Twenty years ago, Don and Jenn McCallister — psyched to meet other people in Columbia as devoted to Jerry Garcia as they were — became customers of Loose Lucy’s.
Before long, the couple bought the Five Points shop near the University of South Carolina.
And after two decades, they’re still playing the Grateful Dead on the sound system.
The McCallisters never strayed from the original spirit of Loose Lucy’s, a community marketplace enveloped by familiar lyrics, the smell of incense and mellow sales staff.
“A store like this is kind of a mainstay of a college town,” said Don McCallister, 46, who wears smart black glasses and a goatee. “One of the keys is the faithfulness to the concept. In retail, it’s like, ‘Oh, what’s the next trend?’ We’ve never fallen for that.”
Customers can still buy some of the same idealistic bumper-sticker messages (“If the people lead, the leaders will follow”), Indian print tapestries, sarongs and black cotton Mary Janes that they did in 1992.
“I started shopping at Loose Lucy’s when I was a teenager and I eventually started working there when I was a senior in high school,” said graduate student Jenn Treisch.
“They kind of represent to me freedom, peace, being open-minded to different types of ideas, and music from another time period. Those are things that are just kind of different from your normal stores .... at the mall.”
Some of the store’s faithful customers are musicians who share the stage with Jenn McCallister.
“The bumper stickers, I buy for my guitar case,” said lawyer Bentz Kirby, “not my bumper.”
“The clothes are just so comfortable, I love wearing them,” added Karri Scollon, an English professor. “And I love supporting a local business, too.”
For the McCallisters, owning a “mom and pop hippie shop” has allowed them to pursue other creative pursuits.
Jenn McCallister is lead singer with two or three bands in town. She also plays keyboard.
Don McCallister writes under the name James D. McCallister. His second novel, “Fellow Traveler,” will be out soon. (“A book about a couple of rock-music fans who have to redefine themselves after the death of a Jerry Garcia-like figure around whom they’ve planned their lives,” a timely news release reads.)
Being small-business people also has required that they maintain other jobs on the side. She’s a Zumba instructor. He teaches creative writing at Midlands Tech.
Jenn McCallister, 45, her long hair tied up in a bun, never set out to work in retail. She just liked being in the store with customers who have grown up, or grown older with her. “Look at our walls,” she said. “They bring us pictures of their children, their pets.”
Little has changed through the years except that the two interact with their customers online now using social media, they said.
The original shop opened in 1990 in Hilton Head, growing out of the vending villages that popped up in parking lots outside Grateful Dead concerts. The second shop opened in Columbia in 1992.
At one time there were seven stores, said founder Susan Kaminski, who lives in Charleston. Now there are just the original two.
“Don and Jennifer have been absolute pillars in the community as far as owning a small business and working through the struggles of it and always putting their customers first,” Kaminski said. “Twenty years is amazing in this day and age for a small business.”
The two are motivated by a sense of family and ownership and pride, she said. “They’re doing what they love, and they do it together.”
The McCallisters have known each other since they were little kids, growing into “band kids” at Lugoff-Elgin High School and marrying in their early 20s.
They each tried their hand at other things before their introduction to Loose Lucy’s.
The name of the store came from a Grateful Dead song, and Jenn McCallister said a simple sentiment in the lyrics sums up how she’s feeling with this month’s 20th anniversary.
“The final line of the chorus is, ‘Thank you for a real good time,’” she said, “and that is what we’ve offered.”
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.