Scott Clyburn remembers driving through downtown Chester, South Carolina, looking at the historic buildings and thinking about the businesses that once occupied them when Gadsden Street was the heart of
Scott Clyburn remembers driving through downtown Chester, South Carolina, looking at the historic buildings and thinking about the businesses that once occupied them when Gadsden Street was the heart of a bustling retail district throughout the early 1900s.
“You look at those buildings and think, ‘That was built in 1900 — 122 years ago — by hand,’” he says. “You look at the architecture and the brickwork and the millwork, and it’s amazing to think about how it was done and how many people walked through the doors.”
The buildings still had historic charm and were complete with tin ceilings, wide moldings, and exposed brick, but businesses had long since abandoned the spaces. Clyburn wanted to change that.
“Downtown revitalization starts with one building and then builds to two, then three, then four, then six buildings — and it changes a town,” he says.
Hike scenic trails, kayak through wetlands, dine at local eateries, grab beers with friends, enjoy festive events, and recharge on your next getaway to the Olde English District.
In 2021, Clyburn bought a building — and purchased the building next door less than 12 months later — and opened Broad River Mercantile. The popular outdoor retailer is one of a growing number of businesses transforming the patchwork of small downtowns that make up the Olde English District.
The district is named for the area’s British settlement that dates to the 1770s. It spans seven counties in South Carolina between Charlotte and Columbia and is home to shops and restaurants that embrace their storied past and share a commitment to bringing people back downtown, making it the perfect destination for holiday shopping and dining.
“There’s a resurgence in small-town America, and the Olde English District fits that,” Clyburn says. “People like to shop local.”
York County might be best known for Baxter Village, a mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood teeming with shops and eateries, but there’s a lot to experience beyond the bubbling fountain and brick sidewalks in the village.
The Mercantile occupies two historic buildings in Rock Hill. Grab a cup of coffee and stock up on entertaining essentials, from flowers and groceries to hostess gifts, at the Mercantile HQ, housed in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant. The Mercantile Home, a cotton factory turned home goods retailer, and The Hickory Post are the places to source local art, furniture, and home accessories.
Next, find the perfect stocking stuffers at Overhead Station, a colorful shop that stocks candles, bath products, pet items, artisan foods and other “smalls” that are ideal for gift giving, and shop for stylish clothing and accessories at Chic Boutique Old Town.
Foodies shouldn’t leave Rock Hill without stopping at PuckerButt Pepper Company. The spice company grows all the peppers for its hot sauces, including the Carolina Reaper peppers used in the “painfully hot” Reaper Squeezin’s sauce — the perfect gift for the adventurous eaters in your life.
And speaking of food … After an afternoon of shopping in Rock Hill, grab a bite. For classic Southern dishes and craft cocktails, check out Old Town Kitchen & Cocktails; Kounter, which serves Instagram-worthy dishes made from local ingredients; or The Flipside, known for comfort food served with a side of Southern hospitality. Or grab a seat on the rooftop bar, order from the award-winning wine list and enjoy views of the Catawba River at The Pump House. Craving something more casual? The tacos at Ay Papi are unbeatable.
Book a room in a historic inn, tour grist mills and distilleries, and explore downtown Camden, a walkable neighborhood with galleries, public art, and museums, as well as local shops and restaurants.
Step back in time at Camden Antiques Market and Menagerie Antiques & Collectibles, antique markets featuring curated collections of antique and vintage furniture, collectibles, and oddities, or explore the bevy of local and artisan food products at Three Sisters Essentials (and check the event calendar for hands-on classes in candle-making and baking).
If shopping works up an appetite, sip tequila, mezcal, and other favorites from south of the border at Salud Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Lounge, or stop by their sister restaurant, Masa Mexican Street Food, a craft cocktail bar serving authentic Mexican fare.
For something more elevated, Sam Kendall’s is a local favorite for upscale fare like pancetta-wrapped scallops, boneless pork chops, crab cakes, salmon, and pasta — all served in a historic building with painstaking attention to preservation.
Cap off the evening at Broad & Vine. The downtown Camden wine bar has a 32-bottle self-serve wine dispenser filled with old favorites and new vintages and hosts live music and other special events that will help you make it a night on the town.
Chester County offers some of the best outdoor recreation in the state, but it’s not all scenic state parks, camping, hiking, fishing, and boating — the county also boasts a revitalized downtown and shoppers with a commitment to supporting local businesses.
Wild Bees Bottle Shop was the first business to take a chance on downtown and has grown into a popular local hangout. You can purchase gourmet (and often locally made) food and beverage items, stop in for tastings, or grab a table, order a pint of beer or a glass of wine, and stay for live-music jam sessions.
Clyburn knew that downtown Chester was the right spot for an outfitter that carried outdoor apparel and gear. In addition to their house brand, Heybo, Broad River Mercantile stocks items ranging from footwear and jackets to grills, cookers, and hunting supplies from more than 75 brands.
“It’s a wide swath of products that cater to the outdoor lifestyle that we enjoy here in Chester County,” he says.
The county is also known for its home cooking. A historic farmhouse with a wide front porch has been the place to go for “meat and two” meals in Richburg since 1984. The Front Porch serves Southern favorites like meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, and fried chicken. But save room for dessert: The cobbler and ice cream and pecan pie are local favorites.
Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Fort Lawn serves a great Sunday buffet piled high with fried chicken, barbecue, macaroni and cheese, fried squash, and green beans. During the week, the lunch menu includes pit-smoked barbecue, chicken salad, fish sandwiches, and other comfort foods.
It’s the quintessential small-town charm that makes Fairfield County popular with residents and visitors alike. Heather Hartwick, co-owner of The Retreat at Lake Wateree calls it “a home away from home” where restaurant and boutique owners treat everyone like old friends.
The Retreat at Lake Wateree has been welcoming diners in search of scratch-made food made with local ingredients since 2021. The heritage hickory-smoked pork chop with Sea Island red peas and fried cabbage is the most popular dish, but chef and co-owner Blake Hartwick believes it’s not just the menu that keeps people coming back. “It’s a welcoming atmosphere [and] Heather and our team treat all customers like family,” he says.
The Cornwallis House Tea Co. in the heart of Winnsboro is known for its hand-blended teas that come in flavors like Patriot, a blend of red and black teas, almond slices, safflower, macadamia nut, and rum flavoring. Order a steaming mug of tea with lunch in the tea room and shop for handcrafted teas to give as gifts or brew at home.
A mix of “fine art and funkiness” defines The Artist CoOp in Winnsboro. The store represents 50-plus local artists and showcases items from jewelry and pottery to crocheted blankets and yard art.
A search for the ideal offbeat gift should include Ruff Hardware. The hardware store has been open since 1840 and sells traditional tools and other hardware items, but it’s also a great spot to find unique gifts for the handyman or gardener on your list.
You’ve made a list and checked it twice (and found some amazing gifts in the local shops in the Olde English District). Now it’s your turn to share your holiday wish list with Santa when he travels to South Carolina from the North Pole.
Start the season at ChristmasVille in Rock Hill. The annual event runs from December 1 to 4 and includes horse-drawn carriage rides, historic tours, costumed Dickens carolers, an ice skating rink, and, of course, Santa.