Attempting to understand why Bluffton natives and long-time residents adore their town is not as easy as one might expect at first thought. To truly understand Bluffton-love, if you will, one must be ready to delve into the minds of those who dare call Bluffton home, ask the tough questions, and with a single purpose seek the truth about their “state of mind” from these rapscallion Blufftonians…
Actually, I’m just kidding. All one really needs to do is drop by The Corner Perk in Old Town Bluffton and settle in for a conversation over a latte or iced coffee with it’s easy-going owner, Josh Cooke. Josh is about as close to a “native” Blufftonian as you will get, having been transplanted to the area in his preschool years.
Like many I know who were raised in the sleepy Lowcountry in the pre-Y2Ks, the call of the big city – well Charleston in this case, lured them away. “Charleston wasn’t exactly Gotham but much bigger than Bluffton, “ Josh tells me. After graduating from Charleston Southern he set his sights with bride Kali for the really BIG city of Atlanta, where he attended the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.
In between, Josh made frequent trips back home to Bluffton. “It was really interesting seeing the evolution of Bluffton – seeing Highway 278 connected to the Interstate, and then all the development. Back in my school days, I was not a cool kid – mostly I think because I lived in Bluffton and attended school in Hilton Head Island. But friends, who lived on the Island back then, now have parents who live in Bluffton or do themselves,” Josh added with some delight. “Now Bluffton is considered hip!”
“What has developed here is a neat sense of community, especially here in Old Town and along the May River side of Bluffton. The wonderful thing about this is that new folks are almost instantly wrapped into the culture and embraced by the community as a whole. There is not a feeling of insider versus outsider here, “ he added. “Maybe this is because pretty much everyone is technically an “outsider” – most folks moved here from some place else, even if it was just over the bridge… or from Pittsburgh, like my wife.”
Being a Blufftonian is still something to cherish and most feel just a bit lucky to have found the kind of laid-back, no-hurry lifestyle Bluffton is known for… plus all the intrinsic particulars like fresh seafood, great weather and access to the myriad of outdoor activities found in the Lowcountry. Josh added, “In Atlanta people made fun of me because I wore flip flops all the time and I was always 5 minutes late. They could not understand this and would tease me, but here in Bluffton it’s the norm. Having access to great local seafood also stands out for my family. Truly enjoying life is a big part of living in Bluffton.”
I also wanted to know what prompted Josh and his wife to move to Bluffton and open a coffee shop. Having worked throughout his college years at coffee shops (Hello Starbucks!) Josh and Kali, who is a music therapist, decided to take the plunge after a ten year High School reunion invitation prompted Josh’s realization to “do something more”. They were also inspired to start a business after visiting a coffee house in Atlanta where the owner’s main impetuous was creating something great for the community, in what was a less-than ideal part of town. “Inspired, we thought surely we could open a place in the town where I grew up and have roots,” he added. On a shoestring budget and against the economic odds of 2009, Josh opened The Corner Perk.
In the time since, The Corner Perk has become one of “the places” to be in Bluffton. No one deserves success more than Josh and his family, which now includes daughters Abbagail and Ellie. In fact, you may have heard about the generous benefactor(s) who regularly bequeath a sum of money to purchase coffees for patrons – total stranger – on a given day.
“She comes in and says, ‘Here’s a $100, I just want to leave this for the next so and so people that come in and get drinks just to let them know, you know, that somebody was wanting them to have a great day and just to let them know to pay it forward,” Josh explains. Articles relating this story have appeared in local, regional and national media detailing the “pay it forward” actions of Corner Perk customers – receiving two spots on NPR’s “All Things Considered”.
Over the past few years many more customers have done the same thing and paying it forward has become a hallmark at the coffee shop and throughout the community. This does not surprise me at all. And while Bluffton’s true nature begins with friendliness served with a side of quirky, once you spend any time here, it’s evident that Bluffton’s soul, above all else is, lies with it’s people and their big hearts.