Photo by Ryan Belk

Sightsee Shop quickly became a staple in the Cannonborough Elliotborough neighborhood after opening in 2019, providing an experience highlighted by friendly service, funky playlists and curated collections of art and apparel. Moving forward, co-owners Allyson Sutton and Joel Sadler plan to expand their reach, giving them the opportunity to help other self-starters and have an impactful voice in the Charleston community.  

Sutton and Sadler opened Sightsee after a successful Kickstarter campaign with $33,000 in backing turned their pop-up into a breezy brick-and-mortar cafe with a giant window facing Line Street. That window came in handy during the pandemic when the only customer interaction the duo had was a quick wave from inside the shop, Sutton said.  

“We created this dual-concept business because we wanted it to be an experience when you come in, and we designed the space so people could kind of linger at the counter and have conversations with us,” said Sutton, adding that they shifted to an online ordering format allowing folks to pick up drinks on the ledge outside the shop. “All of a sudden, no one was even coming inside, so it was the complete opposite of the experience that we wanted to create.” 

After six long months, Sutton and Sadler reopened the shop, and just over a year into the pandemic, they’re back to doing what they do best — creating a “community space that’s inviting and inclusive.” 

Photo by New Moon Visuals

A limited number of patrons can order an oat milk cappuccino before perusing the shop’s shelves while listening to one of four curated playlists: Summer, Still Summer, Cold Summer and Almost Summer. 

“We were making Sightsee playlists before the pop-ups,” Sadler said with a smile. “Really, the first product Sightsee ever put out was a playlist.” 

Look for an eclectic mix of apothecary products, bags, hats, books, drinkware and art crafted by local producers or Sadler himself, a self-proclaimed “doodler.” Sightsee sells prints of Sadler’s anatomy series, in which he maps out downtown Charleston’s peninsula in the shape of a heart, palm and brain. His latest work is Drippy, the mascot for Sightsee’s first ever capsule collection dubbed “Good to the Last Beat Drop.” 

“It’s our first capsule collection, this term that I guess is from the fashion industry. I wanted to make something that we could use that would look good on multiple formats. The idea (was to have) a little icon of an animated character that kind of combines some of our interests,” said Sadler, who initially named the character “Lil Drippy” before realizing the name was taken on SoundCloud. “He’s skateboarding, he’s throwing up a peace sign, drinking coffee. Then, the tagline is, ‘Good to the Last Beat Drop,’ as a play on music and Maxwell House’s slogan.” 

Sightsee Shop doesn’t have to convince anyone that it’s a neighborhood spot with its look and location, and its role was amplified during the pandemic. 

“Everyone in the neighborhood has been going through this together. We have a lot of people in the neighborhood who started working from home, so they would come by as their one safe outing early on to have some people to talk to,” Sutton said. “That feels amazing for us that our community shows up for us.”  

“There’s the community, and then, there’s businesses like they’re patches on a shirt,” Sadler said. “The community is there doing its thing, and the patch can come and go. We may initially have just been a patch sewed on the community, but through the pandemic, I feel as though Sightsee has ceased to be a patch and has just become part of the thread itself. We’re just part of the fabric.” 

Moving forward, Sutton and Sadler plan to use their space to give entrepreneurs an opportunity by hosting more pop-ups. They also want their brand to be an example. 

“When I think about what I want to hold us accountable to, (it’s) the role that Sightsee plays in Charleston and in engaging in the issues here,” said Sadler, who, with Sutton, took to social media last week, pleading for more justice in local services and announcing they would donate $1 in every $10 sold throughout the week to Lowcountry Action Committee and Charleston Black Lives Matter. 

“Imagining five years out, we’re just a massive success, and over that time, gentrification has only gotten worse, and we have said nothing. Or, the police budget has doubled, and we have not participated in the city sessions. If we were successful, but these things continued to happen, I would consider that failure as a business. It’s a commitment to not quitting.”