. If there is a gathering of people in Bluffton, Guscio is either a participant or cheerleader, urging attendance. She also includes cultural events in Beaufort, Savannah and Charleston, to make sure Blufftonians are kept on their cultural toes.

But all of this is actually extracurricular to what Guscio does for a living, and has been doing since she and husband Don moved to Bluffton. Back then, Don got a job with Sea Pines as a land planner and later went out on his own. Babbie opened The Store.
The Store is a gallery-gift-collectibles-antique-whatever shop in historic Old Town Bluffton. Located at 56 Calhoun Street, the old building saw many lives. It was once a lawyer’s office and part of it a barber shop. Today, every horizontal and vertical surface is covered with items that appeal to Guscio’s taste. Ceramic egg separators in the shape of a man’s head crowd one corner of endless shelves. Primitive art decorates the walls. A basket filled with large match boxes with images of the Blessed Virgin printed on them are there because “I just liked the design,” said Guscio.

Her mother, daughter and sister are all artists and Guscio displays their work in The Store. “My mother’s work is highly collectable,” she said.

Babbie and Don have lived above the shop for years, just like shopkeepers of another era. “I love it up there, with the birds singing and feeding in the morning and the squirrels trying to get it,” she laughs. But that, like Bluffton, is about to change when the Guscios move into their new house. “It’s just around the corner,” Babbie said. ”I’ve never built a house before.” It will be decorated with some pieces displayed at The Store that she likes too much to sell.

The Guscios raised their three children in The Store. “They definitely know how to make a sale,” Babbie said. The children all live in the area.

The Store, on Calhoun Street

When the Guscios came to Bluffton, the town was one square mile. “When we first moved here, people who lived in Bluffton seemed bigger than life. They had great stories to tell, like the big pier where they went dancing and moonshiners and rum runners who would sneak into the coves on the May River during prohibition,” she recalled.

But Guscio also has great stories of her own. Twenty years ago she decided, on a whim, to invite the mayors of other communities with the same name to come for a weekend in Bluffton, South Carolina. “I just sent them a letter and they came. We had pot luck supper one night, then an oyster roast. They were all thrilled to be here. I remember one was a dairy farmer and he brought me some old milk bottles. Another came in a new Cadillac, which got everyone’s attention,” Guscio remembered.

She also remembers a short trip she took with her youngest child, Will, about 30 years ago. “We went to Athens, where I was born, for a visit. When we got back to Bluffton there was a new stop sign (at the end of the street). When my son saw it he said, ‘Mama, Bluffton’s changed!’”

About the change coming to Bluffton, Guscio said, “It’s amazing. It’s being going on for some time but I think it just started really showing about five years ago. All of a sudden you’re saying, what’s this?”

For over three decades, Guscio has been, and continues to be, a part of the fabric of her community, possessing the very qualities that first made Bluffton “a state of mind.”

“Bluffton,” Guscio said, “it’s my life.”

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