Downtown Camden Business Spotlight

Meet the many faces that make up Downtown Camden!

“My wife has terrible arthritis and I spent years looking for something to help with the pain. We tried all kinds of stuff. One day, I brought some of the Real Time Pain Relief products home and she said, ‘Get some more of that because it seems to give me some relief.’ So, I got more. 

We have a long history as small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Comfort Store was the result of so many years on our own journey, meeting others with similar health and pain issues, and being able to tell people firsthand the benefits of using the all natural products we had found. So we’ve been selling wellness products for about five years. And now, there are so many brands providing high quality CBD wellness products that go along with what we were already selling. So we have brands like R&R, Green Roads, cbdMD. All reputable brands. 

We carry anything that’s meant to help people relax, feel comfortable and get healthy. Our inventory includes a variety of all natural wellness products, like Mickleberry Gardens’ elderberry tonic, Goli apple cider vinegar gummies, Mighty Muscadine natural energy booster. We believe health through nature is possible. We’re a little general store for the things that make you feel good.”

- Michael Benke, Camden Comfort Store, 411-B Rutledge Street

 

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"I'm here because I have a desire to serve people. I'm here to give people what I think they need: compassion, love, understanding. Meet them where they are and help them get to where they need to be. And not just when people lose their loved ones. Life - it's tragic. We're constantly losing things; relationships are constantly changing. And it affects the way we move forward. And so I find myself in a position as a pastor as well as a funeral director, to be able to help people navigate through those losses. Because it's real; you can't change it. And it's not, ‘Oh, you'll get used to it, you'll get over it.’ It's not always that simple. 

I’ve been pastor of Abundant Life Church for 23 years now. Up until the pandemic, I was also working for Strayer University, first as a professor at their Columbia campus, and then as the Dean of the Chattanooga, TN campus. And when COVID hit, I was no longer just a campus dean. I became somewhat of a global dean. And for me, it was full. I was like the call center, constantly picking up the phone, for hours and hours. And it was not jiving with everything else that I had going on here. COVID caused me to take a pause, to be at home in Elgin, in my house, in theology, and say, ‘OK, what are you going to do now?’ But it's a good thing, because I probably would not have created A.D. Givens Funeral Services.

I think that every service needs to be unique. I think that takes time. Meeting people where they are, to figure out what's going to best meet their needs. And so that's what we try to do. We try to figure out a way to best meet the needs of the individuals, so that whatever is planned to memorialize their loved one can bring hope, you know, so that they can move forward. Knowing that life is what it is, despair is what it is, grief is what it is. But there should be hope that’s still alive. It gives us the opportunity to press forward. 

When we were planning a way to introduce A.D. Givens Funeral Services to the community, I thought about a Friday fish fry the evening before Juneteenth. Because this is one of these unsung holidays that so many people probably still don’t know much about. I was completely clueless that it was about to become a national holiday! And so, now, this is not just a Juneteenth celebration. This is history-making for Camden right now. And it's a perfect opportunity to show what unity looks like. We have a Juneteenth celebration. And now, it’s going to be an annual celebration.

- Dr. A.D. Givens, A.D. Givens Funeral Services, 812 Laurens Street
 

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“It was always my dream to find a little house and recreate that feeling of my grandma’s tea parties, and spread the joy along to others so they can make memories of their own!  My vision may seem strange, but it was always of a little house with a red door. And when I found this place, it was a law office. But we took down walls and painted everything a pale lavender and now it’s my dream come true! 

I was born and raised in a small town in northeast Tennessee. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandma and favorite aunt, browsing antique stores and estate sales…and having tea parties. We would get dressed up, my aunt would lend me her jewelry and do my hair and makeup. Then we would bring out the best dishes and set the table so pretty to enjoy the food and each other’s company! Those memories of being in my grandma’s house having those tea parties are some of the best memories I have. 

I left home to join the Navy. I was a photographer, taking portraits of other servicemen and women, and documenting ceremonies. My nickname in the Navy was “Shortcake”. I later became a full-time mom of two kids and I carried on the tea party tradition on with them. Now, my daughter helps me run the Shortcake Tea Room, and my son hosts tea parties for his college friends! 

When my husband retired from the Navy, we moved to South Carolina. When my kids left home, it seemed the perfect time to pursue my dream. I my first choice was Camden, but none of the spaces we looked at seemed just right. So, we first rented a small office in downtown Columbia, and worked out of a rented commercial kitchen. We signed our lease right before COVID-19 shut everything down. We managed to pay the rent for the year, and contemplated closing until I found this little house, and it was perfect! 
I have loved getting to know the wonderful, kind people of Camden, whether they are here to pick up scones or cinnamon rolls or looking for a four-course private tea party! This community reminds me so much of my hometown, and the joy I see on the faces of my guests makes everyday a great day, doing what I love!”
 

Jessica Short Carr, Shortcake Bakery & Tea Room, 509 Walnut Street

 

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“For me, I always have had a fascination with nature, and the details of nature. I also come from a family that worked with their hands, building homes, and I learned as a child to appreciate the details and craftsmanship that go into every facet of a home.”

From an early age, Jeremy Wooten was trained to recognize craftsmanship. His father, a home builder and cabinet maker, was also an avid gun collector. He instilled in Jeremy the importance of being able to recognize and invest in items that would only increase in value over time. 

“It’s like the stock market, but a market of things. It was fascinating.” 

Jeremy’s knowledge and appreciation increased while working at one of the Southeast’s leading auction houses, Charlton Hall in Columbia. He has also developed a network of very good connections, people who are experts in their own rights, including members of the Ferrell family in Edgefield, SC.  

But Jeremy always knew he wanted to own his own business, and opened Wooten & Wooten Auctioneers in 2011 in Downtown Camden. Any given auction that Wooten & Wooten operates can include items ranging from fine silver, jewelry, antique furniture and decorative pieces, cinema memorabilia or even signage and mementos from SC businesses. And Camden is a great place to have an auction.

“People who really know what old world Southern hospitality and class looks like, know to come to Camden. When we first started here, we were seeing bidders travel from Atlanta and Charlotte and Charleston, and well beyond the area. People who really get that lifestyle appreciate Camden and what they’ll find here.”

He, his wife Rebecca, who has served as cataloguer and appraiser with some of the country’s leading auction galleries, and his full time assistant Tieral have seen some pretty memorable things in the last decade as catalogue auctioneers. He says he remembers their first sale included a watercolor painting from a local client who would have sold it for $500 at their yard sale. Wooten & Wooten auctioned it off for $28,000. 

“You have to know what to question. That’s why catalogue auctioneers are the line of first defense when you’re consolidating your estate or breaking down a family collection. Appraisers will often call us looking for information to establish prices.” 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Wooten & Wooten auctions have moved entirely online. While they may be missing some of the thrill of a live auction, their online sales have been just as successful as pre-COVID auctions. Jeremy says he has hope for the future. 

“I would love to see Camden continue on the path that we were on before the pandemic. I think we’ll get back there, but it will take some time.”

- Rebecca & Jeremy Wooten, Wooten & Wooten Auctioneers, 818 Broad Street

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“The best part of our day is listening to the people in the classroom. They really appreciate what we’re teaching and how much we’re teaching. And some just come to visit. And that’s what we always wanted: a place where people feel comfortable here.”

Sitting on the top floor of the TenEleven Galleria, with some of the best views of Downtown Camden, there is a steady hum of sewing machines and laughter as Barbara Selph and Melissa Sprague cut fabric and piece swatches together for Camden Quilts. The two quilters initially opened on the Galleria’s first floor in October 2019. Within a few months, they realized they needed more space.

“Business has been great; we’ve recently expanded to the third floor to accommodate more quilters and classes. We have customers steadily coming in from Columbia, Florence, Lancaster, Sumter, Rock Hill and even from beyond Charlotte.”

With the recent business closures and restrictions due to COVID-19, Barbara and Melissa are adapting to new safety guidelines and social distancing, making it safe for their quilters to come and take a class or work on a project. 

Barbara, who grew up in Summerville, worked for 12 years at a quilt shop in Florida, but always dreamed of having her own place. She and her family first moved to Blythewood upon arriving in SC. 

“I was doing some research, because I’m a quilter and I needed a quilt shop. I found one here in Camden, and started teaching classes there.”

Melissa is originally from Bath, NC, but moved to South Carolina from Texas in July 2016. She currently lives in Lugoff with one of her three children. She met Barbara at a quilting class. Their bond grew stronger after Melissa’s husband passed away in December 2018. 

“She convinced me to come over to her house and set up my sewing machine. And it took me a few tries, but I eventually was able to start sewing again. And it became a thing. It gave me something to focus on and it gave me comfort. Quilting can be very therapeutic, because it allows you to close out everything else and concentrate on what you’re doing.”

It was through that period of time that the two started visualizing Camden Quilts. Within a few weeks, their business plan was in place. And now they see a steady stream of people of all ages and backgrounds, those who have been quilting for years and those who have just discovered it.

“We love being Downtown, it’s very historic and quaint. We ourselves love antiques, so we really thought we could fit right in here. And we love being in a place where we can direct our customers to other things: the great restaurants, the other quilt shops, not to mention the great antique shops and other boutiques.”

- Barbara Selph & Melissa Sprague, Camden Quilts, 1011 Broad Street

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“I think people are starting to realize again that small businesses are the heart of the Camden community. I would like for more people to remember downtown businesses as a first option, before going to the larger company chains.”

Camden native Marty Dixon opened 803Convenience on DeKalb Street shortly after moving back home from Charlotte in the summer of 2019. His store offers small grocery items and household necessities, snacks, hot and cold beverages, fresh produce, and ice cream. 

“I admired all the mom and pops stores in Camden when I was growing up. I would say to myself when I was kid that I would own my own store, like Mr. Bobby Jones and Red Lee, because those were some of the best times of my life in Camden. I knew one day I wanted to have my own business similar to those.”

Marty says he has enjoyed seeing old faces and meeting new ones, folks who are walking from nearby neighborhoods, taking advantage of the close proximity 803Convenience is to other businesses Downtown. 

“I know when I lived here, close to Downtown, I didn’t want to have to go across town just to get a cold drink or something to snack on. People who work downtown don’t want to have to give up their parking spot, so I try to offer a variety of things to save them a trip.”

A graduate of Camden High School, Marty says some of his favorite memories were centered in Downtown. As a high school student, he worked part time at the Big Lots when it was located off of Lyttleton Street. And some might even remember seeing Marty perform as one of the members of Prime Time, a rap/dance group made up of Camden High students in the early 90’s.

“We performed and did talent shows at the old Phelps Auditorium at the old Camden High, and we were the only group who would DJ around here, so you would see us everywhere. People would call us ‘The Walking Disco’ because we were all 14 and 15 and didn’t have a car.”  

The dancing may be behind him, but Marty still enjoys walking downtown, reminiscing at what Downtown Camden was and what it meant to so many. 

- Marty Dixon, 803 Convenience, 532 East DeKalb Street

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“I wanted a place where I could grow in the community and raise a family. I chose Camden because it has that old southern charm and there is always something going on. I really enjoy the arts and who doesn’t like clothing?”

Jessica Thomas admits, Camden wasn’t on the top of her list when she first thought about starting her own business. Though originally from Camden, she’d lived in Lancaster County for many years, working as a hair stylist in Charlotte, before moving back to Kershaw County in 2018 with her family. She planned on opening a hair salon in Northeast Columbia, but when her dream location wasn’t available, she decided to switch gears. She found a listing for a space downtown.

“I decided I wanted to do something new and just as exciting as my last, so I chose to go into retail. Over time, and with several ideas tossed around, I opened a boutique and combined it with an artisan market.”

Open since March, Jessica will host a ribbon cutting and open house Friday, November 1st at 6 pm, to celebrate the success of her business and all the players that help make it run smoothly. At The Edge of Broad Street, located at 938 Broad Street, you can find all sorts of local handmade goods and art, as well as clothing and vintage style home décor. You’ve also got a chance to see the artisans at work whenever you drop in, as many will use their space at The Edge as a studio as well.

“We’re a pretty eclectic group. I had a vendor come to drop off some items and, as I went out to help, I see them loading out of a fishing boat. It was the funniest thing I’ve witnessed thus far.”

But that’s what makes it fun and a big part of what makes Downtown Camden so unique. Jessica hopes to see more independent, locally-sourced businesses in downtown, offering a variety of goods and services 24/7. 

“My vision for historic downtown Camden is that when anyone comes through - whether it be locals, visitors for events, or just passing through - they will feel that southern hospitality.”

- Jessica Faile Thomas, The Edge of Broad Street, 938 Broad Street

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“Downtown is on a great track! We’ve seen so many unique and attractive places pop up in recent years. And there’s so many exciting things on the horizon, and we’ll be right in the middle of it all!”

Jo Ann Hanks and Jo Griffith are two of the dedicated volunteers you might meet upon entering the Habitat for Humanity of Kershaw County’s ReStore located in the old Burns Hardware building on Broad Street in Downtown Camden. They’ve been here since the doors opened in 2008.

“The Habitat Board decided they wanted something more like a boutique, in addition to the construction materials and furniture that you usually see at other Habitat locations,” Jo says. “It’s a special location, and we wanted something that ‘fit’ Broad Street and Camden’s downtown.”

The store has a different personality each day of the week, depending on the volunteer staff and the regular customers that make their visits to see what’s come in. The ReStore has about twelve to twenty volunteers that rotate through the week, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We get a lot of compliments from people from out of town who say they’ve never seen a ReStore like this,” Jo Ann says. Here, you can still see many of the tools and goods that were available when the building was Burns Hardware, which operated at the location for over 100 years. 

“I really think that we are the heart of downtown,” says ReStore’s manager Deborah Davis, who also serves on Camden’s City Council. “We see so many connections, people who meet in the store and realize they have mutual friends or extended family from a generation or two ago.”

Jo Ann says there’s been some very interesting items come through the shop: a slate pool table, a carousel horse, an antique dollhouse that went to an auction house and sold for $5,000. And more pianos than they could count! But the best part of the job is truly all the people they meet at the ReStore.

“We provide a service to those in the community who are in need, people just starting out on their own and needing furniture, dishes and other items but don’t have a big budget,” Jo says. “But we also have had some real quality goods come through the ReStore: fine china, crystal, antique furniture. We are supported by a community that is incredibly generous.”

 

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“I love Camden and that there is always something going on for everyone. There’s always something fun to do in town!”

More often than not, Kim Hudson has had some hand in those fun things to do in town. Kim owns and operates Southern Events, a full-service event planning and rental company. You’ve probably seen Kim’s work at a local wedding, corporate event or nonprofit fundraiser in Camden. 

Southern Events has been operating for about 3 years, but Kim’s event planning expertise began when she was in college, and helped plan Columbia’s Mayfest.

“After graduating, I opened my first business – a Stride Rite children’s shoe store. As a small business owner, I was very active in my community and I began organizing the Irmo Okra Strut. When I sold my business to stay home and raise my children, I was asked over and over to plan various parties and events.”

After Kim’s two children headed off to college, she decided to put those years of experience to good use and began planning events professionally. 

“I wasn’t looking forward to an empty nest and thought I would need something to fill my time. Now, I work all the time!” Kim laughs. 

She and her daughter Madison, who recently moved home from Charleston to add her marketing and event planning skills to the business, have seen a continuous rise in referrals. 

“Camden has had a lot of growth and development over the years. We have seen the rental part of our company grow tremendously. We would love to see Camden become a destination spot for weddings. It has so much natural beauty and historic charm.”

 

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Andrew Lipps never thought he’d be flipping commercial buildings in Downtown Camden. 

“I bought my first building by complete accident,” he laughs, referring to 539 East DeKalb Street, now the Beauty of AVON Store. “The space was vacant and we inquired about renting it. When the owner realized how much work was needed, she offered to sell it reasonably and I began learning carpentry.”

Andrew operates Wartime Collectables, a military antiques shop. And now he’s renovating his fifth building downtown. He’s fond of historic buildings and the character each one holds. He strongly suspects that at least three of the buildings he’s renovated were originally alleyways. 

“They are all pretty much the same structure and layout, and if you look at the walls, you can see where they bricked up windows and doors on the exterior walls of the buildings on each side and put a roof over it and opened up a business.”

Raised in Southern Illinois, Andrew came to South Carolina by way of Florida. He met his wife Gale, a piano teacher and native of New York, and they married and raised their five children here. Recently retired from teaching, Andrew is focusing all of his attention on his military antiques and putting some tender loving care into 1014 Broad Street, formerly Blackwell’s Barbershop. 

“Every building has hidden history,” he explains. “This building includes an upstairs that was closed off decades ago, hidden pictures covered over by a newer wall.”

Gale has helped Andrew with every single renovation, painting walls and ceiling tiles, cleaning years of dust and dirt.  

“I am certainly no master carpenter and we have learned to work on a shoestring budget,” Andrew says.  “I could not do this without her and the willing help of so many in our community who share their advice and assistance.”

The community spirit and dedication to preserving Camden’s historic buildings is what Andrew believes can create a vibrant future for the downtown. 

“Charleston, Aiken and Savannah have thriving historic districts and I would love to see that here in Camden,” he said. “Empty buildings are a detriment to that goal. A spirit of cooperation will see Camden rival those other cities without sacrificing the small town appeal.”

 

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“Lots of people start paint businesses, but I like to think that I bring something different. I bring the technical skills of an artist working in my profession. And I keep things lively and encouraging, reminding people to ‘just keep swimming’ at the early painting stages. There is an artist in all of us!”

When Beth Ketchum arrived in Kershaw County in 2017, she already had years of experience as a professional painting instructor. With a Master of Fine Arts in painting, she was employed full-time as an art teacher in Sumter County and was teaching two classes a week at a downtown Sumter business, all while raising three young children.

“It was exhausting, but I loved the paint classes! I felt passionate that I was building something. It is awesome to encourage people to take risks and to have fun while painting.”

Now, while teaching art in the Kershaw County School District by day, Beth has created Art of Life Paint Studio, a “pop-up” business that hosts a paint ‘n sip class just about every week out of The Camden Mercantile on Broad Street. 

“The Art of Life provides a social and educational outlet all at the same time. I have been amazed at how positively people have responded to my business! My classes are doing really well and bringing more people downtown. It is absolutely wonderful to meet people and make art accessible to every skill level.”

When she’s not organizing classes, Beth and her family are enjoying the other things Downtown Camden has to offer, such as eating at local restaurants or enjoying one of the many parks in town. 

“Camden is lovely and my hope is for it to continue to thrive as a community, and I hope my business remains a part of that.”

 

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“There aren’t many of us out there that still do this work. It’s a trade, you gotta be certified. You have to know what you’re doing.”

Pete is the only person you will meet when you enter Pete’s Shoe Shop, a building which has stood on Broad Street for more than 100 years, and is believed to have been a shoe shop since the very beginning.

Customers come from Blythewood, Sumter and other locations beyond Kershaw County, not just for the unique inventory of designer women’s shoes and purses, cowboy boots and hand-stamped leather belts, and a large selection of work boots. Pete’s is one of the few places in the Midlands that will replace soles, repair stitching, lift or shorten or even create new heels for the most worn pair of shoes.

“A while back, a woman who works up at the courthouse stopped in on her lunch hour; said she had no clue I was here. She came back later that day and bought four pairs of shoes, and told me she’d be telling her friends about the shop.”

Pete moved to South Carolina in the 1970’s and for many years was a machinist at tool factories, the most recent in Sumter, sharpening tools by hand for years. His friend, Willie Cantey, who ran the old Christmas Shoe Shop on Broad Street in Downtown Camden, was Pete’s instructor at Denmark Tech and taught Pete how to repair shoes. Pete took over the shop in 2006, saying he has to give credit to Tom Christmas, who gave him the opportunity all those years ago. 

“We maintain history here; there’s so much you can learn from the past. And I don’t want to see that go away.”

Even the music you hear when entering Pete’s Shoe Shop takes you back to another time, whether it’s Motown classics like the Four Tops, or hip hop pioneers from the 1980’s and 1990’s. But, Pete knows that the key to business is not looking back, but forward.

“I like to see the encouragement of new businesses, which bring more customers and visitors to downtown. We have something special here, and people should know about it.”

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Christina Brockington, King Haigler Athletic Club

“I am a weightlifter, I’m accomplishing things I never thought possible, and I want to share my passion with others.”

Chris Brockington is an advanced level sports performance coach who competes at the national level in Olympic Lifting. She also owns King Haigler Athletic Club on Gordon Street in Downtown Camden. 

Way more than a gym, KHAC is a registered USAW Barbell Club and offers 12,000 square feet of 24 hour access, including classes, training and athlete development, infra red sauna, massage therapist, chiropractor, nutrition supplement shop and Cora Physical Therapy all in house. Several membership options makes KHAC accessible to just about anyone, and drop-ins are always welcome. 

“We are always happy to help someone find the health plan that works for them, whether it’s lifting, cardio, yoga or just learning how to use the machines.”

Originally from Columbia, Chris and her husband have lived here for 13 years. Her favorite place in town is Books on Broad, as she admits to having a serious coffee habit. Otherwise, she and her husband enjoy taking their kids out to any one of the parks in town to ride bikes or just explore. 

“I am passionate about working with kids. I started a weightlifting club at the Jackson Elementary School and it’s been awesome! I love teaching the girls to lift, to be strong, confident and healthy. They are our future, strong not skinny.” 

Chris also has a vision for KHAC and Downtown Camden, which she hopes will grow while retaining the charm she and her husband fell in love with. 

“We can keep that small town feel, while also becoming more progressive. I see weightlifting as a way of showing people, especially our youth, that there are so many paths in life. And giving kids that confidence sets them on a path to accomplish all sorts of great things.”

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Allen Blackmon, Blackmon’s Little Midget Family Drive-In

“We are a family drive-in, not a fast food joint! We pride ourselves in serving food the old fashioned way, the best way!”

Nestled on Market Street in Downtown Camden, Blackmon’s “Little Midget” was a small hot dog stand when Allen’s parents bought the business in 1958. It’s grown over the last six decades and now welcomes dine-in and drive-thru customers Monday through Saturday.

The Little Midget quickly became famous for its homemade chili, fresh angus beef burgers, classic chicken salad and pimiento cheese. This historic establishment, at one point making the list of 25 best places to eat in SC, has been featured over the years by The StateLakeside Magazine, and other local media. But Allen isn’t in it for the notoriety. Rather, it’s all about maintaining a family legacy, and his sons Ethan and Cody are well aware of the shoes they will have to fill.

“I’m looking at handing this restaurant over to a third generation, and I want them to have something to be proud to continue. We’re using the family recipes created over 60 years ago, and that’s why people keep coming back for more – it’s just good, family traditions.”

Allen plans to celebrate the Little Midget’s historic 60th anniversary with a Cruise-In and Classic Car Show from 11 am – 2 pm on Saturday, April 21st. A family-friendly event, there will be classic cars, the Hendrick Motorsports #9 Chase Elliott Chevy Camaro race simulator, a corn hole tournament, live music and of course, great food!

“Spread the word and plan to join the fun. We’re going to blow the roof off in Camden!”