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The Gay Dolphin, downtown Myrtle Beach’s landmark
gift store, remains a beacon for nostalgic beachgoers
One of the Gay Dolphin’s many amusements was a carnival gorilla. Years ago, a little boy slipped inside its cage, only to emerge six hours later. The little boy, Buz Plyler, then six years old, grew up to be the owner of the iconic store.
Buz’s business-guru father, Justin Whitaker Plyler, opened the Gay Dolphin in 1946 (the name is a nod to all things happy and nautical), after Buz’s mother bought two adjoining lots for a hard-earned $500 each. The Gay Dolphin is what beach memories are made of. The store sits between Eighth and Ninth avenues, north, on Ocean Boulevard and has seen decades of carousel tunes, ’coasters, and crowds. Buz grew up in the heart of Myrtle Beach, sorting shells and peacock feathers, accompanying Dad at big-city tradeshows, growing into merchandiser and negotiator. He buys more than $100,000 worth of nametags, tikis, signs, and soon-to-be-treasures each year.
The store was “wiped out,” says Buz, by the fabled Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The oceanside stretch was rebuilt and expanded up to the Boulevard. The establishment became famous for imported seashells, native sharks’ teeth, and other tokens. Buz watched his father barter in Haiti for conch and negotiate with South Indian divers.
Father and son brought crowd-pleasing attractions that most folks just hadn’t been exposed to. Each summer, a new batch of headliners would set up on the Boulevard. There were gypsy fortunetellers, boa constrictors, and alligators “as big as a Buick,” glows Buz. The store’s signature ’60s-era interior glycerin fountain and collectibles still draw crowds.
There’s no denying Gay Dolphin’s eclectic model works. Though the Pavilion is gone, a peaceful new boardwalk is just below Buz’s penthouse view, and the Gay Dolphin remains at the heart of the beach.
Photograph courtesy of the Gay Dolphin