It was a busy day recently at Chirp ‘N Chatter & More.
Customers came in to buy bird seed, hummingbird food and lawn décor. Some tested out the selection of wind chimes in stock. A CD played the calls of birds, which was complemented by the relaxing sounds of a fountain at the back of the store.
On April 12, Chirp ‘N Chatter & More, in Fort Mill’s Crossroads Plaza, will have been in business for 15 years.
But on April 30, the popular store, which sells wild bird food, birdhouses, garden décor and other nature-themed items, will close its doors for the last time. Owners Marion and Dave Davenport are retiring and migrating to their new home on Fripp Island.
“We bought a house at the beach,” Marion said. “There’s birds, deer, raccoons, skunks and a few people. There’s no commercial things there.”
For faithful customers like Betty Cooney, it’s sad news. She said she’d rather shop at a locally owned, “fun” store like Chirp ‘N Chatter than at a big-box retailer.
“I will miss this store tremendously,” said Cooney, who stopped by on a recent Saturday to buy niger seed to feed the goldfinches that visit her yard.
“(The Davenports) are good, honest people who care about what they do, and it shows. They’re very informative, they explain things and it’s good information.”
A love of birding started early for Marion, who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. Her mother, Marion Walsh, taught her about every tree, bird and flower in that part of the state.
“We were really brought up with nature,” Marion said.
The Davenports, who both worked in insurance, moved to Fort Mill in 1997, and decided to open the store in 1,200 square feet several doors down in the same shopping center in 2001, when it was anchored by a Food Lion. The supermarket closed several years ago and the space is now a Planet Fitness.
“Backyard birding is something we’ve always enjoyed,” Marion said. “There was no bird store here and (opening one) just seemed like a good fit.”
The business eventually outgrew the space and expanded next door. In 2005, the Davenports moved into their current 9,600-square-foot space and expanded inventory to include more nature-themed décor. Chirp ‘N Chatter has 23,000 customers on its mailing list, and building relationships with like-minded backyard birders in the area has been very satisfying over the years, Marion said.
Announcing the store’s closure has been very hard. The Davenports knew they had a deep connection with Fort Mill, but have been surprised at their customers’ reactions.
“Some have been teasing, ‘How can you do this to me?’ ” Marion said. Others have actually cried.
“I knew we were important to our customers, but we didn’t realize we had such a connection,” she said. “In a town like Fort Mill, you really establish a feeling of community.”
In 2008, Marion Davenport made an unsuccessful run for York County Council. Prior to that, she served as a community representative on the Fort Mill Times’ editorial board.
Birding has a way of bringing people together, evident from the customers who visit Chirp ‘N Chatter, who come from all walks of life, she said. Many customers over the years have shared the photos they’ve taken of visiting birds with the Davenports. Owls, wrens, turkeys, goldfinches and numerous other birds form a colorful flock in pictures on a bulletin board at the store.
Most birders have a favorite bird, Marion says. For her, it’s the cheeky tufted titmouse, often seen and heard scolding other birds at backyard feeders.
“They have so much presence,” she said, with a smile.
Marion said it’s a little heartbreaking seeing customers come and go in these final weeks, but she’s also looking forward to retirement.
“I’m an adventurer,” she said. “Something new? I’m up for that.”
Jenny Arnold: @FashionJenQC
Want to go?
Chirp ‘N Chatter & More, 805 Crossroads Plaza, in Fort Mill (corner of S.C. 160 and Gold Hill road, near Tega Cay) is open through April 30. Markdowns of at least 15 percent have been taken off all merchandise, with 40 percent off fall and Christmas items. Clearance items are 50 percent off. For details, call 803-802-6677.