(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories looking back at the events of 2019 in Union County.)
UNION COUNTY — A new store that gave residents of a “food desert” the opportunity to finally “shop local,” the opening of a store with merchandise and a philosophy from Africa, and the opening of the first Union County facility of a group that stresses the “power of work” to change lives were examples of the diversity of economic development in Union County in 2019.
Finding What Was Forgotten
The year began with the opening of “Sankofa Crystal & Sage” at 301 West Main Street in downtown Union in January. Managed and operated by Gloria Wilson, the store gets its name from the west African country of Ghana. Sankofa means “to go back” and it is an expression of the Ghanian proverb that says “It’s not wrong to go back to find what was forgotten.”
Wilson said that the store’s merchandise reflects that philosophy because “at Sankofa our mission is to go back to what was forgotten such as natural and beauty health products. Our mission is to make Union County the healthiest county in South Carolina by using natural foods and remedies.”
The store’s merchandise including Natural Bamboo Charcoal Toothpaste which is fluoride free because, according to Wilson, “fluoride is a poison to the human body. It increases your risk of dementia. When they do studies of people with dementia they find a high level of aluminum and fluoride is shown to absorb aluminum.”
Also on the store’s shelves is “Respiratory Rejuvenation”which Wilson said is “a mucus buster. It is all natural, and has no chemicals, compounds or synthetics. Anyone suffering from arthritis, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia or summer cough or upper respiratory infection, it all begins with a mucus plug. We carry too much mucus around in our systems and this clears it up.”
The store also sells “Cosmic Colon Cleanse” which Wilson said is also “all natural. There are no chemicals or drugs. Not only does it move your bowels its kills parasites and toxins left in your intestines.“
Also sold is Raw Sage which Wilson said “ is good for killing bacteria in the air. You cook with it. It has healing properties and it deters negative energy.”
The store also sells crystals which Wilson said also have healing properties, explaining that “all crystals vibrate at a certain frequency. Our bodies also operate on certain frequencies so if you are in close proximity with a crystal that is putting out a certain frequency then your body will benefit from that frequency.”
In addition, the store sells clothing for men and women, all of them with colors, designs, and fashions that Wilson said reflect the underlying philosophy of the store. She said that “Mud Cloth” clothing sold at the store “is imported from Mali. It’s very heavy, very durable. It’s pretty and is in the spirit of Sankofa with ancient designs on it.”
Also on sale are embroidered women’s shirts imported from Kenya. In fact, with the exception of some jewelry and incense from India, all of the merchandise and decorations at the store are imported from countries in Africa including Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Nigeria.
“We import a lot of African products because that it is part of going back to what’s natural and authentic,” Wilson said.
The Power Of Work
Having a job can change a person’s life and helping people in Union County get the training they need to get life-changing employment is why Good Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina began operations here in 2019.
In an address to the February 12 meeting of Union County Council, Darren L. Wright, Vice President of Career Development Services for Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina, announced that the organization, in partnership with Union County and the City of Union, will be opening up its first facility in Union County.
Wright, a Union native, said that the new “Goodwill Store and Job Connection Center” would be located in the former Belk Building at 441 North Duncan Bypass in the West Towne Shopping Plaza. He said the building, which is approximately 29,000 square feet in size, would be one of the largest Goodwill facilities in the 16 counties of the Upstate and Midlands served by his organization. Wright said that the facility, will include a 12,000 square-foot retail store and an 1,100 square-foot Job Connection and training room with the rest of the building serving as warehouse, donation center, and processing areas. He said the facility, which was scheduled to open by late April, would employ approximately 20 associates.
The facility opened Wednesday, April 24, and actually opened a half-hour earlier than originally planned because of the large number of shoppers waiting outside its doors.
Anthony Barthelemy, Vice President of Retail for Goodwill, was present for the April 24 opening, and said the retail store has “all kinds of clothing, children’s, men’s, ladies, maternity, active wear, scrubs, different kinds of shoes, and linen. We have household goods, furniture, some new goods items, toys, pictures, electronics, home decor, and pocketbooks.”
In his address to council, Wright pointed to the Goodwill slogan “The Power of Work” which he said sums up the philosophy and mission of Goodwill Industries which “helps people become independent through education and training leading to employment.” While people mainly think of Goodwill as a place to drop off clothing and other items they no longer want to be resold through the organizations’s retail stores, Wright said that this is only part of what Goodwill does, though this is where that process begins.
“I always say that Goodwill was recycling before recycling was cool,” Wright said. “We monetize donations to put people to work.”
Through its job training programs, Wright said Goodwill brings people who need jobs together with employers who have jobs, especially “priority populations.” He said those priority populations are:
• Individuals with disabilities
• Returning citizens
Wright said that “returning citizens” are those who are returning to society after being incarcerated. He pointed out that 700 of these returning citizens are released from the SC Department of Corrections each month at a cost to the state of $60 per day.
In fiscal 2017-2018, Wright said Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina served 2,128 of these individuals and placed 1,029 on them in jobs, a placement rate of 48.3 percent.
• Long-term unemployed
Wright said there are 204,000 veterans in South Carolina, 18,400 of whom live in poverty and 10,275 of whom are unemployed.
In fiscal 2017-2018, Wright said Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina served 682 veterans and placed 536 of them in jobs, a placement rate of 78.6 percent.
Wright said that among the youth (a group defined as ages 16-24) in South Carolina the unemployment rate is 20.1 percent and 68,400 or 14.3 percent of this population does not have a high school diploma, a situation that he said needs to be addressed through apprenticeships, up-skilling, and credentials.
In fiscal 2017-2018, Wright said Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina served 1,552 of these youth and credentialed 405 of them.
Overall, Wright said that, as a “Workforce Partner,” Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina served 26,000 job seekers in fiscal 2017-2018 and placed 12,152 of them into employment. He said the average wage for those placed was $10-plus an hour and working more than 35 hours a week.
Wright said that through its Job Connection and Training Program, Goodwill provides “industry specific credentials” in the manufacturing, medical (CNA), construction, and logistics industries that enable those it serves to get jobs, all at no cost to those being served by the program.
During the April 24 opening of the facility, Wright said Wednesday he hoped the public would “be supportive, not only by donating and shopping, but will also take advantage of our job training and education programs offered through our job center.
A Place To Shop Locally
While most don’t normally associate Union County with its rivers, creeks, and streams with a desert, the truth is that deserts can and do exist, even in places with the water resources this county possesses.
By desert, however, we mean a “food desert,” that is a community that does not have a store where residents can buy food locally, forcing them to travel to other communities to do so, something that can be a particular hardship for those lacking a reliable means of transportation.
The Town of Carlisle was just such a food desert community, it residents forced to travel to Union or elsewhere to buy groceries.
It was an intolerable situation and Carlisle Mayor Mary Ferguson-Glenn decided to do something about it and so she and the Carlisle Town Council began working to bring a store to the town so its residents and those of the surrounding area could shop locally.
What followed that decision to change things were two years of hard work and continuous effort on the part of Ferguson-Glenn and the town council that began in March of 2017. The effort paid off in May of 2019 when, on behalf of the Town of Carlisle, the Union County Chamber of Commerce announced that Dollar General would build its first store in Carlisle. Fish Dam Avenue and Pinckney Street.
On Friday, May 31, ground was broken for the new Dollar General store in a ceremony hosted by the chamber on the town’s behalf attended by dignitaries that included Union County Supervisor Frank Hart, Union County Councilman Ralph Tucker, Lockhart Power Senior Manager of Community Relations and Development Andrena Powell-Baker, City of Union Mayor Harold Thompson, Jonesville Town Councilman Ronald Young, and Union County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jami Trammell.
During the ceremony Ferguson-Glenn formally announced and welcomed the arrival of Dollar General to the Carlisle community. Ferguson-Glenn began by describing Carlisle, which she pointed out was once called “Fishdam,” as “a community rooted in culture, tradition, and history.” She pointed that in recent years the town’s history has been a difficult one, but that such difficulties were overcome by persistence and determination to bring success to Carlisle, an effort that she said had lead to Dollar General locating in the town.
“A few years ago we struggled through difficult times, but we continued in a course of action, even in the face of difficulty with little prospect of success,” Ferguson-Glenn said. “Today, Carlisle is moving forward in the right direction.
“Through our partnerships with various organizations we continue to address a number of issues facing our community,” she said. “Together we have made great strides in creating a better community, yet we know there is more to be accomplished.”
One of those issues facing the town was the need to attract new business that would bring new investment and new jobs and, in the longer-term, help bring even more new business to Carlisle.
“In March of 2017 we turned our focus to a plan of action on how we could attract new business in Carlisle, something that would bring jobs as well as spur economic development,” Ferguson-Glenn said. “As fate would have it, a young man by the name of Tim McCormick arrived on the scene. We had one common goal: Dollar General. Tim and I worked secretly on this project for two years. There were days we thought it was not going to happen, but we were determined to see it through, so today I am proud to announce the coming of Dollar General.”
The announcement was made during the Friday morning ground-breaking ceremony hosted by the chamber on the town’s behalf. The groundbreaking was held at the site of the Dollar General store at the intersection of Fish Dam Avenue and Pinckney Street and adjacent to SC 72. Even as the ceremony was being held the ground was already being cleared and prepared for construction to begin.
Hart also spoke at the groundbreaking and pointed out that , in addition to bringing investment and jobs to Carlisle and helping open the door to more new businesses to locate there, the Dollar General Store would address the problem of the town being a “food desert” with few, if any opportunities for residents to purchase groceries without having to travel long distances. Hart pointed out that this can be a challenge, especially for those who lack a reliable means of transportation. He said that Dollar General’s arrival would change that dramatically, making it easier for residents to get many of their grocery needs without having to travel out of town.
That change, both in terms of making it easier for residents to buy groceries and in promoting the current and future economic growth of the town, got under way on September 7, 2019 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that formally opened the new Dollar General store in Carlisle. The ribbon-cutting was a 9 a.m. but the store had opened its doors an hour earlier to accommodate the long line of customers that stretched around the building, through the parking and even out into the adjacent street waiting for their chance to shop without having to do so.
Helping cut the ribbon was Ferguson-Glenn who said “it’s a great day for Carlisle and the rest of Union County. We achieved our goal of letting people know this store is here. We have a huge turnout this morning and all I can say is shop local.”
Assisting Ferguson-Glenn in cutting the ribbon was Store Manager Jillian Duncan who pointed out that her store offers a variety of merchandise for residents of Carlisle and surrounding areas including food, toiletries, pet products, health and beauty, seasonal items for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and more, all of it now conveniently available to the local community.
“We’re happy to be here,” Duncan said. “It has been a long time coming. Nobody has had any retail to go to within 15-20 miles.”
While the store is there to serve the people of Carlisle and surrounding areas, Duncan said the store needs the public’s help in return.
“We’re here to serve the community, but we need the community’s help,” Duncan said. “Like the mayor said, shop local.”