Today’s Coligny is known far and wide as Hilton Head’s Downtown, offering a dazzling array of the best shops, the best dining and the best entertainment on Hilton Head Island. Locals and visitors alike have flocked here for generations looking for live music, fresh seafood, and endless boutique shopping.
And while Coligny has become Hilton Head Island’s best destination for shopping, dining and entertainment, one of its most surprising treasures is its rich history. The story of Coligny, to put it mildly, is the story of Hilton Head Island, and it all starts with the vision of one man, Norris Richardson, and the Richardson family who has carried on his legacy.
Norris Richardson started his career quite literally at the bottom – sweeping floors in a grocery store as a young man. Through tireless drive and determination he built an empire, rising first in the ranks into management then staking out on his own as an entrepreneur. Before long, he and his beloved wife Lois owned and operated a chain of five grocery stores in Thomasville, Georgia.
But it was his time away from his burgeoning empire that would lead to his greatest achievement. After frequent vacations to Hilton Head Island with his wife and three children, Mary Katherine, JR and Collins, Norris saw opportunity among the wild dunes and dirt roads of a young Hilton Head Island.
So it was in 1956, before Charles Fraser would build his fortune at Sea Pines, before Hilton Head Island would gain fame for its beaches, golf and resorts, Norris and his family set up a shingle on the island’s South End. There was no bridge at that time, so Richardson had all the materials to build his first venture, Forest Beach Market, shipped in by barge. It was the first grocery store on Hilton Head Island, and its first customer was Charles Fraser.
More firsts followed. As Forest Beach Market expanded into Coligny Plaza, it included Hilton Head Island’s first bakery, hair salon, clothing store, laundromat, dry cleaners, car wash, ice cream parlor, south end post office, bike rental, fast food (a short-order restaurant called The Fin & Feather), and even the first Hilton Head Island real estate office. Coligny Plaza even had the island’s first pharmacy, completed and stocked before the island’s first pharmacist had been hired. (Fortunately, Joe Capin, who would become the island’s first pharmacist, was visiting the area and noticed the “pharmacist wanted” sign in the shop’s window).
Shop by shop and service by service, Norris built Hilton Head Island’s downtown by hand, never wavering in his dedication. Even after his son JR took over the family business, Norris could still be seen frequenting Coligny’s many shops and keeping an eye on his creation.
As island pioneers, the Richardsons carry a great deal of respect for Hilton Head Island’s community, and as such, they have given back on so many levels. JR has spent countless hours volunteering his time to help build Hilton Head Island, serving on local and regional boards dedicated to everything from public art to architectural review. He is also playing a hand in the island’s future through his work with Mayor’s Vision 2025 Task Force for the Future of Hilton Head and The Sea Pines Strategic Planning for the Future Committee. His wife Leslie is extremely involved with the community as well, and at any given moment you can find her giving freely of her time to numerous boards and charities.
And Norris’ beloved Lois is still with us, enjoying the island the Richardson family was so instrumental in building and sharing freely her stories of Hilton Head Island as it was.
Under the care of JR and his wife Leslie, Coligny has thrived and grown, fulfilling Norris’ vision of Coligny as Hilton Head Island’s Downtown. Coligny started as the island’s only place for vacationers to pick up what they need for that Hilton Head Island beach vacation. Sixty years later, it’s far from the only place, but it’s still the best place on Hilton Head Island for shopping, dining and entertainment.
And most important of all, 60 years later it’s still Hilton Head Island’s downtown.