ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - After more than a century in operation, “Orangeburg’s favorite store” is preparing to close its doors. And the owner says there’s no turning back this time.
“Due to my age and health issues, I have no alternative but to close the store,” 83-year-old owner Roy Chandler said.
“My thanks for the citizens of Orangeburg for supporting Ferse’s 5&10 and myself as owner and operator for over 30 years,” he said.
The store is scheduled to close before the end of the year.
“When people see our sign that says we are closing, they say ‘What are we going to do?’” Chandler said. “All day long I get that.”
It is the second time within a year Chandler has said he would close the store.
Initially, the 109-year-old store was scheduled to close in February, but an outpouring of community support propelled Chandler to keep the store open.
“We had the same thing at that time and I probably made a mistake by not going out then,” Chandler said. “This one is for real. I am going out either way.”
The store, which has been a fixture on Russell Street, has struggled to stay afloat due to competition from local discount and drug stores. Chandler has even tried to keep the store open for many years out of his own pocket.
“I have been fighting it,” Chandler said. “Business has not been real good. I just can’t fight it anymore.”
While the store’s retail portion has struggled, the store’s diner and cashing booth have continued to do well.
“The luncheonette is holding its own,” he said.
The 66-year business veteran says there is a lot of pressure to remain open, but physically he cannot do it anymore. His wife of nearly 60 years is also struggling with health issues.
As he prepares to leave, Chandler says he’s worried about downtown.
“If downtown would have an anchor store, that is what we are,” he said.
Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association Executive Director Jennifer Hoesing thanked Chandler for his years of service to the Orangeburg community.
“With this kind of closure, DORA sees a historic space full of opportunity,” she said.
“DORA is working to gain insight on how to assist existing businesses and complement the business mix,” Hoesing continued. “Also, the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce is the lead partner identified in the community vision plan for small business recruitment, and they are at work on a long-term strategy and plan.”
Chandler said the site, which has about 8,400 square feet of showroom space, would be ideal for retail or even a grocery store. The building also has a second-floor stockroom.
“The building is in good shape,” Chandler said.
Even during the recent historic rains, the building came out unscathed.
He said, “We did not have any leaks.”
“I still hope somebody will step up and purchase the store because it does have potential,” Chandler said.
There’s been some interest but no buyers, he said. “The right person has not shown up.”
There currently is a storewide closing sale of 40 percent off of all items (except for dining food, drinks, candy and popcorn) through Nov. 1. Items will then be 50 percent off for a time before eventually being marked down to 70 percent off.
Chandler said as long as his health allows, he will continue to work on his vegetable garden at his St. Matthews residence. He and his wife would also like to travel to places like Florida, New York and Chicago.
Chandler said he will not miss the business but he will miss the customers and employees.
“I get hugs every day from customers,” he said. “They hate to see me go.”
The store was founded by farmer T.B. Fersner Sr. in 1906.
Word got around via mule and wagon that Fersner Sr. sold produce at the corner of Broughton and Russell streets. The popularity of Fersner’s wares propelled him into the retail business and he began selling farm items from his wagon.
With $900 from the farm and another $900 borrowed from the bank, Fersner opened “Fersner’s Variety Store” in a portion of the downtown Sifly Building.
In 1936, the store moved to its present location on Russell Street.
In the store’s infancy, it carried fine china as well as tools and fine jewelry.
Buyers would spend two weeks in New York at the American Toy Fair selecting toys for sale. Bicycles and tricycles have always been popular sellers, though in the earlier days the items were assembled on site.
Rice beer, washboards and even chamber pots for those not wanting to walk to the outhouse during the night were also sold.
The store’s name was later changed to 5&10, using a marketing tool coined by Sam Kress in 1896 when he opened his first store in Memphis, Tennessee.
In those days, the store was split in half. Everything on one side was five cents, while the other side contained 10-cent items.
To this day, the Orangeburg business sells a few items at the 5- and 10-cent price points.
In 1950, the family-run team opened Fersner’s Hardware Store at 355 Russell St.
The Fersner family operated the store until 1970, when it was purchased by Santee Wholesale Company.
In 1985, the store was about to go out of business as its competition, like Woods and Kress, did years before.
That same year Chandler purchased it from Santee Wholesale.
Chandler was no stranger to the dime store business, having worked for S.H. Kress for 30 years.
Chandler came to Orangeburg with a reputation for success, having managed four stores in towns across the United States.
In an effort to revitalize downtown, which had declined when retailers began to relocate to the Prince of Orange Mall, Chandler updated the store’s stock and luncheonette and implemented procedures for phone-bill payments and cashing checks. One of the greatest changes was starting the Ferse Money Order.
In June 1994, the store burned, but a few years earlier Chandler had purchased the old Smoak Hardware Store. All important store documents were tucked away in a safe. The next morning after the fire, the store was open next door.
By February 1995, the original Ferse’s building was renovated and open for business.
Information from: The Times & Democrat, https://www.timesanddemocrat.com
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