Downtown Camden Business Spotlight
Meet the many faces that make up Downtown Camden!
“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.”
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.”
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 State, Lakeside 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!”
Tana Simmons, Nationwide Insurance
“I’ve learned a lot of good lessons and have a lot of great memories. But I firmly believe the best is yet to come and I look forward to new memories and moments each and every day.”
Tana Simmons recently celebrated her 50th birthday, and she’s not too shy to talk about it. She is the face of the Nationwide Insurance brand in Camden, alongside office manager, Ashley Barnes. First established as the Dick Grimm Agency, it was later acquired by Clark Farley.
“I had worked in Columbia at Clark’s Columbia agency location in the mid 1990's but then embarked on an enjoyable real estate career here in Kershaw County. I came back to the Nationwide Insurance family in 2014 here in Camden and have very much enjoyed serving the insurance needs of our community.”
But there’s much more to Tana than meets the eye, like a need for speed that she enjoys fulfilling with “horsepower”. An avid equestrian, she can be found riding and showing her horse. Otherwise, she’s working on a number of projects in her barn or house in Camden.
“I love my neat old home, which I just finished renovating…a three year project. My boyfriend and I enjoy the quiet evenings here, relaxing with our dogs Millie and Sassy, plus a snuggly cat creatively named ‘Kitty’.”
She’s got a love for another kind of horsepower too, which one need only check out the blue Fiat that’s usually parked outside her office on East DeKalb Street in Downtown Camden to realize. And when the doors to her office close, she enjoys staying downtown to support her fellow business owners.
“I would have to say that one of my favorite things to do in town is dining at any one of our wonderful local restaurants. I am excited to see an even more vibrant downtown area that is more pedestrian friendly in the years to come.”
Champ da Barber, All Starz Braid & Barber Shop
“I’ve always been passionate about mentoring our youth, and when I came to Camden, I wanted to make a space and be a part of the community.”
Champ arrived from New Jersey in 2013 to help out his mother and continue his career in barbering. After a year renting a chair at a local shop and completing his 1900 hours for SC certification, Champ decided to open up his own place on Rutledge Street. He has ten chairs and a clientele that hails all the way from Columbia.
“I was excited to team up with the Boys & Girls Club of Kershaw County and we have young adults come and work in the summer, earn their own money, and learn business and valuable communications skills. I like working with the high school students who want to pursue barbering or braiding; I like to watch their growth.”
Champ’s mother and father both grew up in Camden, but moved north as teenagers in the late 1950’s. Champ can remember spending summers at his grandparents’ home, pumping water from the well to bring in the house, because there was no indoor plumbing.
“I didn’t understand it, being a kid from New Jersey in the 1980’s. My parents came from poor families; they did what they needed to do to make a living for themselves, and that meant moving north back then.”
But times have changed and Champ says opportunities are everywhere in Camden and the surrounding region. He just began another business in 2017, selling Italian Ice at local community events. He’s looking to expand to a broader region this year.
“My father taught me that the trick to business is to fill a void; give people something they don't already have. And I see so much potential in Downtown Camden.”
Adri McCaskill, iPlan Americas
Tucked into the Broad Street landscape in Downtown Camden is a small blue-canopied office, home to a powerhouse international company since May of 2017.
Stop in and say hello to Adri McCaskill, General Manager for iPlan Americas. With corporate headquarters in South Africa, and projects on five of the seven continents, iPlan’s expertise is in transitioning organizations from one enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to another, in Warehouse Management System projects and in Organizational Change Management with a specialty in ensuring People Readiness for a Go-live event.
“We empower our clients by making complex business processes and advanced technology work for them in their environment, with their people. For us, it’s personal.”
How does a global company decide on Camden, SC for its Americas HQ? Adri had a lot to do with that, having lived and worked in the area since 2012. But she says iPlan’s Chief Executive Officer, Abré Pienaar, travels quite frequently from South Africa to the US and is also enthusiastic about Camden.
“I loved Camden the first time I came here. It is beautiful and has so much to offer: history, horses, Lake Wateree, great restaurants…. We enjoy the overall historic character and the look and feel of the small historic Downtown; it’s what makes Camden unique and precious. For iPlan, this is a wonderful location from which to serve our clients in the immediate area as well as further afield."
Adri also has a love of horses, having competed in endurance riding in South Africa while in school. She is now a 4-star FEI Judge and has traveled to places like Holland, Malaysia, Botswana, Costa Rica, and all over North America to judge. Adri will be a judge during the 2018 World Equestrian Games in North Carolina.