Published in Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine – September Issue
Cherimie Crane Weatherford, owner of SugarBelle, grew up near the water in a small town in Mississippi. After college and a few years of domestic and international travel, a friend suggested she visit a coastal city in South Carolina called Beaufort. A special education teacher at the time, Cherimie decided to attend a job fair the school district was holding, so she packed her bags and headed East. One distinct memory stands out to her upon her arrival: “I remember driving down Bay Street and pulled over to park. I walked toward the water, sat on a swing, called my momma, and said, ‘I feel like I’m sitting in a painting. I think I’m going to stay.’”
Cherimie attended the University of Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss, receiving her degrees in special education. She continued taking courses as a Mississippi Fellowship Recipient at Belhaven University and Kennesaw State while teaching in underprivileged areas in Mississippi and Georgia. After her first year of teaching in the Lowcountry, her program merged with mainstream classes. “I enjoyed teaching, but I wanted my class.” Cherimie decided to take a weekend away in Atlanta. She came across a company desperately looking for English teachers to teach in other countries. “Next thing I know, I was on a plane to Japan,” she explains. Teaching English to business professionals seeking promotions, she immersed herself into the culture, teaching herself Katakana and Hiragana, components of the Japanese writing system.
One day while in Japan, she was on the Shinkansen (also known as the bullet train) returning from Hokkaido. “Suddenly, there was an extremely frightening earthquake. I lived in Fujisawa then and had been through earthquakes and typhoons. That was enough immersion; I was ready to return to the States.” Cherimie headed back to Beaufort.
While growing up, Cherimie’s grandmother would build gazebos, refinish floors, frame rooms, and more. “I was her shadow,” she explained. Carefully taking in all that her grandmother would teach her, she never shied away from home projects. “My grandmother, Mary, never called anyone to fix anything. If it needed fixing, she fixed it. I was never more than a few feet from Mary as a child. If she was working, I was working with her.” Her eyes beamed as she spoke of her grandmother.
She purchased her first home in the Lowcountry with the money she had saved from overseas teaching. “It was such a mess,” she giggled. “I had the Renovation for Dummies books stacked everywhere. I learned how to make it work one small project at a time.” It didn’t take long for Cherimie to turn her projects into another career. Once again, she laughed. One thing led to another, and she became a realtor. Cherimie successfully assisted buyers and sellers in reaching their real estate goals. She helped investors find homes needing renovation, and her experience with her renovations gave her insight into profitable opportunities. She compared her real estate career to teaching. “It’s the same thing, educate people so that they can make the best decisions.“
She began writing in 2008 when the market was the worst in recent history. Her writings began appearing in real estate blogs nationwide, which led her to have a column in The Island News. Her column covered various subjects, from the basics of purchasing, to methods of creating communities reflective of homeowners, not just homes. Cherimie’s articles gained attention from developers looking to expand into the Beaufort market.
From mass builders to a Charleston-based company, she became a trusted source of information essential to understanding Beaufort real estate. Her writings spurred an extremely successful Maryland-based builder/developer to meet with her to help revitalize a community on Lady’s Island, formerly Coosa River Estates. Today, the community she helped rename and restore, Somerset Point, is thriving. Cherimie reflects on that time with gratitude for those willing to teach her even more about her chosen career. She credits Scott Dennis of TD Builders for her foundation in community building, understanding the needs of new construction clients, teaching her how to become a liaison between builders and homebuyers, and learning the importance of showing up, even when it seemed impossible.
By 2012, Cherimie’s real estate career, by all accounts, was successful. Besides her success in community development, she was a published writer and leader in her industry. She even worked with USMC Drill Instructors on real estate and finance basics. Still, it was beginning to take its toll. In her mind, she explained, she had accomplished everything she had set out to accomplish in the world of real estate. Although she truly loved her active days, her heavy workload took a toll. “I woke one morning and decided it was time for a break; things I had enjoyed so much weren’t as enjoyable anymore. I wanted a new challenge.” Cherimie knew she had to do something. “At that point in my career, I worked mostly with men. I needed something else in my life. I told my husband, ‘I think I’m going to open a women’s store.’” With no background in fashion or small business ownership, SugarBelle opened twenty-seven days later.
The day SugarBelle opened there was a line out the door. It was an exciting day, but there was more news to follow. “The day we opened,” she says, “I found out I was pregnant. For a while, I ran it by myself. I had to know the business from the ground up,” Cherimie states. “A person can’t just jump into something and be an expert immediately. I learned from my mistakes, and there were plenty.” SugarBelle outgrew its first location within the first year and moved to a building off Boundary Street. “Something I did right was I wrote everything down. I typed out everything to do, and it became a manual. Now I have a new business start-up kit.” Once Cherimie had SugarBelle well established, she began to hire employees for the store. She wanted to hire females who were successful in their own right. “I wanted girls who had grit. Each girl that comes in leaves their mark.” Once my team was in place, I resumed my real estate career, not instead of, but in conjunction with, SugarBelle.
Cherimie doesn’t just dedicate her time to SugarBelle and real estate. A graduate of the Beaufort Leadership Program, she also mentors middle school girls. The girls are invited into her business at a dedicated time, and Cherimie teaches them basic business skills throughout the day. “At the end, they receive a certificate. I had a middle schooler come in and then later work for me. She now attends Clemson and is pursuing entrepreneurship. I expect the girls to leave as strong, capable women.” In addition to mentorship, she is a judge for the local Dancing With Our Stars and has been with the program since 2018. She mentors women and men in opening start-ups and is involved with the local Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA). She also continues to write as much as she is able. “Now, I just write about whatever I want for The Island News.” In 2022, Cherimie won 2nd place in the South Carolina Press Award for Column Writing and again in 2023. “That was important to me,” she stated. “Writing is my way of processing the world. I don’t write for others to read; I write for me to understand.”
The former Mississippian now calls Beaufort home. She lives with her husband, Reed, and her beautiful daughter, MaryElen. “I love that I was able to create an occupation that made sense for me. I didn’t fit into any standard category, so I created my own. Thanks to the people of this town, I took aspects from industries that I love and created a life that makes sense for me. They have embraced my nontraditional business approach and supported me in merging my careers. None of this would have been possible if so many hadn’t supported my ideas.”
Cherimie’s next project will open in downtown Port Royal. Blue Rye, affectionately named after her favorite place as a child, will be located at 1406 Paris Avenue. Her goal for Blue Rye is to offer unique, ethically made, and purposefully curated home and gift items. When asked what advice she may give to others wanting to open small businesses or take chances on new careers, without hesitation, she said, “Fail as if your life depends on it, find a path without a crowd, and be perfectly fine with people thinking you are nuts.”