Three Holly Hill businesses erupted into flames early Monday morning. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
A firefighter first noticed smoke at the rear 8608 Old State Road, which is home to Joy’s Touch of Class. The fire spread to the businesses on either side of it, Goldstein’s and Super 10.
The buildings were completely destroyed.
Officials say arson has not been eliminated as one of the causes.
Agents with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division were on the scene and the agency “is investigating the circumstances that led to the fire,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Monday afternoon.
“We have a number of agents on the scene continuing their work on the case,” he said.
A Holly Hill firefighter noticed smoke from the buildings as he was on his way to an accident scene. Dispatchers called firefighters to the 8600 block of Old State Road at around 12:30 a.m.
“As units came en route, we ended up calling an entire battalion five response, which would give us an additional five departments,” Holly Hill Fire Chief J.R. Bunch said.
As firefighters began to attack the blaze at Joy’s Touch of Class, it spread to Super 10 and Goldstein’s, he said.
No firefighters were injured, but they were cold. Temperatures remained in the 20s.
Bunch said the following departments responded to the fire: Holly Hill, Vance, Eutawville, Santee, Elloree, Bowman, Providence, Four Holes, Wolfton, Orangeburg County Fire District, Dorchester County and Berkeley County.
The Orangeburg County Office of Emergency Services, Holly Hill Police Department and law enforcement officers from other agencies also arrived at the scene.
Throughout Monday, traffic on Old State Road was blocked off from Railroad Avenue to Gardner Boulevard.
Holly Hill Police Chief Josh Detter said that section of downtown Holly Hill will remain blocked for at least 48 hours.
Concerns arose on Monday afternoon about the safety of the exterior front walls of the businesses.
good will happen’
Joy Wilson-Singleton and her husband Gregory Singleton own Joy’s Touch of Class, an event planning business.
Wilson-Singleton, a Holly Hill native, said she hadn’t been home long from a visit to Florida when a friend reached out to her on Facebook at 12:55 a.m. Monday.
“Joy, your store’s on fire,” is what her friend said.
“So, I jumped up and made my way to town. On my way out, I called 911 and the operator told me they were already there,” she said.
She said once she got to downtown Holly Hill, she became physically sick and vomited.
“We were just getting ready to reopen back up for Valentine’s,” she said. “We went through the flood (2015) and the hurricane (Matthew), so we just finished remodeling it and it was getting ready to open.”
The Singletons began renting the building in 2010 and eventually bought it.
“All of my rental equipment was in there,” she said.
“We used our money from savings,” to keep the business going, her husband said.
“But something good will happen out of it,” he said.
Orangeburg City Councilman Jerry Hannah opened a Holly Hill branch of Goldstein’s in 1989.
“We know a brighter day will come for the city of Holly Hill,” he said.
“We just have to stay ‘prayed up,’ as they say,” he added.
“The people of Holly Hill have been good to us. They’ve provided spiritual guidance, financial assistance, a pat on the back and we’ve been grateful no one lost their life in this tragedy. Other businesses are suffering too,” he said.
“I had a brother that lost his life in a house fire in the early '80s. I had a second brother who lost his life in Orangeburg in a house fire about seven years ago. Fires just do something to you,” he said.
Hannah said in the wake of the historic flood of 2015, Goldstein’s was undergoing renovations – such as raising the floor a foot and a half.
The store wasn’t operating on a daily schedule, but the storewide renovations were nearing completion.
Holly Hill Town Councilwoman Jan Cauthen Wiles, owner of building leased by Super 10, said she received a call about the fire from Holly Hill Mayor William Johnson.
When she first arrived at the scene of the fire, she felt devastated.
“Now I’m heartbroken,” she said.
Wiles’ father, Bob Cauthen, managed Poole’s 5 and 10 store and ultimately purchased it from E.H. Poole.
Wiles said she bought the business and building from her father in the 1980s after he had a brain aneurysm.
She kept it open until the mid-1990s, but ultimately rented it out.
Super 10 moved in about 15 years ago, she said.
Wiles said she remembers in 1963, when she was a child, Poole renovated the building to modernize it.
“I worked there all throughout high school,” she said.
A.B. Bennett built the structure in 1920, according to a marble header at the top of the building.
From the building’s early years, when it was used as a car dealership, it had a freight elevator.
Wiles’s father restored a 1926 Model-T Ford, which he featured in parades.
The restored Model-T Ford was in safe keeping on the second floor of the building, having been hoisted up there by the freight elevator.
After the fire, only its metal parts remain.
Wiles said firefighters told her they saw what was left of it.
‘My heart is broken’
Gail Courtney Brubaker of Awendaw, who grew up in Holly Hill in the 1950s and 1960s, remembers the smells and original wooden floors of the buildings that burned on Monday.
Goldstein’s was once home to Kennerly’s, a grocery store owned and operated by Joe Kennerly.
“They had fresh vegetables displayed on the outside of the store on the sidewalk,” Brubaker said.
“And I remember those wooden floors and the most incredible smell. I think it was coffee,” she added.
She described it as a true mom-and-pop grocery store. It was a “wonderful comfort.”
Joy’s Touch of Class was once a clothing store owned by Bobby Griggs.
Brubaker said the store offered clothes for the entire family – men, women and children.
It was a small-town, locally owned department store.
And then Poole’s. Her favorite.
“They had the best candy selection,” she said.
Brubaker said “penny candy” was a favorite among her peers -- hard candies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mary Janes and more.
“Ida Folse worked there and she was always so nice to everybody. She was a fixture there,” she said.
Brubaker hasn’t lived in Holly Hill since the mid-1970s.
When she learned of Monday’s fire, she felt a sense of loss, but clung to her memories.
“It is so dear to me. My heart is broken. I’ve always had a tender place in my heart for Holly Hill and always will. It’s home regardless of where I live,” she said.
Martha Matheny Solomon of Charleston is a great-granddaughter of John Walker “J.W.” Matheny, who originally built and owned the structures that housed Goldstein’s and Joy’s Touch of Class.
Matheny originally built the corner building as a dry goods store, which he managed along with his son Newman William Matheny.
Solomon, who grew up in Holly Hill, said her upcoming visit to the town will be heartbreaking.
She’d been planning to come on Wednesday to pick up wreaths she left in the Holly Hill Cemetery.
She said she’ll also visit the old buildings again, what’s left of them, “and say goodbye.”