Pee Dee Healthy Start Joins the Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. held a ribbon-cutting on Wednesday with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce signifying its new membership in the chamber. Chamber ambassadors joined Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc, staff and guests for the occasion.

When it began in 1991, the focus of Pee Dee Healthy Start was helping reduce the infant mortality rate and other negative birth outcomes for women and children in the Pee Dee.

Pee Dee Healthy Start was one of 15 federally funded demonstration sites created in 1991. It was administered through the United Way of South Carolina. At that time, the organization served six counties in the Pee Dee, which did not include Florence.

In 1997, Healthy Start transitioned from the United Way to Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. and was granted 501-C3 status.

Pee Dee Healthy Start now serves seven counties — Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg — and provides assistance in several areas to help strengthen families.

It provides health education, fatherhood involvement, mentoring and support, child development counseling and other services.

Madie Robinson, executive director and chief executive, said one of the primary goals is to strengthen the African-American family unit by improving the effectiveness of adult relationships through its Relationship and Education Program.

The Dannon Project offers opportunities for individuals who have been in conflict with the law to transform their lives, she said. It provides training, job development skills, GED preparation and certifications for certain jobs. This program is geared toward adults between the ages of 18-24. Its purpose is to help educate, train and reintroduce them to the workforce.

The re-entry program helps people become whole, Robinson said. It helps them get a job, she said. She said these are people who need a “help up, not a handout.”

“That is where I see our relationship with the chamber,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that when the organization started it established a relationship with the businesses in the area.

“We had an economic development specialist,” she said.

She said women’s issues were discussed with businesses, especially those relating to pregnancy.

Decreasing the incidence of infant mortality is still one of the main purposes of Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. Through health education, the organization hopes to increase the knowledge and awareness related to infant mortality and poor birth outcomes, Robinson said.

Chairman of the board Billy Williams said the people that Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. helps need a lot of help.

Williams said space is an issue at the Pine Street location. He said his dream is to find more space within the next five years to operate.

Robinson said they are always looking for non-federal donations.

Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. is at 314 W. Pine St. in Florence.

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Burris and Pressley Opens Office in Florence

by Ardie Arvidson

Burris and Pressley Realty celebrated the opening of its Florence office at 155 N. Dargan St. and its membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce with a ribbon-cutting Thursday. Chamber ambassadors joined in the celebration.

Damian Burris and Cody Pressley are owners of the brokerage company. The two joined forces in February in Columbia. The Florence office opened Nov. 1. Burris is broker in charge.

Burris and Pressley specializes in residential and commercial real estate and serves South Carolina in new home sales, resales and construction, property investments and property management.

“We are glad to be a part of a vibrant downtown,” Pressley said.

“Florence is growing,” Burris said. “I love what downtown is doing. We wanted to drop our roots here.”

There will be four agents at the Florence office. Burris said he will be in Florence every Wednesday and Thursday.

He said they have been working with clients in the Florence area for a while and saw a need to offer “elite service” in the area.

“We are unconventional with tradition,” Burris said.

He said they try to appeal to the millennials who are now purchasing homes.

“We cater to the customer,” he said. “We care about how our customers approach homebuying.”

Both men are from the Pee Dee. Burris is originally from Marlboro County, and Pressley is from Mullins.

Burris is a retired police officer, who worked in homicide and narcotics for 12 years. He retired from the Camden Police Department in 2016. He is married to Valerie Moore Burris and lives in Kershaw County.

Burris said they founded the company on their faith.

“We attribute our success to God,” he said.

Pressley is married to Avarie Pressley and has four children. He is retired military, having served eight years in the Army. He is a member of the Richland County Zoning Board in Columbia.

“We are one of the largest independent minority real estate companies in the state of South Carolina,” Burris said.

“We look forward to serving the community and want to educate students about literacy, real estate and being business owners,” Pressley said.

They both travel the country speaking on national platforms.

Burris said they are looking forward to becoming more involved in the community and with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

“We want to help build the city of Florence, not just houses,” he said.

They both agreed it was important to them to locate their business in the thriving downtown.

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McLeod Occupational Health Hosts Open House

by Ardie Arvidson

McLeod Occupational Health celebrated the opening of its new location in McLeod Medical Park East on Thursday, November 7 with an open house and ribbon-cutting. The ribbon-cutting was part of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours with Chamber ambassadors taking part.

The new location of McLeod Occupational Health is 101 S. William H. Johnson St., Suite 150.

Dr. Stuart Sandler, Medical Director of McLeod Health Occupational Health Services, greeted guests to the Business After Hours event. He said McLeod Occupational Health provides “treatment, services and health care to area businesses and industries at several locations throughout the 18 counties McLeod Health serves.”

“The locations include McLeod Occupational Health Cheraw, McLeod Occupational Health Sumter, McLeod Occupational Health Commerce Park located off I-95 and this new location at McLeod Regional Medical Center.”

Sandler said the new location allows them to offer a full range of occupational medicine services. They include DOT-certified exams, physicals, primary care services, treatment for work-related injury and illnesses, on-site X-ray and EKG services, labs, firefighter physicals, and employee health services for McLeod Health staff.

Occupational Health moved from across the McLeod campus where it had been for nearly 30 years. Occupational Health kept outgrowing its space.

Oct. 14 was the first day at the new location.

Nurse Kim McCracken, business relations manager, said occupational health is all about medical health for people who work. It is on-the-job health care and covers things like immunizations, she said.

There are two full-time physicians, Sandler and Dr. Valarian Bruce. Dr. Peter Hyman is associate vice president. Shelly Morris is the director of occupational employee health.

Sandler said he has been with McLeod Health Occupational Health for about two years but has worked in the field for 25 years.

“We take care of the working family,” he said. “Anything that happens at work.”

He said a lot of times people who come to them don’t have a primary doctor.

“This is really a step up for us,” Sandler said.

Hyman said the new site has allowed them to expand their services.

“We are very happy to have this new location,” he said.

Sandler said they have 26 employees in the new building and about 55-60 overall, and 15 on-site locations in industries throughout the McLeod coverage area.

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New Chamber Member, Comfort Inn & Suites, Celebrates Open House with Ribbon Cutting

by Ardie Arvidson

New Chamber member, Comfort Inn & Suites of Florence, at 527 Woody Jones Boulevard in Florence, held its grand opening Wednesday, November 6. There were tours, food, entertainment and ribbon cutting.

The new Choice Hotels Comfort Inn and Suites is managed by Raines Hospitality, Inc.

Grey Raines, president of Raines Hospitality Inc., welcomed guests to the event.

“We are really excited to bring Comfort Inn & Suites here,” he said.

Patrick Pacious, president and chief executive officer for Choice Hotels, said he is excited for the Florence Comfort Inn to join its 2,100 other Comfort Inns. He said they have 250 new hotels under construction and will be opening 60 hotels, one a week to the end of 2020.

Raines said this Comfort Inn is Raines Hospitality’s 17th hotel.

“It is our first Comfort Inn,” he said.

Raines said they started in the business with upscale hotels before getting into the upper midscale segment of the hotel market.

The Comfort Inn, near the Florence Center, opened at the end of June.

“It has been very good for us,” Raines said. “The Florence market continues to be a good hotel market.”

He said the company is already working on more hotels but isn’t ready to talk about them yet.

Pacious said Choice Hotels represents 12 brands. He said they have 7,000 hotels overall with 6,000 of them in the United States, mostly in the Southeast. He said they have five in the Florence market with two of those Comfort Inn hotels.

He said they started in Florence five years ago with Hotel Florence in its Boutique Collection in partnership with Raines Hospitality. They have a Cambria Hotel in Mount Pleasant with Raines and two more Cambria’s in the works, he said.

Pacious said Comfort Inn & Suites has been around since the 1980s, but the hotels recently have undergone a complete renovation, which represents a $2½ billion investment. He said the hotel has been rebranded.

The Florence hotel was one of the first in the rebranding with open and elegant lobbies, spacious breakfast areas and larger rooms with warm tones and soothing textures, local artwork and inviting designs.

“We are mostly known for three things,” Pacious said. “That is free breakfast, free Wi-Fi and free parking.”

The hotel in Florence has 89 rooms and suites.

Comfort Inn & Suites is a family-oriented hotel.

Investors and staff of Raines properties were on hand for the celebration, which included a ribbon cutting with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and its ambassadors.

Sparkle Cotton is the general manager of the Florence hotel. Taylor Gray is sales manager.

Prettier Than Matt duo entertained.

School of Dance Arts Joins Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

School of Dance Arts celebrated joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon. Owner Devin Jennings cut the ribbon as staff and chamber ambassadors joined her.

School of Dance Arts was founded in 1972 by Barbara Howell Counts who later sold it to Cecilia Sprawls, Jennings said. Jennings purchased the studio in July.

Jennings said she taught at the school last year and has been a guest instructor. She has been teaching dance since high school. She has taught in Hartsville, Bennettsville, Florence and Camden.

Originally from Virginia, Jennings is a graduate of Coker College, where she studied dance. She now teaches dance at Coker University.

Jennings is certified through the American Ballet Theatre in their national training curriculum to teach ballet. She most recently became certified by Acrobatic Arts to teach Acro dance. In addition, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop are taught at the studio by her 25-member staff, which includes assistant teachers.

Jennings said she had added adult Yoga classes this year.

In her brochure, Jennings says School of Dance Arts provides conservative costuming, music choices and choreography for students.

She said their slogan is “Where excellence in dance begins.”

Jennings said she will be starting several new classes in January. Sign up will begin soon.

The dance studio, located at 1001 S. Cashua Drive in Florence, is open Monday through Thursday in the evenings.

For more information, visit: or call 843-665-0606.

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Square Meal Market Joins Florence Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

The Square Meal Market celebrated its joining of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday with a ribbon-cutting. Chamber ambassadors joined in the celebration. The Square Meal Market is at 163 W. Evans St. in downtown Florence.

The establishment is owned by three women: Shaelyn Williamson, Gennine Williamson and her sister, Rosalee Williamson, who is the operations manager.

The store opened in July.

Rosalee said her co-owners started out as a catering business. They were looking for a building for to do their catering, she said.

“When they pitched the idea for me to be the operations manager two years ago, I quit my job and came on board,” Rosalee said.

They recently invited her to be a co-owner.

“Shaelyn is the cook,” Rosalee said. “Gennine has the business mind, and I do the day-to-day operations.”

Rosalee said they offer healthier fast-food choices.

She said, “Our mission is to transform our communities’ palate one eclectic dish at a time.”

She said they are a restaurant and a market in one. In the front of the store they sell everything from jams to olive oil. Plans are to continue to provide fresh produce in season.

The menu includes sandwiches, soups and salads.

The most popular sandwich is the Italiano panini with choice of bacon or tomato jam, Rosalee said.

“The shrimp corn bisque is the favorite soup,” she added. “And the detox salad is very popular.”

She said the restaurant offers vegan choices and plans to offer breakfast in addition to its coffee, tea and muffins already on the menu.

Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Williams said they will be extending the hours to the weekend.

At the present, they have one additional employee, Lloyd Hailey.

The Square Meal Market stands where the Boxcar Market was previously located.

“We look forward to being a part of the downtown,” Rosalee said. “We can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

She said they joined the chamber for the networking opportunities and because they are part of downtown.

“We are super excited to be downtown and share our ideas with people and to show diversity in our cooking.

For more information, visit

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Doctor Makes House Calls and Cuts Ribbon with Chamber

by Ardie Arvidson

Doctors who make house calls are a rarity in today’s world, but Dr. Charles Louis Edwards wants to change that, at least in the Pee Dee area.

In mid-summer, Edwards opened My House Call Doctor. His office is at 650 Pamplico Highway, Suite C (in front of Food Lion).

“We bring primary care to you,” he told those gathered Thursday morning for the grand opening of his office. A ribbon cutting was hosted by the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to announce his membership in the chamber. Chamber ambassadors, his staff, friends and family joined in the ribbon cutting.

Edwards said he makes house calls as far away as Conway, Johnsonville, Darlington and Hartsville.

“The number of patients we are seeing is increasing every day,” he said. “This is a better way to primary care.”

Edwards said patients receive the best of care in the comfort of their own homes. He said his practice has up-to-date technology available so patients can access their medical records online.

For about six years prior, Edwards said, he worked in the hospital emergency room setting and saw firsthand a need for doctors who make house calls.

Board certified, Edwards specializes in internal medicine.

Home services include flu shots, vaccines, diagnostic testing — ultrasounds, X-rays and lab work.

In-office appointments are also available.

Edwards said his way of doing medicine is embraced by the homebound, mobility insecure, those who shouldn’t be around sick people and people who don’t want to spend a half a day in the doctor’s office.

Charlotte Hanna, PA, and Tammy Huckabee, nurse practitioner, work with Edwards. There five people on the staff, but Edwards said more doctors will be joining him soon.

Born and raised in Dillon, he earned his undergraduate degree from Francis Marion University and his medical degree from West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

His wife, Christena, and children, Madison, Paisley and Chase, joined him for the cutting of the ribbon.

Office hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Other times are available by appointment.

To make an appointment or for more information, call 843-619-2280 or visit

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Wholly Smokin’ Downtown Holds Ribbon Cutting

by Ardie Arvidson

A ribbon cutting to celebrate Wholly Smokin’ Downtown’s membership in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce was held Tuesday afternoon at the restaurant. Chamber ambassadors, family, friends and staff joined Jackie Travis, the owner, for the celebration.

The restaurant of “barbecue, ribs and a whole lot more” is located downtown in the 100 block of South Dargan Street.

Travis said she has been open since December 2014 and hers was one of the first restaurants to open in the revitalized downtown.

“I used to be a member of the chamber when we had Travis Jewelers,” she said. “I’ve seen a transition in the chamber. I can see they are deeply committed and involved with businesses and the community.”

Travis said, “It got me excited about being a member.”

Travis said she and her husband opened a little take-out business on Celebration on Boulevard after retiring as jewelers.

She said Andy Jeffords approached them by the invitation of Dr. John Keith, who owned the downtown building, about moving their business downtown.

“It was scary being one of the early comers to downtown,” she said. “But it has been an unbelievable experience. We look forward to the future.”

Travis said she loves being downtown.

“I love the vibe,” she said. “It has been an exciting ride.”

She said the name says everything about who they are. She said everything is smoked. The menu includes barbecue, pulled chicken, wings, ribs, brisket, sides that complement barbecue, and other items.

She said the restaurant is on the South Carolina BBQ Trail map and gets a lot of tourists. She said the events downtown also bring in business.

“We are one of the few barbecue restaurants where barbecue is full-service, order from the menu,” she said.

Wholly Smokin’ Downtown also has a bar with an extensive wine list, craft beers and cocktails.

“We have four flat-screen TVs for watching the game with friends,” she said.

Travis said they have a saying at the restaurant that Wholly Smokin’ is “a place where customers become friends and friends become family.”

The restaurant has a seating capacity of 99 and opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. It closes at 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday.

Travis said she has lived in the Florence area for more than 40 years. She has a daughter, Sarah; who assisted with the ribbon cutting; and a son, Andrew, who lives in New York. Her husband, Bill Travis, passed away in 2017.

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The WORx CBD and More Has Ribbon Cutting

by Ardie Arvidson

The WORx CBD and More celebrated its opening and joining the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday. Chamber ambassadors joined owner/operator Chris Page in the celebration.

The WORx CBD and More opened the first of October at 1749 S. Irby St. in Florence.

“We can help with anything CBD related,” Page said. “We are a passion-driven CBD company.”

He said he has been using and researching CBD since 2016.

“We are here to help others,” he said.

Page said he offers a half to a dozen selected brands.

“We are trying to cover all the bases,” he said.

CBD is one of the cannabinoids found in hemp.

There are many uses for CBD, Page said. He said some of the ways it may help include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, motion sickness, stress, sleep disorders, epilepsy/seizures, migraines and a host of other ailments.

Treating pain due to inflammation, depression, and anxiety is the most common use for CBD, Page said.

“It works to relax the central nervous system,” he said.

Page said he invites everyone to come by and learn more about CBD. He suggests that people visit more than one CBD store and then come by to see him.

“We’d love to be the last stop,” he said.

Hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Page said he is always there.

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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.

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