Griffin: Great Deeds Have Improved the City

by Matthew Christian

Florence City Manager Drew Griffin stood in the corner of a plaza on South Dargan Street that was named after him and took stock of the city’s revitalization efforts.

Speaking at the dedication of the plaza, Griffin credited the councils he has worked with, his staff, his friends and his peers. Those groups, he said before pausing for a moment, have performed great deeds in their efforts to rebuild the downtown area.

A resident of the downtown area, Griffin walks his dog at night and gets to see the results of the city’s efforts firsthand.

“When you are downtown and other places, you see the joy that comes upon people’s faces, the expressions,” Griffin said before he paused for a moment. “How they interact.”

Those expressions illustrate the change in the culture around the city’s downtown.

“Where I am certainly very proud of downtown, I believe that this community should be equally proud with the work that we’re doing in neighborhoods,” Griffin said.

That work, Griffin continued, meant redefining neighborhoods that have been historically neglected.

“That is as critical as anything that we do as a community,” Griffin said.

He also said he is pleased with the city council’s decision to invest $15 million to $18 million into parks and recreation projects that will result in an investment in each city park of at least $300,000.

Those community spaces, he said, were important to what the city does, because they connect streets to neighborhoods, neighborhoods to the community and the community connects to itself.

“I pray that we will be able to continue to achieve,” Griffin said. “I thank everybody: the [Drs.] Bruce & Lee Foundation, city council, my friends, this community, certainly my wife, my parents.”

When he started working in public service, Griffin received some advice from another government employee: If you make decisions in the interest of the community, then you will always be OK.

Griffin shared that piece of advice as he spoke at the dedication of the Andrew H. Griffin Plaza.

“I have been very blessed to follow those words of wisdom,” Griffin said.

The dedication ceremony also featured a performance by the South Florence Choraliers, directed by Dr. Erick Figueras.

The city-built plaza and the splash pad inside it give parents the ability to take their children downtown for lunch and then have the children play in the fountain or for parents to visit the Florence County Museum and then take their children to play at the fountain. The pad was named after Griffin at the May meeting of the city council.

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

GEICO Joins Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Geico in Florence has joined the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. To mark the occasion, a ribbon cutting was held Tuesday with chamber ambassadors joining the celebration.

Roger Armfield is the local Geico owner. The insurance company is at 2151 W. Evans St., Suite D.

Geico has been in Florence for approximately 2½ years. Armfield said he was in Sumter for roughly 20 years.

The company offers auto, boat, motorcycle and ATV insurance. Armfield said it insures about anything that moves. He said it also offers homeowners, condo and renters insurance.

“Geico is the second-largest insurance company in the United States and has the highest satisfaction rating,” Armfield said.

There are five employees working in the Florence office.

“I want to be an active member,” he said.

Armfield is a South Carolina native. He lives in Sumter. He is married and has two grown children.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with family. His hobbies center on boating and fishing.

The Geico hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturday.

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

Fall Chamber Classic Was a Success

The Chamber Staff wants to thank all of our sponsors and players who helped make our 2019 Fall Classic a huge success! Especially Raldex Hospitality for being the overall sponsor. We also want to congratulate our winners:

Coming in First Place was Synovus

And in Second Place was Carolina Bank

Chamber Membership Luncheon Set for Thursday

by Ardie Arvidson

The 2019 Business Person of the Year will be revealed and Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela will speak about the state of the city of Florence and its current growth plans at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Fall Membership Luncheon on Thursday at the Florence Center.

The Business Person of the Year award is presented to a successful business person with a record of responsibility toward employees, customers and members of the greater Florence community, chamber President Mike Miller said.

Wukela promises to give chamber members a glimpse of what they might experience in the not-so-distant future, Miller said.

“With all that has happened in the last six or seven years and the pace at which the changes are now springing up, Florence seems to be positioned well for quicker development in downtown, surrounding community centers and the Florence Center hospitality and shopping area,” Miller said.

“Mayor Wukela will also touch on what is spurring the continued expansions.”

Last year’s recipient of the Business Person of the Year award was Schipp Johnston, the owner of Crown Beverages in Florence. The award is sponsored each year by Wells Fargo and presented at the Chambers Fall Membership Luncheon. Robert Sasser, the managing director at Wells Fargo, is expected to present the award.

To be eligible for the Business Person of the Year Award, the person must be a business member of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and be associated with a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or professional practice in the Florence area. Elected officials and employees of government or not-for-profit organizations are ineligible unless they are also involved in business and meet all other eligibility requirements.

The Chamber Membership Luncheon will start at noon. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. People from area businesses and the general public are invited to attend. Tickets cost $30 for chamber members and $40 for nonmembers. To register and buy tickets, call the Chamber at 843-665-0515 or visit Seating is limited to 500 people. The event is expected to be a sellout.

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

Big Plans at Sneed as Principal Proposes a STEM Magnet Middle School

by Lauren Owens

Fellows in Education participants heard Sneed Middle School Principal Bentley Oates talk Tuesday about his plans for a STEM magnet middle school at Sneed.

The Fellows in Education program is sponsored by Florence One Schools, The School Foundation and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. The program allows businesses and community leaders to get an in-depth look into Florence schools.

Oates said he is working with Chris Rogers, the STEM director of Florence One Schools, to move toward becoming a STEM magnet school next school year.

“I want Sneed to have something we’re known for,” Oates said.

Oates said they decided to go this route because the STEM classes have been very successful at the school and the teachers are very good.

After the eighth grade, Sneed Middle students go to West Florence High School, which is a STEM magnet school.

Sneed Middle has two leveled STEM classes: app creators and design and modeling. A modeled STEM class is one where there are two parts of the classes available to students.

Sneed Middle also has two STEM classes that are not leveled: robotics and medical detectives.

Oates also gave an overview of the school’s opportunities for students and spoke about the school’s report card for the 2018-19 school year.

Sneed Middle received an above average ranking in social studies, English language arts and science, meaning students performed higher than the state average in these subject areas, Oates said. The school also saw a 7% increase in the number of students taking high school classes.

After Oates’ presentation, the fellows toured several classrooms, including a science, math, English and STEAM class. The fellows observed classes creating pull toys, working collaboratively on math problems and English assignments and learning about honey production.

The particpants even received sample bottles of honey from the Sneed Middle beehive.

Twana McRae said her visit to Sneed Middle was beautiful, and she thinks the school is doing a fantastic job at what it does.

“Whatever they’re doing here, they need to continue doing it,” McRae said. “Other middle schools and schools should mirror what they’re doing, because they’re doing a fantastic job.”

This is the fifth year the Fellows in Education program has taken place.

The School Foundation Executive Director Debbie Hyler said they started the program to show the community what is truly going on in the walls of a modern school.

“It’s really interesting to me to see the participants’ eyes light up,” Hyler said. “I think they truly are amazed. So many people haven’t been in a modern-day classroom.”

The program consists of eight sessions. The group visits one school each month to learn about the school’s programs and needs.

To read the full article, click here.

“Money Saver” Thrift Store Joins Chamber of Commerce

by Ardie Arvidson

Brenda’s “Money Saver” Thrift Store at 1553 W. Palmetto St. in Florence held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning to celebrate its opening and membership into the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber ambassadors joined owner Brenda Branham and her staff for the occasion.

It is a family-run business with Branham’s sister, Laurie Rutrough, as manager and a niece as her only other employee.

Branham started in the thrift store business in Easley and came to Florence from Pickens. She opened on Sept. 9.

Branham said she joined the chamber at the encouragement of her sister.

Rutrough said the chamber has a great reputation for helping small businesses.

“We also wanted to get involved in the community,” Branham said.

They buy and resales items. Merchandise is acquired from scouring yard sales and auctions. Items include clothing, shoes, antiques, collectibles, jewelry, furniture, wedding dresses, baby items, exercise equipment and more.

“We also take donations,” Branham said.

She said proceeds from donated items go to the Women’s Prison Fund and for a Christmas Party for special needs children through the Waccamaw Tractor and Small Engine Club.

Through Dec. 7, Rutrough said they are running a promotion to give away a television set to someone who purchases items totaling $20 or more.

“We do deliveries and pick up,” Branham said. “And soon we will have lay-a-ways.

For additional information, call 843-702-0061 or 843-861-5179 or visit their Facebook page.

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

Restaurant Opens on East Palmetto Street

by Ardie Arvidson

A new restaurant has opened on East Palmetto Street, across from the S.C. Highway Department.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce took place Monday morning for Qulture Bistro at 3027 E. Palmetto St., which celebrated the restaurant’s membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. Owner Consuelo Casey was joined by chamber ambassadors for the celebration.

Casey said this was her first day of operation.

Casey said she is the” home of the “deep-fried deviled egg and the fat boy salad.”

Other menu items include Shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, grilled salmon, burgers, beef and turkey; wings and other daily specials.

Casey said she thinks she has a great location and great food.

She said there will be live music every Friday night.

Casey wanted to bring her skills in the entertainment business together with her cooking skills to provide a restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere that represents entertainment, art and food.

Casey said she has been in the entertainment business for approxmately 17 years as a booking agent. She represents all music genres, ghost writers and producers.

“I am a cultural person,” said Casey.

Casey has ties to the Pee Dee. She went to high school in Latta, and her mother, Lutherine Williams, is a judge in Dillon County.

Restaurant hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.

For additional information, call 843-407-6302.

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

Chamber Announces 2020 Leadership Florence Class

From Staff Reports

The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce has announced the beginning of its largest Leadership Florence class ever, with 43 participants in the Class of 2020.

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 that will enhance their involvement in the local community while developing valuable leadership skills along the way.

The program began Thursday with a meet-and-greet where the new members got to know a little more about each other. Typically, this program will develop great professional relationships that last forever.

Participants will increase their knowledge of the Greater Florence area and enhance their involvement in community activities while further developing their leadership skills. The nine-month program provides an in-depth look at private enterprise, government agencies, organizations and individuals that make decisions affecting Florence County every day.

Individuals benefit from the Leadership Florence program in several ways, including a comprehensive understanding of important community issues and organizations, a chance to meet with community leaders, increased leadership abilities, building a diverse network of informed colleagues and expanding contacts.


Nick Ammons, Florence County

Renee Anderson, HopeHealth

Jonathan Atkinson, Florence County

Rachel Baggett, United Way of Florence County

Capt. Scott Brown, Florence County Sheriff’s Office

Zachery Brown, First Reliance Bank

Andrew Burkempe, Coker College

Annette Davis-Cantey, Swamp Fox Security

Tonya Causey, ServiceMaster

Cookie Cawthon, Tenacious Grace

Debbie Cheek, Florence-Darlington Technical College

Rogers Coxe, Dove Print Solutions

Marc David, Florence-Darlington Technical College

Hannah Davis, city of Florence

Sandra Eckert, Assurant

Clamentine Elmore, Florence Housing Authority

Michael Elmore, Ports Authority

Adam Gamble, Citizens Bank

Michael Gleba, GE

Morgan Holley, MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center

Matt Kimrey, First Bank

Chief Deputy Glen Kirby, Florence County Sheriff’s Office

Jacob Knight, ATFC

Sabre Knight, SPC Credit Union

Anfeng Li, GE

Brent Long, HopeHealth

Perry Maclennan, Haynesworth Sinkler, Boyd

Julie Maxham, House of Hope Pee Dee

Kim McKracken, McLeod Health

Twana McRae, SC Credit Union

Terry Moore, Florence Toyota

Tyler Morris, Wells Fargo Advisors

Sharell Moses, Duke Energy

Shayla Mosley, Morning News

Diana Murphy, Diversity Works

Mike Reichenbach, Micke Reichenbach Ford

Nina Robinson, Raldex

Kaylen Snapp, Florence Center

Meredith Strader, Pepsi

Vanessa Timmons, ADP

Anna Todd, Francis Marion University

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

Local Leaders Get to See Day-to-Day School Operations with Fellows in Education

From Staff Reports

The Fellows in Education program, designed to give business and community leaders a unique, behind-the-scenes look into Florence One schools, is preparing for its fifth year.

The program is a partnership between the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, Florence One Schools and The School Foundation.

“Having our community leaders visit today’s classrooms allows a better understanding of how new technology is currently being used and how the students are adapting,” said Debbie Hyler, executive director of The School Foundation. “The foundation is proud to have the opportunity to showcase the numerous grants we have funded through the years allowing additional use of that technology.”

The chamber is enthusiastic about working with the foundation and district, said Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

“To date, we have shared this nine-month experience with over 150 area leaders,” he said. “The purpose of the program is to create a community of educational ambassadors that can share firsthand knowledge of local student proficiencies and educator experiences.”

Florence One Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley said he is excited about the opportunities this program provides.

“The fellows program helps provide cohesive district-wide and community-wide communication and is re-energizing collaborations with our business community,” he said.

Organizers of the program say the ultimate goal of Fellows in Education is to create a large group of local leaders who will be able to collaborate with policymakers and community members in developing better education policies in the community.

“The chamber is proud to contribute to the development of better educational programs in the communities in which we all live and work,” Miller said.

An orientation meeting for the program was held on Sept, 10. The first of eight sessions will begin on Oct. 1, and sessions will be held thereafter on the first Tuesday of each month through the month of May at various Florence One schools.

Members of the three-way partnership have sought after a select group of approximately 28 community and business leaders whom they believe are civic-minded supporters of the need for expansion of local educational resources.

For additional information, contact Hyler at or Miller at


>> Kirby Anderson, Raldex Hospitality

>> Ron Black, Orr Company

>> Hugh Blanton, TD Bank

>> Modestine Brody, Resurrection Restoration Center

>> Ashley Christenbury, First Bank

>> Adam Crosson, ReMax Professionals

>> Scotty Davis, city of Florence

>> John DeBerry, Griggs, Floyd & Grantham

>> Les Echols, Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce

>> Clamentine Elmore, Housing Authority of Florence

>> Brian Fast, First Citizens Bank

>> Mary Finklea, local clergy

>> Joyce Ford, The Naomi Project

>> Lucinda Fountain, Honda of South Carolina Mfg., Inc.

>> Derek Hemmingsen, Clarke & Company Benefits

>> Robby Hill, HillSouth IT

>> Paige Hollis, Assurant

>> Twana McRae, SC Federal Credit Union

>> Deborah Moses, retired

>> Cameron Packett, Florence County Economic Development

>> Heather Page, VIP Magazine

>> Charisse Reichenbach, Mike Reichenbach Automotive

>> Joshua Smalls, Otis Elevator

>> Rev. Thomas Smith, Central Methodist

>> Les Ward, Pepsi of Florence

>> Timothy Wimbush, QVC

>> Jennifer Yacoubian, homemaker

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

Wild Birds Unlimited in Florence Brings People and Nature Together

by Ardie Arvidson

Wild Birds Unlimited celebrated joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Monday morning with a ribbon cutting. Chamber ambassadors were on hand to help celebrate.

The Florence franchise is owned by Art and Lisa Martin and opened in November 2018.

The couple said they never set out to become part of the immensely popular bird-feeding and bird-watching population. Lisa said bird-watching is second only to gardening in the United States in popularity as a hobby.

Lisa, a pharmacist by trade, was making candles, soaps and lotions under their Carolina Wren label when the couple attended a gift trade show in Atlanta, trying to grow their Carolina Wren business.

Lisa said she was trying to turn a hobby into a business for her retirement.

While at the show, Lisa said, they were approached by several retailers who owned Wild Birds Unlimited franchises.

Lisa said the more they worked with Wild Birds Unlimited franchise owners with their Carolina Wren products the more they noticed how happy the owners all were and how much they loved their work.

Art and Lisa decided they wanted to open a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in the Florence area. In talking with Wild Birds Unlimited, Lisa said, they were told the company had been trying to get in the Florence market for about 12 years but hadn’t found the right fit.

It took less than a year for the couple to get their shop up and running.

Wild Birds Unlimited carries a variety of seeds and seed blends that have been specially formulated to attract birds in this region. Customers receive only the freshest bird food possible.

“Our food is extremely clean and extremely fresh,” Art said. “It is bagged when ordered.”

They order about every two weeks.

He said there are no fillers in the bird food they sell. He said every seed is edible by the birds.

They also carry bird feeders, bird houses, wind chimes and specialty garden and gift items, along with their Carolina Wren products.

Art said his favorite part of the business is going to people’s homes and setting up the feeders and establishing their bird-watching stations.

“We are all about bringing joy to your life,” Lisa said.

“We bring people and nature together,” Art said.

Wild Birds Unlimited is at 2151 W. Evans St., Suite E, in the West Gate Square.

The store hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

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