Open house brings hundreds to downtown Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Moring News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Hundreds of Pee Dee residents visited downtown Florence Thursday evening to “shop, dine and unwind.”

In partnership with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and many downtown businesses, the Downtown Development Corporation hosted a “Downtown Open House” that gave residents a chance to see the changes and progress in the downtown area.

Bob Sager, retail recruitment specialist with the Florence Downtown Development Corporation, said the event was a way to bring awareness of what’s going on downtown.

“We had an event similar to this a couple of years ago and it went really well,” Sager said. “We decided it was time to do it again. Back then, we had a lot of businesses opening and, since, we’ve had a lot more open. I think it’s a good thing for everybody.”

Each attendee of the event arrived at the chamber and was given a “passport” to take to each participating location. At the locations, they had their passport stamped and checked out what each store had to offer. After completing their passport, participants returned them to any restaurant to be entered to win $250 cash.

The first 100 attendees received a free Downton Florence tote bag filled with items from downtown shops and restaurants. Several attendees also won retail gift cards for downtown businesses.

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said he expects even greater things to happen downtown in the future.

“It’s important to everybody in the community,” Miller said. “So much happens downtown. Within a week, two weeks, things change. It’s amazing what it’s going to be in six months. Some of these stores are doing quite well and people still don’t know about many of them. Any opportunity to help with the Downtown Development folks, the chamber is right on it as we would with anyone else. We’re celebrating the growth of downtown and we’re nowhere near the end.”

Sager said that he has organized groups with the downtown businesses. Through that, he said, he learned that many people are visiting downtown that haven’t been in years.

Sager said there could be plans in the near future for retail shops to stay open later one night a week.

“There are still a lot of people in Florence that haven’t been downtown,” Sager said. “We want our businesses to say that they’re meeting new customers. Events like these are really a great way to showcase what downtown has to offer. Downtown is a place you can go to shop, dine and unwind.”

Lutheran Services helps children, families involved in foster care

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Pee Dee branch of Lutheran Services Carolinas joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning to hold a ribbon cutting.

Lutheran Services Carolinas is a nonprofit health and human service organization and social ministry in both South and North Carolina. The organization provides foster care, as well as training and support to those transitioning out of foster care.

Michele Thomson, regional manager, said the mission of the organization is to serve children and families in South Carolina.

“We get referrals from all over the state for kids that are in need of foster care and we can’t place them,” Thomson said. “We have kids that are sitting in DSS offices overnight. They’re having to pay for hotel rooms for kids to stay in- with supervision of course- because they don’t have a foster home to go to.”

Thomson said the licensing process is tough and many kids have a hard time finding a good fit, especially as they grow older.

“It’s tough to find good matches with homes and parents that understand what this child has been through, but still are willing to give it a chance and try to help them work through those issues,” Thomson said. “We want to train and license those foster parents and help the kids.”

Though the organization is partnered with the Lutheran Church, a foster parent or volunteer does not have to be Lutheran. All foster parents are provided training with support groups and are provided 24/7 supervision with a lead clinical specialist. A recruiter will assist a family in the process to become licensed and compensation is provided at a daily rate for the child placed in a foster home.

Thomson said her passion for helping with foster kids comes from her own child.

“I have a child of my own,” Thomson said. “She’s 15 and I look at her every day and I look at her life and I compare it. When I look at these kids, I look at them having those same possibilities if we can put some things in place for them to get there. These kids are our future.”

Jean Keefe, director of transitional living, said she is designing a program for young adults exiting foster care from the ages of 18 to 21 that will start in October.

“They can stay in foster care until they’re 21,” Keefe said. “Many of them come to us as teenagers and they’ve been moved from home to home and by the time they get to us, they’re tired of it and they just want to be done. After 18, they have to sign themselves back into foster care, but some of them are so tired of it, they quit and, unfortunately, many of them end up homeless. I’ve put together a program called the ‘after care program.’ Basically, we try to find them housing, get funding for them to go to college if that’s what they want, help them find jobs. Whatever they see as a need for themselves, that’s what we try to help with.”

Keefe said that foster parents are asked to become an advocate for the child and provide a safe and nurturing living environment for them.

“I started out in DSS and back then people were just starting to think about preparing these kids for independent living when they leave foster care,” Keefe said. “I just watched kids make mistakes and it’s just a passion for me to get them off the street and to truly be able to help them.”

For more information on how to get involved or become a foster parent, contact Amy McColl at 843-487-7225 or email her at

Florence’s new soccer, basketball facilities just the start

FLORENCE, S.C. — When it comes to recreational sports facilities, it’s all about keeping up, and even surpassing, for Florence these days.

That’s why in recent months a new soccer facility and a new basketball gym have opened, and Florence isn’t about to stop there, according to city of Florence recreation division manager Darlene Buchanan.

There is a good deal of open space out where the Dr. Eddie Floyd Florence Tennis Center is off of North Cashua Drive, and there are plans to use it for a new track and a baseball and softball complex.

It might not seem all that long ago that Freedom Florence was opened. At that time, it was state of the art, but it’s almost three decades old.

The facility still holds its own hosting baseball and softball tournaments, as well as high school cross country meets, and it had an economic impact of approximately $10 million last year, Buchanan said.

But, “Florence is competing with the Myrtle Beaches, North Myrtle Beaches, Rock Hills and Charlottes and places like that,” Buchanan said. “We have to continue to look at ways to improve our facilities.”

The newest facility to open is the basketball center at the Barnes Street Gym. The basketball center was dedicated in April and named after former Francis Marion University great and Florence native Pearl Moore.

The basketball center, located at 500 Barnes St., is roughly 31,525 square feet in size and includes three full-size basketball courts, an area for concessions and office space for staff.

The center will serve as home to the Florence Youth Basketball League, travel basketball tournaments and the Pee Dee Picklers, a local pickleball team. Buchanan said the local semi-pro basketball team, the Florence Wildcats, also will call the gym home in the future.

The city’s new $7 million soccer complex, off U.S. 76 near I-95, opened in mid-February. It contains 14 soccer fields. Eight are regulation-size fields, two are lighted championship-style fields and four are regulation practice fields.

There’s still work to be done at the facility, Buchanan said. There are plans for about a 6,000-square-foot building that will serve as a concession stand, restrooms, storage, meeting space and office staff that might be assigned to that location.

As far as development on the land at the tennis center, the track is first up, Buchanan said. A year ago, officials had to cap the track program because the athletes-to-coaches ratio was too high. But Buchanan said she thinks a new track facility will help attract more athletes and more volunteers to coach.

“We don’t want to turn any kid away,” she said. “And I think we’ll get a renewed interest from adults wanting to get involved. Everybody likes to be involved in something new.”

Florence Family Medicine aims for personal touch

FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence Family Medicine employees joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

Florence Family Medicine, at 315 N. Beltline Drive, Suite E, provides primary care services including sports physicals, sick visits, preventive medicine, routine health maintenance, management of chronic medical illnesses and more.

Ryan Williams, who co-owns the practice with his wife, Sabrina, and is the M.D., said the business opened in March.

“We had been working for larger facilities in the past and we kind of chatted one night and felt like we were called to open a small business and to serve the Florence and Pee Dee community with a private medical practice,” Ryan said.

Sabrina, a nurse, said the two had always joked about opening their own practice.

“All of a sudden it wasn’t a joke anymore,” she said. “We started looking and decided to really do it and here we are. It’s awesome and it certainly doesn’t feel like work.”

The two added Nikhole Mitchell to their staff as a registered nurse.

Ryan said the practice provides more of a personal touch than that of many other doctors’ offices. He said that the staff has prayed with patients and visited them in the hospital and that they seek to provide the highest care possible in every situation.

“Our main objective was to do this for God’s glory,” Ryan said. “We had our church come and dedicate this place. We claimed that He is the owner of the place and that puts things into perspective. It changes how we view patients and how we treat people. If you put God first, all else will fall into place. We strive to do the right thing in caring for people and we strive to be accessible to our patients.”

Sabrina said that the actions of the business speak louder than its words.

“We don’t push our faith on anyone, but we know that how we act and how we care about people, they will see Jesus in us,” Sabrina said. “In us caring about them, people see the difference.”

Sabrina said one way that the practice cares for its patients is by having shorter wait times.

“People are tired of waiting for their doctor,” Sabrina said. “They complain about having to wait two to three hours and still not being seen when they go back in the room. We will always strive to get our patients back and have them seen by the doctor in a quick time.”

Florence Family Medicine serves all ages and works with all the major insurance companies. The business plans to be full-service, meaning that it can admit patients into the hospital if necessary.

The practice is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed from noon to 1 p.m. each day. For more information, visit, follow the practice on Facebook or call 843-407-8192.

Olanta, Hartsville banks announce merger

OLANTA, S.C. — Citizens Bancshares Corporation, the holding company of The Citizens Bank, and Regional Bankshares, Inc., the holding company of Heritage Community Bank, jointly announced Friday the signing of a definitive merger agreement under which Citizens has agreed to acquire Regional in a cash and stock transaction with a total current value of approximately $11.3 million, based on an assumed Citizens’ stock value of approximately $30 per share as of May 17.

The combined company would have had approximately $550 million in total assets, $476 million in total deposits, and $356 million in total loans.

The transaction will create a 19-office banking company with locations in the eastern part of South Carolina.

The merger agreement has been approved by the board of directors of each company. Closing of the transaction, which is expected to occur near the end of the third quarter of 2018, is subject to regulatory approval and approval by the shareholders of Regional.

Gosnold G. Segars, Chairman of Regional’s Board of Directors is expected to join the Citizens Board of Directors. Other current Regional Board members will have the opportunity to serve as members of The Citizens Bank’s Hartsville Advisory Board.

Additionally, Curtis A. Tyner, Sr., President and Chief Executive Officer of Regional, will serve the combined company in a consulting role for a three-year period following the completion of the acquisition.

“Our customers will continue to receive the same high quality level of service from the bankers that have served them at Heritage Community Bank. With Citizens, we have found a shared passion for our work with local businesses and professionals. This focus will continue and we are looking forward to the additional capacity that this combination of banks will bring to our customers,” Tyner said.

“Heritage Community Bank is the ideal partner for The Citizens Bank. Our banking philosophies are very similar and we have many operational similarities as well. This transaction will strengthen our ability to serve our local markets, consumers and businesses that make Heritage Community Bank and The Citizens Bank successful. I look forward to our future together as a combined institution and the substantial impact our bank will have on the communities that we serve. We welcome Heritage Community Bank customers and employees to The Citizens Bank family,” said Blake Gibbons, president of The Citizens Bank.

Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Employees from the UPS Store joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon.

The UPS Store, at 2023 S. Irby St., is the second location in Florence.

David Fountain, who co-owns the store with his business partner, Susan Lee, said the store had been open since August, but the ribbon cutting was a way to celebrate and let the community know about the new store and what it offers.

“It’s very exciting,” Fountain said. “It was one of those things in the process we needed to do and we were happy to be able to do it today.”

The UPS Store offers an array of services, including packing, shipping, mailbox rentals, shredding, notary, freight service and much more.

Fountain said many people do not know about the store’s printing service. The store prints anything from stickers to brochures, banners and signage. The store has a graphic designer on staff to help with printing services.

“We’re not known for our printing,” Fountain said. “From the small things to the big things, we do them all. People see ‘UPS’ and just think that the store is a place that you ship a package. We want to be a one-stop shop for individuals or businesses. They came into one place and are able to get all the services they need done in one place.”

Fountain said joining the chamber was a way for the company to network and build relationships with other business owners and entrepreneurs.

“I made a resolution the first of the year to be active in the community and meet other people,” Fountain said. “It’s been great to be able to network and build contacts. It has enabled us to let people know that we can print and do all these other things. It really has expanded our reach.”

Lee said the location on Irby Street allows the store to reach communities not only in Florence, but around the Pee Dee area.

“This building is larger than any other store we have,” Lee said. “It helps us to offer printing production. Stuff that is getting outsourced, we’re able to do that right here. In addition to the size, there’s a lot of residential. We’re pulling in a bigger group of people and we’ve picked up a lot of traffic over here.”

The UPS Store is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit or call the store at 843-407-6309.

Great Gatsby Gala benefits Florence nonprofit agencies

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Florence Class of 2018 held a gala Thursday evening to benefit several organizations around the Pee Dee area.

More than 200 people attended “The Great Gatsby”-themed ball in The Waters Building, beginning at 7 p.m. in downtown Florence.

Attendees listened to live music, participated in a silent auction and partook of hors d’oeuvres, while dressed in Roaring ’20s attire.

Shametra Swaringer, president of the Leadership Florence class, said the event was a fun opportunity to serve the community.

“It’s been amazing,” Swaringer said. “Everyone got all dolled up in their flapper dresses with beads at the bottom. Florence is growing and I think they love the opportunity to have different events like this. Not only do they have fun tonight, but they get to spend their money and support a worthy cause.”

Proceeds from the night went to benefit House of Hope, Lighthouse Ministries and All 4 Autism.

“We’ve had the opportunity to spend time with each of our organizations,” Swaringer said. “They offer tremendous resources in Florence. All that they contribute is amazing.”

Cecilia Meggs, executive director of Lighthouse Ministries, said the event helped the organization continue to build ramps and help with needs in the community.

“It’s going to be used to serve the community,” Meggs said. “It’s not just the money that is raised, it’s the awareness. This is a group of leaders and it’s great to see them find out about the nonprofits in the community and, in turn, be good stewards and give back.”

Jessica Brown, executive director of All 4 Autism, said the proceeds will help the nonprofit continue to help families who have loved ones who are struggling with autism.

“The only reason we opened up a resource center was because there was nothing else in the region,” Brown said. “We were trying to set up a way for families to not have to travel all the way to Columbia, Charleston or Greenville.”

Les Echols, director of community and minority enterprise for the chamber, said investing in the community is an important part of the Leadership Florence class.

“Giving back to the community is vital to its continuing growth and development,” Echols told The Morning News before the event. “It not only helps to enhance someone’s quality of life, it also helps to encourage an inclusive and close-knit community in which community members work together and help one another.”

Leadership Florence is a comprehensive nine-month program designed to motivate and cultivate leadership for the Florence area. Participants will attend various events during the program to enhance their involvement in the local community while developing valuable leadership skills along the way.

The Leadership Florence Class of 2018 will graduate at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, at the Floyd Conference Center on the Carolinas Hospital System campus in Florence.

Mailroom Barber & Studio opens new shop in downtown Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Mailroom Barber & Studio became the latest addition to Florence’s thriving downtown, opening up its new shop Tuesday morning.

The Mailroom Barber & Studio, at 116 S. Irby St., had a location on Cashua Drive for close to two years before making the decision to move downtown.

Robert Watkins, owner of the shop, said the new location allows the business to serve more clients and offer a better experience.

“This is just a better place for us to offer a greater customer experience,” Watkins said. “The downtown community is really growing up fast and we want to be a part of it and add a staple business to the downtown area. We’re excited to get to put our name in the pot.”

Watkins said he began his barbering career by offering haircuts to his clients in a room in the back of “Smart Phone Repair,” named the “mailroom.”

“For me, I couldn’t really get a haircut that I was happy with, so I just started cutting hair for myself,” Watkins said. “I realized that it was a big problem in the community and I sort of just fell in love with barbering and the barber shop culture. At the time, I was studying photography in school, but I quit that and joined an apprenticeship. That’s how we kind of got started.”

The Mailroom offers conventional barber and salon services, as well as ethically sourced grooming products that customers can buy online or in the shop.

Watkins said the Cashua facility will be used for full-time production of the grooming products, which the business ships to more than 23 different countries.

“We make, package and ship our products from there,” Watkins said. “I realized that the stuff I was using didn’t really meet the standards I was going for, so I started making my own products. The goal in starting the product line was to offer products to people that were ethically sourced, all-natural and good for their hair and skin.”

Watkins said the move to the downtown location has been seamless because of the business’ client base. He said the barber studio seeks to offer a welcoming environment that is free from judgment.

“It’s a really big problem in salons, typically,” Watkins said. “They can be full of gossip and judgmental attitudes, so we strictly discourage that. Our clients don’t feel like someone’s going to talk about them when they walk out the door and that’s one of the biggest parts of what we do. Our first day is going great and we look forward to continuing to grow here in this new location.”

Watkins said the best part of owning a barbershop is being able to work with his clients and encourage his staff.

“Many customers come in and they may be disappointed in their hair or they feel a lack of confidence,” Watkins said. “I enjoy being able to walk them to a place where they feel a true confidence in their appearance. That’s really where I find my fulfillment in it and I get to deeply connect in an age-old tradition. I also love getting to build up other barbers and stylists. We’ve created a tight-knit family here and I really love getting to stand under them and lift them as a staff, help them grow in their craft and have their back.”

The studio is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Mailroom Barber & Studio takes clients by appointment only. Customers can schedule their appointment and buy products online at