Pee Dee Regional Transit Authority to Discontinue Bus Service to Myrtle Beach Due to Covid-19 Threat

by WMBF News Staff

Members of the Pee Dee Regional Transit Authority will discontinue its bus service to the Grand Strand in light of the threat from the coronavirus.

“Due to the effects of the COVID-19 virus on the hospitality industry in Horry County, PDRTA believes it prudent to discontinue bus service between both Marion and Lake City to Myrtle Beach indefinitely,” according to a press release.

The PDRTA plans to stop the bus service at 6 p.m. Monday.

At this time, all other PDRTA services remain in operation. Call (843) 665-2227, ext. 2, or check out the website for updates and additional information.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.

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Florence Chamber of Commerce Urges People to Support Small Businesses

by Cameron Crowe

The Florence Chamber of Commerce is urging people to support small businesses during this uncertain time.

The President of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Mike Miller spoke about Florence’s small businesses and some of the government assistance they need.

The U.S. Small Business Administration approved Governor McMaster’s request Friday morning to offer disaster assistance to the state’s small businesses.

Miller believes that several businesses will likely take advantage of small business loans, but he is not sure yet to what degree since it is unknown what the total economic damage will be or how long this crisis will last.

He said that all assistance from the federal and state governments will be critical in helping small businesses in Florence.

“The one thing we have to keep in mind, is all resources that are available and the ones yet to be announced are going to be critical because these small businesses are again the backbone of our community and we want to come out of this when it wanes and this slows down, we want them there,” Miller said.

Miller is also urging the public to support local businesses in the Pee Dee however they can. He said over 50% of the local economy is made up of small businesses. Restaurants are now take-out only and the city has designated locations throughout Florence for curbside pick-up.

Many restaurants are using delivery services such as WAITR to give customers the ability to receive meals without having to leave their homes.

Miller said people can support retailers by shopping online or purchasing gift cards. He also said the community needs to support our non-profit organizations at this time as they are in need of food and other household items that are getting bought out of stores.

“What we should all be looking for is an opportunity to continue to do business with them in the best way possible during these times. The restaurants have adapted somewhat to it by offering take out and delivery services and that is something we need to take advantage of,” Miller said.

Miller said he and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce stand with all small businesses in the Pee Dee and look forward to patronizing them as soon as possible.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.

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Gov Henry McMaster Allowing Curbside Sale of Beer and Wine by Restaurants During COVID-19 Closures

WMBF News Staff

In an effort to help restaurants hit hardest by the shutdowns imposed amid concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the Palmetto State is relaxing regulations surrounding alcohol sales.

Gov. Henry McMaster made the announcement Saturday, issuing an executive order “which directs the Department of Revenue to waive additional regulations in order to allow restaurants to include sealed containers of beer and wine for curbside pickup or “to-go” orders only.’

McMaster also extended the state’s income tax filing deadline to July 15.

The full release can be read below in it’s entirety:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Governor Henry McMaster took additional actions today to enhance the state’s response to COVID-19’s continued impact to South Carolina.

“Team South Carolina is constantly reviewing the COVID 19 situation, and all plans and contingencies to contain this virus remain on the table,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “That includes “shelter-in-place,” a drastic action that other states with larger population centers have taken. It is my hope that this will not be necessary here, and I believe it to be much less likely, as long as South Carolinians follow official instructions and take recommended precautions now.”

The governor has asked construction contractors and others in the skilled trade industry to donate whatever personal protective equipment they can spare to healthcare professionals and state agencies in the greatest need, including respirator masks commonly used in construction settings. Those willing to make donations can contact Mary Louise Resch of Habitat for Humanity for logistical coordination via email at mlresch@habitatsc.org.

The governor has also issued Executive Order 2020-12, which directs the Department of Revenue to waive additional regulations in order to allow restaurants to include sealed containers of beer and wine for curbside pickup or “to-go” orders only. This waiver does not authorize or apply to open containers or delivery services.

The governor also directed the Department of Revenue to conform the state’s income tax deadline to July 15th, which is the new federal income tax deadline. Other state taxes will remain delayed until June 1st, as previously ordered.

On Thursday, Governor McMaster issued Executive Order 2020-11, to ensure that critical state government services remained available to the public and to prevent potential exposure to the COVID 19 virus.

As of Friday afternoon, the Department of Administration reports that for 52 of 74 state agencies there were 13,902 state employees working from home or taking leave. There were 11,411 state employees at work. As remaining agencies report to the Department, these numbers will be updated.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.

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Renovations for Carolina Theater

by Matthew Christian

The historic Carolina Theater could soon become the next building to be renovated in downtown Florence.

Florence City Manager Drew Griffin and Assistant City Manager Kevin V. Yokim presented information to the Florence City Council about a planned bond issue soon to be before the council for approval.

The potential $31.5 million bond issue includes approximately $2 million for renovations for the Carolina Theater on South Dargan Street. Originally, the city administration planned to issue the bonds in November 2020, but the recent drop in interest rates has caused the city to look at bumping those plans up to take advantage of the lower rates.

Griffin said on Wednesday the goal of the city’s renovations would be to construct a 200- to 250-seat music venue that could also host weddings and conferences and show older movies similar to the Nickelodeon Theater in downtown Columbia.

The building would also be equipped with a restaurant kitchen to cater the events.

Griffin added that the city’s downtown has venues like the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center that can support a larger audience and several bars and restaurants downtown that host musical acts on a regular basis for smaller audiences. The city, however, does not have a venue in the middle of those two extremes, Griffin said.

The idea is to have events there, combined with the events at the bars and restaurants, and the other events downtown, to create a steady flow of people entering and returning to the city’s downtown, which further grows the market for that area, making it more attractive for developers in the future.

Local architect Scott Collins will be the lead architect on the project.

The city had previously sought to work with a developer to renovate the property but has been unable to find one willing to work on the project.

Griffin said the lack of interest from the developer resulted in the building sitting empty for several years, which caused some deterioration, thus making developing the building a necessity.

Griffin said the city acquired the theater around a decade ago.

The current Carolina Theater building was constructed in 1940 — it opened on April 1, 1940 — after the previous building burned down in a 1939 fire.

The fire happened during a mid-week showing of the movie “San Francisco,” which chronicles that West Coast city’s 1906 earthquake.

Former Morning News editor Thom Anderson said he had talked his mother into going to a showing of the movie but found smoke pouring from the building upon their arrival in the 100 block of South Dargan Street.

Prior to the fire, the theater showed cowboy movies on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Anderson said in a column in the Morning News. At the same showing, he added, the theater usually also displayed a cartoon (this is how the Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse got started), local advertisements, and a serial.

Serials were sort of a predecessor of TV shows in that they were shown in pieces and each piece moved the script forward. They remained popular until TV sets became popular after World War II.

The fire and two other fires that happened after the Carolina fire are considered as being the impetus for the city to begin work on a water system for the downtown.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

City of Florence Announces Modified Operations to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

by Matthew Christian

The Florence City Council passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday to deal with the coronavirus.

The ordinance passed on first reading, something that Jim Peterson said he had never seen done in his time as city attorney.

Peterson explained to the council that he has been working as city attorney since 1994 and Tuesday was the first time that the city has ever passed an ordinance with just one reading.

“The South Carolina Code specifically allows for emergency ordinances on one reading where public health and other emergency situations require,” Peterson said.

Also, because of its nature as an emergency ordinance, the city council needed to pass the ordinance by a super-majority, or two-thirds of its members.

The ordinance passed 6-0.

Florence City Councilwoman Octavia Williams-Blake did not attend Tuesday’s special meeting.

Peterson said the city was not doing anything “hugely dramatic” with the ordinance.

He said the first page and a half of the ordinance describes the state of affairs related to coronavirus, including mentioning that Gov. Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency.

Peterson then added that the ordinance does three or four things.

First, the ordinance authorizes City Manager Drew Griffin to change the operating procedures of the city to respond to the situation.

Griffin outlined those changes to the council before Peterson spoke Tuesday afternoon.

The city’s human resources department will be closed to the public. Most hiring will be suspended through June 30.

The city’s utility finance department will remain open, but it is requested that residents strongly consider alternative methods of payment including by phone at 843-665-3155, by drop-box at the city center, by mail, automatic bank draft, or online.

All citizen’s police academy events, citizen’s advisory committees, and police Explorer scouting programs have been suspended.

The city’s police department will suspend assistance of all special road events.

All fire stations will be closed to the public and fire inspections have been suspended. All fire department public education activities are suspended as well.

All city community centers are closed until further notice. Spring break camps are canceled, senior trips and activities are suspended, and all other special events until May 15 are canceled.

All athletic programs are suspended until April 12.

All sports events and tournaments are canceled until May 15.

Bus tours and community meetings related to the update of the city’s comprehensive plan are postponed.

The planning, business license, and building departments will remain open, but access will be restricted to customers with business directly related to zoning compliance, business licenses, and building permits.

All downtown events from March 17 to May 15 are postponed. These include the Eastern South Carolina Mustang Club Regional Car Show, the Florence Wine and Food Festival, the first Florence After Five, Victors Music in the Courtyard, and the Habitat for Humanity Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Also, the city’s employee wellness program’s annual 5K has been postponed.

The ordinance authorizes Griffin to cancel city permits to prevent the gathering of over 50 people.

The city has also enacted rules to enforce a three- to six-foot barrier between employees and the public.

Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela also held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outlining some of the changes.

He also mentioned that the restrictions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and DHEC will take some getting used to for Southerners because of the handshaking and greeting that goes on in the South.

Second, the ordinance allows Griffin to waive the various deadlines contained in the city ordinances in recognition that a state of emergency exists.

This part of the ordinance specifically references how utility billing will be handled including authorizing Griffin to suspend the suspension of utility services for non-payment.

“Drew has indicated that that would be what we would normally do,” Peterson said. “That’s not new. We’ve done that during other situations like this like in response to hurricane situations.”

Peterson added that he hoped the public would not take this to mean that they do not have to pay their utility bills. Those bills are still due, he said, but it recognizes that no one should lose utilities during the pandemic.

He also said Griffin would work with people who get abnormally large bills after the crisis ends to get those bills paid but not immediately.

Griffin added that penalty fees would also be suspended.

Third, he said, the ordinance acts to meet the requirements of the state’s Freedom of Information Act regarding open meetings in a situation where it’s recommended that no more than 10 or 50 people gather in any one place at one time.

The ordinance does this in two ways, Peterson continued. First, it allows the city council members, at their discretion, to participate in meetings electronically. Second, the ordinance authorizes the live streaming of the city’s meetings in a way that allows anyone to access and participate in the meeting.

Peterson added that it was the hope of the council to operate as the council was operating Thursday with increased distances between chairs and people if possible.

Nothing will change as far as the city’s duties to announce the meetings and provide agendas for the meetings to be held.

Also, the ordinance has a firm expiration date of 60 days because it was passed on one reading.

Peterson added that the ordinance contains a provision that allows for it to cease effect if Gov. Henry McMaster removes the state of emergency declaration before the 60-day time frame.

If the state of emergency remains longer than 60 days, the ordinance would expire at the end of the 60 days. However, the city could have two meetings — enough time to approve first and second readings of an ordinance setting out restrictions — by that time.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Florence Chamber Still Assisting Members with Hurricane Relief Tax Credit

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce has a free program to assist members in the evaluation of available Federal Hurricane Relief Tax Credits.

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law Disaster Relief Act of 2019 (H.R. 1865 (116)).  The tax relief legislation includes an employee retention credit to encourage employers affected by Hurricane Florence to retain employees while their businesses regain normal operations.

“Many of our members are not aware of the available tax credits that are based on lost revenue due to the hurricane,” states Greater Florence Chamber President, Michael Miller.  “Any business in the disaster area who retained employees and their business was disrupted due to the hurricane is eligible for the tax credits. By offering free evaluation to our members, we are assisting them in maximizing the tax credits that are potentially available to them.”

The free evaluations are being offered to Chamber members along with preferred tax credit vendor Synergi Partners; they can evaluate tax credit eligibility for businesses in affected hurricane disaster areas.  Synergi Partners has developed a proprietary “Operational Impact Analysis” which evaluates business revenue loss and other impacts on an individual business basis.

The tax credit can be substantial.  A small business with 25 employees could realize as much as $60,000 in tax credits with the amount increasing as the number of employees increase.

“While nearly every business with employees can be eligible for the tax credit, the evaluation to maximize the credit can be very complex,” states Miller.  “By offering this free evaluation to our members, we have a unique opportunity to engage with our members in supporting the sustainability and growth of their businesses.”

To learn more about the free tax credit evaluation of your business visit www.SynergiPartners.com/flochamber or call Cornelio “CJ” Monjarrez at (843) 610-4825 or cmonjarrez@synergipartners.com.

Chamber Adjusts to Limited Staffing for Two Weeks Over COVID-19 Concerns

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce will be operating under minimum staffing for at least the next two weeks in keeping with efforts to minimize Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns. We plan to be open normal business hours Monday through Thursday and will be closing at 12:00 p.m. on Friday. However, when trying to contact us by telephone, please be patient since we may not be able to answer as quickly as normal. If there is no answer, please leave a message and someone will return your call as rapidly as possible. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation during the coming weeks.

SC Governor Orders Closure of All Schools Due to Coronavirus Outbreak

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced temporary closures for schools across the state as more cases of coronavirus continue to emerge.

This impacts all schools, pre-K through high school, colleges and technical colleges.

McMaster was joined by public health officials for the announcement. He also suspended non-essential business travel by state employees.

“It is time to impress upon our children how important social distance is,” he said.

“We are going to get through this, and we are going to get through this as we have gotten through other things, by using common sense.”

Like North Carolina, South Carolina received a federal grant allowing the state to provide students with meals with their summer feeding program.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced nine new South Carolina cases on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 28.

On Friday, McMaster issued a State of Emergency, and closed schools in Lancaster and Kershaw counties, citing community spread of coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Florence BNI Chapters Join Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

During a special area-wide Business Networking International breakfast on Wednesday morning at Victors in Florence, a ribbon cutting was held as the three chapters joined the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber ambassadors joined in the celebration.

Five chapters of Business Networking International (BNI) were represented at the meeting. They were BNI Pee Dee, Florence — Wednesday breakfast (7:30) at Victors, BNI Business Builders, Florence — Thursday breakfast (7:30) at Bazen’s, BNI Palmetto Business Referrals, Florence — Monday lunch (12:30) at The Peddler, BNI Business and Networking Group (BANG), Sumter — Wednesday breakfast at Central Carolina Tech; BNI Soaring to New Heights, Hartsville — Tuesday breakfast at Cobra Club Room in DeLoach Center at Coker University.

These five chapters have a combined membership of about 180 members. About 200 people attended the event.

The ribbon was cut by BNI Pee Dee Chapter President David Fountain. Presidents of the other two Florence chapters are Ashley Klynstra of Palmetto Business Referrals and Susan Evans of Business Builders.

The mission of BNI as stated on its website, www.BNI.com, “is to help members increase their business through a structured, positive and professional referral marketing program that enables them to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals.”

Worldwide, there are more than 9,400 chapters. It is one of the largest referral organizations worldwide.

Fountain said he joined BNI to network and grow his business. He wanted people to know that UPS does more than shipping. He joined for printing.

Fountain said he made a promise to himself to do something different in 2018, and he joined BNI. He said only one profession in a category is represented in each chapter.

One member attending on Wednesday, Charles Saverance of BNI Soaring to New Heights Chapter in Hartsville, and director consultant for BNI Pee Dee and BNI BANG, said “I have been a member for eight years (actually got my eight-year pin today).” He said joining the chamber offers these chapters greater opportunities to network.

The area director is Kay Kennedy-Niziol from Murrells Inlet.

For more information about BNI visit www.BNI.com.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.

Spann Roofing Joins Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting Tuesday at the chamber office for Spann Roofing and Sheet Metal.

A three-generation, family-owned business, Spann Roofing is based in Conway. The business was started in 1957, said James M. “Jimbo” Spann IV.

He said the company was already doing business in the Florence area when it decided to open an office here about a year ago. Josh Boykin is the territory sales representative for this area. His office is at 6 S. Santiago Drive.

Spann said they do primarily commercial business but have branched out into residential roofing and gutters. They also do service and maintenance work for homes and businesses, all to prolong the life of the roof and gutters.

“We have always done work here in this area and thought it was time to give back to the community,” Spann said. “My wife and I both have roots here.”

Spann said he wants to stress that they are a full-service repair and maintenance business.

Spann Roofing employs about 75 people.

For additional information, visit www.SpannRoofing.com or call 843-283-6115 or 843-656-9808 in Florence or 843-347-2220 in Myrtle Beach area.

To read the full article on SC Now, click here.