June 13, 2024

Why Is It Called the Gay Dolphin: Myrtle Beach Origins Explained

The story of Myrtle Beach's development is inextricably linked to the visionary efforts of Justin and Eloise Plyler. This pioneering couple shaped the landscape of this popular South Carolina destination through their strategic investments and business sense, laying the groundwork for a myriad of attractions and the iconic Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.

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Early Ventures and Development

In the early 1940s, the Plylers purchased their first oceanfront lot, marking the beginning of their legacy in Myrtle Beach. Over subsequent years, they expanded their holdings and launched multiple businesses that drew tourists to the area. Notable among their early ventures was the Tom Thumb Golf Course, which offered visitors a miniature golf experience.

Accommodation and Recreational Options

The Plylers recognized the need for varied lodging options and established several inns, including the Tuck 'Em Inn, the Coast Inn, and the Just Inn. Their ventures didn't stop at accommodations. They created a wide range of entertainment facilities and animal exhibits. Attractions like a rifle range, Kiddieland with its numerous rides, and the animal exhibits featuring a reptile show, the first aquarium in Myrtle Beach, and later Gorillaland, became major draws.

Key Business Establishments

One of the key establishments created by the Plylers was the Gay Dolphin Park. This amusement park featured thrilling rides such as the Wild Mouse roller coaster and the Flying Cages, enriching the Myrtle Beach experience. Additionally, Jones Bingo and a donut shop added to the variety of offerings, ensuring there was something for everyone.

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The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove

Among the numerous enterprises established by the Plylers, the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove stands out for its enduring appeal and eclectic merchandise. Located at 916 North Ocean Boulevard, this iconic gift shop is marketed as "the nation's largest gift shop" and covers 26,000 square feet, with approximately 70,000 items on display as of 2011.

Unique Structure and Offerings

The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove is not just a large store; it is an experience. Its structure, consisting of ten levels across four stories due to the hilly terrain, includes 50 sections known as "coves." These coves house a variety of unique items, from seashells and noisy seat cushions to larger items like a $7,000 dolphin fountain and a life-size cigar store Indian. A notable highlight is the Elvis Cove, where visitors can take photos with Elvis memorabilia. Additionally, the store offers a unique service where visitors can turn their shark teeth into jewelry at Trader Bill's Shark's Tooth Cove. Popular items include name tags with a wall featuring 3,000 names and Myrtle Beach T-shirts.

A Storied History

Founded in 1946 by Justin Whitaker Plyler and Eloise Plyler, the Gay Dolphin has faced its share of challenges, including being destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. However, it was rebuilt and continued to grow, featuring a six-story glass tower that became an iconic part of Myrtle Beach. The store, which employed approximately 50 people as of 2023, was also known for selling unique pets like baby alligators, though these were later replaced with turtles and hermit crabs.

Legacy and Impact

The Plylers' contributions to Myrtle Beach's tourism are commemorated through landmarks like Plyler Park, and their entrepreneurial spirit continues to influence the area. The completion of the modern Boardwalk in 2010, connecting the Myrtle Beach Pavilion to Plyler Park, further enhanced access to the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, cementing its place as a key attraction in the city.

The enduring legacy of Justin and Eloise Plyler is reflected not just in the businesses they created but also in the memories they helped shape for countless visitors to Myrtle Beach. Eloise continued working at the store until her death in 2009, and Justin Sr. passed away in 2002, leaving behind a vibrant testament to their life's work.

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