El Agave celebrates with ribbon cutting in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — El Agave joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the restaurant’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

The owners of Mi Tierra San Jose Restaurant opened El Agave – at 147 W. Evans St. – in September and have since seen increased traffic.

Brenda Perez, who co-owns the restaurant with her family, said joining the chamber allowed the business to be a more involved member of the Florence community.

“It really helps us to be a better member in the community of Florence,” Brenda said. “It also helps us to grow a little bit more, as well.”

Perez’s brother, Jose Jr., said the location was a great spot to put the new restaurant.

“With Florence’s downtown growing, we’ve greatly benefited from being here,” he said. “We’re expecting a lot of traffic and for it to continue to grow.

Brenda said the restaurant’s traffic started to pick up as of late.

“Especially since we got our liquor license, it’s been a lot busier,” Brenda said. “It’s a great spot right here across from Victor’s, and with the new hotel coming up, we’re really pleased with the location.”

The menu at El Agave looks similar to that of Mi Tierra. The restaurant serves tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, chicken, steak, seafood and other authentic Mexican dishes. Brenda said that El Agave serves some special dishes, like fish tacos, that Mi Tierra doesn’t have on its menu.

Both agreed that Molcajete was one of the favorite dishes among customers but said the restaurant has something for everyone.

“We have a big menu,” Brenda said. “You really can’t go wrong with whatever you try.”

“Lots of choices,” Jose Jr. said. “We’ve got a great variety.”

Jingle all the way: Market opens at Florence Center

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. – Christmas enthusiasts will ring in the holiday season this weekend at the Florence Center with the 2018 Jingle Bell Market.

The Jingle Bell Market held its kickoff celebration Thursday afternoon with a ribbon cutting in conjunction with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

Mary Hudson, the show manager, said she was excited to see the event kickoff after many months of planning.

“It’s very overwhelming,” Hudson said. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time. We knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to have the charity part in the show so that it truly benefits everybody. We have quality people, and I’m very excited for the weekend.”

The market has exhibits offering everything for your Christmas shopping lists, including crafts, apparel, vintage finds, shabby chic, frames, home decor, DIY, recycled, repurposed, mobile boutiques, monogram gifts, home decor, gourmet foods, gift and garden, jewelry, toys and more.

The show includes several areas with vendors and exhibits, including Jingle Bell Junction, Christmas Craft Cove and Fa La La Vintage Farmer’s Market, The Christmas Café, Shop ‘N Drop and Mistletoe Manor, with some of those areas highlighting local charities.

“I’ve got some of the best vendors from around the state,” Hudson said. “There are all kinds of stuff here for everybody.”

In addition to shopping opportunities for the adults, children will have the chance to take pictures with Santa and write letters to him to update their Christmas wish list.

The market also includes an area called the “Grinch’s Grotto,” a special gathering place for guys to watch games on a supersized projector screen and sit back and enjoy lunch.

“That will be a fun place for ladies to drop their men off and go shop,” Hudson said. “It should be a fun time for everyone and that’s what we’re going for.”

The market includes a festival of trees that will be auctioned off, benefiting the House of Hope.

Other benefits and fundraising opportunities will continue throughout the weekend for other area charities. Additionally, there will be a ceremony for local veterans and their guests, held in conjunction with Quilts of Valor.

The Jingle Bell Market will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.


Locked Inn offers guest an ‘escape experience’ in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Locked Inn- whose website describes it as “a Live Escape Room Experience” – moved locations in March and has enjoyed its new space with which it has expanded its offerings.

The business began with a 1,000-square foot space with two rooms inside the Gould Business Incubator on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Last week, Locked Inn joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting for its new location at 214-A Dozier Blvd.

For a birthday celebration, brother and sister Maureen Allen and Gavin Smith went to Charlotte, where they tried out an escape room. Allen said she fell in love with the idea and asked her brothers to join in on the venture of bringing an escape room in Florence.

“This has been a great family adventure for us as our whole family has come together to give new ideas and scenarios for the business,” Allen said. “It’s such a fun and exciting time for folks to enjoy.”

Escape rooms are live adventure games in which players are “locked in” a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles to escape.

With the new location, Locked Inn has expanded to four themed rooms. Each room is fully interactive and players use their intellect to find clues and solve puzzles in an attempt to escape in 60 minutes.

The rooms include Lakewood Lodge, Submerged, Bellingham Asylum and Sacred Ruins.

Locked Inn hosts both corporate and group events. Those interested can book a room ahead of time at the business’s website- lockedinnsc.com. The business also has a party room that can be rented out for birthdays, anniversaries and other types of celebrations.

David Lowe Insurance joins Florence Chamber

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — David Lowe Insurance joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to celebrate the business’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

David Lowe Insurance, at 507 W. Cheves St., has been in Florence for more than 40 years and at its current location for more than 30 years.

“Florence is home,” Lowe said. “It’s a great atmosphere to raise a family and a good business climate.”

Lowe said the company, which was established in 1979, primarily focuses on health insurance, but also does several other types of insurance for both individuals and groups.

Lowe said he has enjoyed getting to work with his son, Derek, for the past four years at the agency.

“He’s doing a great job,” Lowe said. “His first year, he was a top 20 producer of BlueCross BlueShield individually for the state. I’m very proud of him.”

Lowe said joining the chamber will give the business a chance to meet more businesses and gain more exposure.

“Derek was point man on that,” Lowe said. “It gives us a chance to get more exposure and to work with other businesses around the area. The Florence Chamber is primarily geared toward businesses and that’s a big part of our business, as well.”

Heaven’s Hope aims to build a special home for children

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Heaven’s Hope joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to celebrate the organization’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Heaven’s Hope, a Pee Dee based nonprofit organization, is looking to construct a home that specializes in the treatment of medically fragile children, which would be the first of its kind in the state of South Carolina.

Rachel Lee, executive director of the organization, said families with medically fragile children in South Carolina are forced to make a decision: Either learn to operate all the intricate equipment that their child needs to live or let their child live in a hospital.

Heaven’s Hope wants to give families an alternative option.

“I would love it for children to have a safe place,” Lee said. “These children are exposed to so much pain and so many unknowns. I would love to create this home where this is their happy spot. It’s a place where they can blow bubbles and put stuff on the walls of their room. A place where they can just be a kid.”

The mission for Heaven’s Hope is “to provide a loving place for medically fragile children to call home that meets their emotional, spiritual, medical, physical, social and educational needs.”

Lee said being a part of the chamber will help the organization network with other businesses and organizations in the Pee Dee.

“In the past, we have seen the chamber of commerce do some events and we’ve seen the benefit of what the chamber has to offer to local businesses and even small nonprofits like us,” Lee said. “We made the decision that this was something we wanted to be a part of. It’s something bigger than ourselves.”

The organization will host a fund-raising event on Saturday, Nov. 17, called the “Swamp Fox Highland Games and Celtic Festival.” The festival will take place at The Columns Plantation and all funds will go toward the initial start of the home.

Lee said the festival is a celebration of Celtic culture and history. There will be kid’s activities, vendors, cultural demonstrations and athletic events.

Mobile Communications extends reach to Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Mobile Communications America joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber on Tuesday for a ribbon cutting.

Michael Johnson, general manager, said Mobile Communications America acquired Myrtle Beach Communications on July 2.

“It was a natural fit,” Johnson said. “Mobile Communications just continues to grow. Our focus in Florence will be on video surveillance, in particular.”

Mobile Communications America is the largest service provider in the country for mobile two-way radios and public safety accounts. The company has 40 locations in the Southeast and provides a number of services, including equipment repair, engineering services, maintenance contracts, system management, FCC licensing and more.

The company handles commercial accounts and does video surveillance and warning sirens for school districts, governmental bodies and large commercial businesses, including factories and plants.

“I’m excited about the community,” Johnson said. “As large as they are, Mobile Comm still gets community. They want to be a part of the areas they are in and look for places where they can get involved.”

Johnson said he was excited to extend to the Florence market. He said school districts, new construction sites and major plants are the company’s core customers. Mobile Communications focuses on commercial business.

“The big change for us is the resources,” Johnson said. “We have engineers on staff and the transition has been good for us. We think chambers of commerce are important to the community and with us coming to Florence, we felt it was important to join the chamber.”

Event showcases new Staybridge Suites hotel in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. – Hundreds of business and community leaders gathered at Staybridge Suites on Thursday to celebrate the hotel’s grand opening in conjunction with a Business After Hours event.

Staybridge Suites, at 150 Westpark Drive near the Florence Center, opened about two month ago.

Robin Osborne, general manager of Staybridge Suites, said she was excited to show off the new property to the Florence community.

“It’s exciting,” Osborne said. “We’ve been here for two months, so we’ve gotten to see how beautiful it is, but we just wanted to have the opportunity to show Florence. Although, we don’t book a lot of room for locals, we have the meeting and banquet space that will interest locals in the community. We’ve got Christmas parties coming up and we’ve already booked some weddings and receptions.”

The hotel is owned and managed by Raldex Hospitality under a license agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). IHG franchises, leases, manages or owns nearly 5,400 hotels and 800,000 guest rooms in almost 100 countries.

Raldex Hospitality owns and operates Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn and two Hampton Inn & Suites in Florence.

Osborne said Staybridge Suites is Raldex’s first “extended-stay brand hotel.”

“It’s a whole different market that we’ve never been a part of,” Osborne said. “There are corporate travelers that have stayed a couple of weeks, a month, two months. We have got somebody staying here now for four months. They become like family to us. It really is more of a family atmosphere than your normal hotel.”

The new property has 112 rooms, which include a mix of deluxe studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom/two-bathroom suites with communal living spaces. Guests will be able to enjoy kitchens with a full-size refrigerator, microwave oven, cooktop and a dishwasher.

The hotel offers several amenities, including a daily hot breakfast buffet; a den for socializing, playing board games or reading; an outdoor pavilion that includes two custom-built infra-red grills; and evening receptions four nights a week with wine, beer and customized entrees.

Additional conveniences include internet, a zero-entry outdoor saline pool, complimentary guest laundry room, guest storage room, a 24-hour business center, a fully equipped fitness center and a 2,600-square-foot meeting space with a capacity for 225 people, making it the largest hotel ballroom in Florence.

Carolina Business Equipment joins Florence Chamber, cuts ribbon

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Carolina Business Equipment joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to celebrate the company’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Carolina Business Equipment, at 1800 Second Loop Road, Suite 12, is an information technology provider that was established in 1975 in Columbia. Since then, the company has expanded to a multi-state, multi-office factory sales, support, service and training center.

Jim Buck, general manager of the Florence office, said the company has been serving Florence for more than 17 years.

“We’re an in-state provider,” Buck said. “We cover multiple lines, so it depends on what you’re looking for. We’re large enough that our buying power allows us to be extremely competitive. What I love to tell people is to look at what you’re paying now. If you feel like it’s too much, we’d love for you to contact us and give us a chance to look at what we can do for you.”

The company offers many services, including security and monitoring; on-site and remote support; network installation, support and design; hosted cloud offerings; backup and disaster relief; help desk; planning and auditing; and more.

Buck said joining the chamber was a way for the company to continue its growth and network with other businesses. He said the company originally had its main office in Columbia, but it decided to expand and add a Florence office to focus on the market in the Pee Dee.

“We decided that we had grown so much, actually we had grown so much in the state, that we wanted to have brick and mortar in Florence,” Buck said. “Joining the chamber was just the logical next step. We had been with the chamber before and they do a great job.”

Carolina Business Equipment can service and install IT equipment — such as servers, PCs, networking and firewalls — and desktop printing.

Mortgage finance company celebrates in new quarters in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Pee Dee Branch of Finance of America Mortgage joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the company’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Gregory O’Connor founded the local branch of Finance of America Mortgage with the goal of providing the best mortgage loan experience to customers in the community more than five years ago.

The company started out in the Gould Business Incubator, where it stayed for five years, before transitioning to its new office space at 2182 W. Evans St.

“It’s been amazing,” O’Connor said. “The incubator was a great place to be ‘incubated.’ Now, we are in a central location where we have good visibility and I think that does make a difference to any business, including ours.

The branch moved into the new space in June and O’Connor said he has enjoyed having the exposure of being in the center of Florence.

“It’s been great,” O’Connor said. “No complaints whatsoever. We’re physically located in the center of town.”

O’Connor said joining the chamber was one of the best ways for his business to get involved in the community.

“Being a part of the chamber means that we’re a part of a bond with the community,” O’Connor said. “The ribbon cutting ceremony is really bonding business to the community and I really want to be a part of the community.”

O’Connor said Finance of America Mortgage is successful because it focuses on just doing home loans.

“In a world of ‘go the internet and google something,’ we have that, but for first-time homebuyers and people that want a little extra help, that’s what we do best,” O’Connor said. “We really focus on hand-holding and educating the customer so that they are 100 percent comfortable with the entire process.”

Florence firm offers ‘creative way’ to meet companies’ needs

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — K. Hope Creative joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the organization’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

K. Hope Creative is a boutique consulting firm specializing in brand development, marketing and public relations.

Kim Bowman, president and CEO of K. Hope, said she began the firm about a year ago after a successful career in marketing and business development.

“I find a creative way to get where we need to go,” Bowman said. “If a client has a problem with sales, visibility, brand development or whatever it is, we’re going to find a creative way to do just that. I love working with people who need somebody to come in, or an outside objective look, to solve problems through that creative touch and approach.”

Bowman most recently served as the CEO of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics Foundation, where she was responsible for strategic direction, marketing, fundraising, outreach, and recruiting.

She has also held marketing and leadership roles with EdVenture Children’s Museum, Lake Murray Magazine, University of South Carolina, Policy Management Systems Corporation, and AT&T.

K. Hope works with several organizations, including business, education, lifestyle and nonprofit groups. The firm offers marketing, strategy, brand development, public relations, community relations, business development, project management and execution fundraising, campaigns and content, help with new ventures and events, and more.

“I don’t think ‘important’ is a powerful enough word,” Bowman said about the importance of business marketing. “If you can’t get your message out effectively, you’re not in business. It’s something that is done differently with every single different organization.”

For more information or to contact K. Hope Creative, visit khopecreative.com or contact it at 803-240-6642 or by email kim@khopecreative.com.