Pearlstine legacy began in the 1850s and thrives today.
ONE OF THE BUSINESS AND community leaders Sea Pines developer Charles Fraser turned to for support of his first Heritage Golf Tournament was Edwin Pearlstine Jr., who in the 1960s was at the helm of one of South Carolina’s oldest privately held companies, Pearlstine Distributors Inc.
In 1969, on Thanksgiving weekend, the first Heritage teed off at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines. The Pearlstines’ faith in Fraser’s idea of a major golf tournament on Hilton Head continues to pay dividends for South Carolina: a 2005 Clemson University study estimated that the tournament pumps $84 million into the state annually.
The Pearlstines have a long history of reaching out and lending a hand to communities in which the family has done business since Isaac M. Pearlstine founded his general merchandise company in Charleston just after the end of the Civil War. Through several Pearlstine-supported foundations, the family assists dozens of organizations and events throughout Lowcountry counties, including the YWCA, United Way, NAACP, Junior Achievement, United Negro College Fund, Ronald McDonald House, Ducks Unlimited, Hilton Head Recreation Center and the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. Today, the fifth generation of Pearlstines – sisters Jan Pearlstine Lipov and Susan Pearlstine – continue the tradition of giving back to the community.
“Jan’s grandfather always believed in the saying, as we continue to believe today, ‘service is the price you pay for the space you occupy,’” said Jan’s husband Larry Lipov, the president of Pearlstine Distributors Inc.
The sense of community and giving back has been handed down from generation to generation, he said.
“Mr. Pearlstine (Edwin Pearlstine Jr., Jan and Susan’s father) made sure the company has always been involved in the communities we serve,” Lipov said. “Our main charitable efforts are in the areas of education, healthcare — specifically the Medical University of South Carolina (in Charleston and on Hilton Head) and its work in cancer treatment and research, and the arts and humanities.”
In 1935, the Pearlstine family donated land in Charleston’s historic district for the reconstruction of the Dock Street Theater. Edwin Pearlstine Sr. was a founder of the city’s Jewish Community Center, and brother Milton Pearlstine was a founding member of the S.C. State Ports Authority.
Today, Pearlstine primarily distributes Anheuser-Busch products including, Budweiser, Busch, and Michelob; several lines of imports including Heineken, Becks, and Sapporo; and several craft products, such as Anchor Steam and Widmer.
Before moving to its location on S.C. 170 in Okatie in 1986, Pearlstine’s facilities locally were in Beaufort. The company is looking to move again to handle its growth, but is expected to stay in the Okatie-Bluffton area.
Pearlstine has 250 employees, about 50 of whom work in Beaufort County, and serves about 2,000 customers, including supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants and bars.
A family business through the years ...
1850s: After arriving in New York, Russian immigrant Thomas Pearlstine and his son Isaac traveled the rural South selling household goods.
1865: Only a few weeks after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Isaac M. Pearlstine opens a small general store in the tiny community of Beech Hill, S.C.
Early 1900s: I.M. Pearlstine & Sons expands to include wholesale and retail stores in Walterboro, Eutawville, Mount Holly, Hampton, Kingstree, Sumter and Florence.
1933: I.M. Pearlstine & Sons distributes Budweiser beer and other products for Anheuser-Busch.
1950: The grocery lines are sold to allow the company to concentrate on beer distribution in seven South Carolina counties: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton and Jasper.
1961: A branch distribution operation is established in Beaufort.
1992: Pearlstine Distributors passes to the fifth generation of family management when majority ownership is purchased by Susan Pearlstine and Jan Pearlstine Lipov from their father Edwin Pearlstine Jr.