November 2007

Best Little Party Store in Town

Author: Paul deVere

Back in 1960, three very important events occurred on Hilton Head. A little phone company called Hargray opened its office on the island; George Cobb put in the island’s first golf course in Sea Pines; and Wilbert Roller, Sr. opened the first Roller’s liquor store at a very young Coligny Plaza. While the store has gone through several owners (and a slight location change to Lagoon Road in 1974), the name remains and Roller’s has become an island icon. Some customers have been coming to Roller’s since it opened 47 years ago, even if the first visit was with their parents.

Last year, John Kelsey, who purchased the two Roller’s stores in 2000 (there is also a shop in Triangle Square), added another element to the icon when he brought Teddy to the store. Kelsey “rescued” Teddy, an Australian Cattle Dog, from a kennel in Georgia. “She was a top show dog and became a top breeder,” Kelsey explained. The kennel still shows Teddy’s picture on its website with the notation that, “She is now retired and living at the beach on Hilton Head Island!”

According to Kelsey, the two most asked questions in the store are, “What kind of dog is that?” and “Where’s the triple sec?”

“For some reason we’ve always kept the triple sec underneath the tequila, thinking the two go together; but half the people come looking for it in the cordial section,” Kelsey explained.

The liquor business was a far cry from the refractory industry (think steel mills) Kelsey was involved in back in Pittsburgh. “Our company was sold to another company and I had a chance to get out, so I did,” Kelsey said. He already had a home in Sea Pines, so Hilton Head seemed like a logical move. He found Roller’s on an Internet search. “The broker asked me if I’d be interested in a liquor store. I told my wife about it and she said, ‘Hey, that’s great!’ I said, ‘It is?’”

Kelsey found out it was. “I used to work in a business where we were selling to steel mills. It was a hot, hard, industrial job and, as the day went on, things got worse. [The mills] are loud, they’re noisy. Here, people are on vacation. What a difference,” he said.

John Kelsey, owner of Rollers Total Beverage

And it is the people Kelsey enjoys. “On Saturdays in the summer, with the rental houses changing over, the store can be flooded with people. One of the neat things is listening to our customers while you’re ringing them up and someone will say, ‘Here, let me give you $20 for that,’ and someone else will say, ‘No, you got the bicycles, you got the groceries, I’m going to get…’ It’s really fun,” Kelsey said.

“Wine is an interesting part of the business. We try to offer an alternative to grocery stores for the more discerning wine buyer. We have wine sales people in here every day with samples for us to taste. It’s a constant flow,” said Kelsey. That translates into the fact that customers are more likely to see the wines in Roller’s bins are the same ones you see in Wine Spectator magazine. “And the wine salesmen, they are all characters. One guy retired six weeks ago and he came back today just to visit,” Kelsey laughed.

In some respects, Teddy and Roller’s are reminders of those early times, of Hilton Head Island in the 1960s, when everyone was so very personable and everything so personal. Where a kid can run into a stranger’s office, looking for a dog, and that’s just fine. “This summer, a little girl came running back here [Kelsey’s store room office], because she remembered Teddy from last year. She loves him. She made her father bring her to the liquor store to see Teddy. Then she came back later that day and brought her mother and brother to meet Teddy. It happens all the time,” Kelsey said.

Yes, what a difference.

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