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

Lidl? Say it the way you like, ja?

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – Lidl, a German-based grocery chain, will be opening its new Florence location later this month after nearly a year of construction.

One of the most frequent questions from Pee Dee natives does not have to do with the contents of the super market, but rather the pronunciation of the store’s name.

Is it Lid-uhl, Ly-duhl or Lee-duhl?

The correct answer is yes.

Depending on your location, “Lidl” can be pronounced different ways. For example, places in the United Kingdom pronounce the store chain as “Lid-uhl.” Germany, where the store originated, pronounces the store as “Lee-duhl.”

Chandler Ebeier, spokesperson for Lidl, said that Lidl US LLC will pronounce the name as Germany does.

“There are many different pronunciations, but at Lidl US we pronounce it like “Lee-duhl, rhymes with needle,” Ebeier told The Morning News.

Lidl will still accept customers even if they pronounce the store’s name wrong.

The store, at 2205 W. Palmetto St., will open its doors at 8 a.m. immediately following a ribbon cutting at 7:40 a.m. Thursday, May 24. The Florence store will be Lidl’s 12th location in South Carolina.

Customers will be able to take advantage of get-them-while-you-can grand opening special offers at the new store. The first 100 customers to arrive will receive a wooden coin for a chance to win up to $100 in Lidl gift cards.

The store will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Lidl operates more than 10,000 stores in 28 countries. Lidl first established its U.S. headquarters in Arlington County, Virginia, in June 2015 and currently has stores in six U.S. states.

Auto dealer cuts ribbon for new location in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Employees and executives from U.S. Auto Sales joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the grand opening of its new location with a ribbon cutting Friday morning.

U.S. Auto Sales, a company based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, has 22 locations across the U.S. and five in South Carolina.

President Bob Andersen said the new Florence location, at 1448 N. Cashua Drive, rounds out the company’s reach in South Carolina.

“We’re excited to be in the Florence community,” Andersen said. “This is a great location for us and we are excited to be a part of the town. It was a great opportunity for us to enter Florence and it allows us to be able to care of the full state.”

Andersen said that U.S. Auto Sales has a selection of more than 2,000 vehicles and that fresh vehicles will arrive at the Florence location daily.

“We think we have a unique niche, particularly in this market,” Andersen said. “We offer a warranty with every vehicle and it’s part of our core to treat our guests with respect and maintain them as guests so they will want to come back.”

Andersen said joining the chamber was a way for the company to be part of the community.

“I think it’s important to always be a part of the community and to add to the community in both jobs and spirit,” Andersen said. “We want to keep focus on doing the right things in the community for the folks that live here.”

Neill Waters, chief marketing officer for U.S. Auto Sales, added that the chamber offers unique networking opportunities.

“When you’re selling cars, anyone can be a customer,” Waters said. “Being a part of the chamber allows us the opportunity to network, which create greats value to us as a company.”

As part of the festivities, Cowboy’s Famous Ribs & Chicken was on location to provide lunch. Andersen said the grand opening was a way to introduce the new dealership to the community.

“We’re always excited to open a new facility,” Andersen said. “We’re growing and continuing to expand our brand. We know that this location will do well and we’re excited to see what’s next.”

For more information on careers or available vehicles, visit

Fellows In Education Class of 2017-2018

The Fellows In Education Class of 2017-2018 held their final gathering today at Duke Energy in celebration of completing the nine-month journey through Florence School District One visitations and observations.

The Fellows program provides local leaders a behind-the-scenes look into several schools within Florence School District One. Over the course of nine months, leaders see firsthand some of the daily struggles and constraints educators face in the classroom. They learn about seismic shifts in student needs and the additional state and federal requirements now placed on schools, teachers and administrators in Florence District One.

The program is made possible through a partnership between The School Foundation, The Greater Florence Chamber and Florence School District One. For more information on this program please Debbie Hyler, Executive Director, The School Foundation (843) 662-9996 or Michael Miller, President, Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce (843) 665-0515.

Forever 21 apparel store coming to Magnolia Mall in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Magnolia Mall officials have announced the addition of Forever 21 to its stores. The new store will open before the holiday season this year.

Forever 21, a popular retailer, signed a contract with PREIT, Magnolia Mall’s parent company, earlier this month for a Florence location and two others in Hyattsville, Maryland, and Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

The company will also expand its store in the Capital City Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from 7,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet.

Kelsey Hill, marketing manager of PREIT, said the Florence location will be a popular destination for shoppers.

“Magnolia Mall is so excited to be bringing in Forever 21 for our shoppers,” Hill said. “We know our customers will be thrilled and it means so much to us to be able to bring in retailers that really matter to them.”

Forever 21 offers a variety of different apparel, including dresses, shoes, rompers, skirts, sweatshirts, swimwear, sleepwear and jackets for women. The store also has sections for men, girls and plus-size apparel, in addition to many accessories.

The store will occupy 9,000 square feet in the Magnolia Mall.

“Forever 21 is such a well-known and loved brand and they will be a great match for our community,” Hill said. “This is a store that our shoppers have been wanting for some time now and we know it will be a huge hit.”

Hill said the addition of Forever 21 is just one of the many announcements to come from the mall this year.

“There has been a lot happening at Magnolia Mall for a long time now and it is amazing to see it all coming to life,” Hill said. “We have already had two fantastic anchor stores open and two stores re-open after moving to new and improved locations and we’re not even halfway through the year. Start getting excited for H&M and the new Chick-fil-A because they will be open before you know it. We are working quickly to begin construction on Texas Roadhouse and we still have plenty more exciting new retailer announcements to make this year.”

Forever 21 is the fifth-largest specialty retailer in the U.S. Despite the company’s growth, it remains a family-owned business.

Carolinas Hospital System will construct a new 10,300 square-foot Emergency Department

Carolinas Hospital System will construct a new 10,300 square-foot Emergency Department in West Florence, investing a total of $11.2 million and creating 32 new full-time jobs.

The project will provide the first 24/7 emergency care facility in West Florence, one of the fastest-growing residential areas in Florence County.

Kyle Baxter, Chief Operating Officer of Carolinas Hospital System, said the project is designed to fill a gap in services in the Florence area. Demand for emergency room services is increasing, he said, while existing patient care facilities are concentrated on the east side of the city, a 15- to 20-minute drive from many residential areas.

“Carolinas Hospital System is committed to providing quality healthcare to our community. This new free standing emergency department will make emergency care more accessible to residents and visitors of the Pee Dee region,” said Vance Reynolds, Chief Executive of Carolinas Hospital System.

Baxter said Carolinas Hospital System also hopes its investment will catalyze further development in the area, helping to support the growth of jobs and services in West Florence and Timmonsville.

“This is exciting for our community. Carolinas Hospital System is dedicated to the healthcare of our citizens and continues to support the growth of the Pee Dee Region,” said C. Edward Floyd, M.D., Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Carolinas Hospital System.

The new facility will be located at the corner of Twin Church Road and West Palmetto Street, at the entrance to the new City of Florence Soccer Complex developed jointly by the City of Florence, Florence County and the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation. Construction is expected to begin in July and be completed by April 2019.

Eggs Up Grill will open in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Eggs Up Grill, a breakfast and lunch restaurant chain, will be the newest tenant in the North Beltline shopping center across from West Florence High School beginning this summer.

Eggs Up Grill is a South Carolina-based company with more than 22 locations in the state and several in both North Carolina and Georgia.

Dean Patel, the owner of the Sumter and Florence locations, said expanding to Florence was the right move for the company.

“We’ve been working on that site [in Florence] for well over a year now,” Patel said. “We’ve been trying to find a new location and we thought being in the middle of the retail district and being surrounded by residential property would be a good move for us.”

The restaurant serves an array of breakfast foods and lunch items, including eggs, sausage, bacon, breakfast sandwiches, eggs benedict, a variety of signature omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, burgers, a variety of sandwiches, salads and soups, wraps and other items.

Lisa Williams, Patel’s business partner, as well as the operations manager at the Sumter location and director of the Florence location, said that Florence will provide a bigger market for the restaurant.

“It was a new location that my partner researched extensively,” Williams said. “The high school and residential areas looked like a good place to start and grow from there. I really believe that Florence could have the opportunity to have two Eggs Up Grill locations before it’s all said and done because of its large market.”

Williams said Eggs Up Grill is a very popular stop down on the Grand Strand, where many Florence residents spend their summer vacations.

“When people go and vacation, they look to stop at Eggs Up Grill,” Williams said. “In a way, we’re kind of bringing those memories of the beach and vacation to the residents with them being able to have an option that they used to only have down at the beach or in Pawley’s Island.”

Patel echoed the sentiments of his business partner.

“We would search out Eggs Up Grill for breakfast when we were down at the beach,” Patel said. “The food and customer service are always great. We really believe that the quality, service and food will be well-received in Florence.”

Williams said that Eggs Up Grill will provide a “daytime restaurant” option in the midst of many evening-specialty establishments.

“It’s a really good concept,” Williams said. “People are looking for a clean establishment with quality food and good customer service. I’m positive that it will do well because there’s nothing really like it.”

Patel said the restaurant is eyeing an opening in mid-June, but it will depend on several factors.

“I’m anxious,” Patel said. “It depends on construction and permits, things like that. We’re really looking forward to being a part of the Florence location and getting this new store open.”

The restaurant will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit

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Florence Chamber sponsors Spring Golf Classic

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Business people from around the Pee Dee gathered at the Traces Golf Club in Florence on Thursday afternoon for a round of golf, networking opportunities and fun.

A total of 21 teams made up of business leaders and employees competed in the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Spring Golf Classic, presented by Raldex Hospitality.

The tournament is one of two golf classics the chamber hosts each year; the second will be in October. Florence businesses entered teams of four to compete in the tournament for the chance to take home some hardware.

 While there was a competition, Chamber President Mike Miller said the event is an even better opportunity for local business owners to connect with one another.

“This event is rather special because the local business leaders get together, have some fun and play some golf,” Miller said. “It couldn’t be a more perfect day; it’s really a ‘Chamber of Commerce’ weather type of day. It’s a great way to mingle with business friends and have a good time.”

The day began with a lunch catered by Pee Dee Food Service before a shotgun start at noon. Teams were able to play the Meadow and Creekside courses with six “prize holes” for several different skills, including longest drive, closest to the pin and a Honda of South Carolina Manufacturing Inc. hole-in-one challenge on the seventh hole of the Meadows course.

Miller said the golf classic wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Raldex, which was the presenter of the tournament. The company provided a “hospitality hole” at the Creekside course, which allowed golfers to stop and pick up free souvenirs, drinks and freshly grilled wings with a secret sauce.

In addition to Raldex, several vendors including the chamber, Florence RedWolves baseball, M2 Marketing & Promotions, ServiceMaster Fire & Water Restoration, WebsterRogers and Young Professionals of Florence sponsored hospitality holes.

Miller said seeing the businesses come together makes this one of his favorite chamber events.

“This is what it’s all about, having fun and people getting together” Miller said.

When the final tally was complete, Hodge Ethridge Agency came away with the tournament win and South State Bank finished second.

Pepsi was the beverage sponsor and Dilmar Oil Company was the birdie sponsor of the event.

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Clarke & Company cuts ribbon on new downtown Florence office space

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Clarke & Company Benefits celebrated the grand opening of its new office at 122 S. Irby St. Tuesday afternoon.

Employees and executives from the company joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon cutting.

Norman Clarke, owner of the Columbia-based business, said the company had been looking for new offices due to growth over the past couple of years.

“We looked at several places, but really liked the downtown area,” Clarke said. “We really like our office because it’s close to everything in downtown and we have room to grow. We want to be part of the community and the downtown business community.”

Clarke & Company bought Insurance Services of South Carolina, a local company, three and a half years ago. Since then, Clarke said, the company has enjoyed being a part of the Florence area and seeing the development of the community.

“We like what’s going on downtown,” Clarke said. “We really like the accessibility. Everything is in walking distance of what you need and the business community is so close. A lot of our clients are downtown, so it was just a great fit.”

Clarke & Company insures companies of all sizes. Clarke said the company offers insurance products and helps human resources departments with modern technology and an array of different tools.

“Our real job is to help employers and bring value to the employer,” Clarke said. “We’re not just offering insurance, we’re offering technology. We’re trying to make buying insurance a little easier and making things a little bit more efficient for them.”

In addition to the ribbon cutting, Clarke & Company celebrated the grand opening of its new offices by holding a Tax Reform Seminar from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., which featured speakers Joe Griffin and Leann Childs with WebsterRogers, who talked about the new tax bill and how it will affect local businesses going forward.

Some of the topics discussed were the lowered corporate tax rate, the new Section 199A Deduction for owners of pass-through entities, and depreciation tax breaks.

Following the seminar, the company showed off its new office space to attendees with light refreshments.

For more information, visit

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