Downtown Camden Business Spotlight

Meet the many faces that make up Downtown Camden!

“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.”

 

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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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“I’ve had people come from Virginia and even New York, they were passing through and decided to stop by me. That is one of the biggest compliments.”

Alaase Mahalah is loctician and owner of Alaase Locs, currently operating on Rutledge Street in Downtown Camden, within All Starz Barber Shop. She specializes in all-natural hair care and healthy loc care. She credits her quick and growing success to her business’s presence on social media.

“It is the power of branding, the power of putting yourself out there. Name it, own it and make it bigger. And since I put myself out there, there hasn’t been a week that I haven’t made money.”

An accountant by trade, Leici (as she is known by friends) started caring for her son’s hair about eight years ago. Then she began caring for her husband’s locs. But the journey to Alaase Locs didn’t really begin until she decided to go natural as well. 

“For my whole life, my hair was an integral part of who I am. About three years ago, I decided I needed to go natural, to be true to myself and my culture. So, I pulled my hair up in a ponytail and cut the whole thing off.”

She admits it was a shock, both physically – to her hair – and emotionally. But the process of growing out her natural hair taught her a lot about herself. Alaase Locs is the next step in that journey, but definitely not the last. The name Alaase refers to the Yoruba word for someone who through intuition, training and experience learns to harness the essential forces of things to effect change.

“The #Natural movement is growing and I hope to provide guidance for those who choose to travel on this journey...I don’t do dreads, I slay LOCS!”

Raising five boys with her husband, a fellow entrepreneur, Leici says that her family takes advantage of all the community resources available in Camden, whether it’s festivals and events downtown, activities at local churches, or all the resources that the Kershaw County Library provides.

“I am so happy with the growth of Downtown recently. Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford and our other council members have taken great steps to improve our town’s image.  Even the little things, like the district and wayfinding signs or the recycling receptacles around town. It’s amazing to see how far this town has come.”

 

 

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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!”

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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.”   

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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.”

 

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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.