Good-bye to every day Christmas

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The Old Bank Christmas Store and Deli is closing its doors for good.

After 17 years, John and Cindy Corley have decided to enjoy their retirement years by slowing down and seeing grandchildren.

Cindy Corley has always loved Christmas. “I went on a trip and stopped in Frankenmuth, Mich., to visit Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland — the largest Christmas store in the world. Bronner’s amazing store is the size of 1-1/2 football fields. It’s a shoppers’ dream, and I fell in love with the place,” said Corley. “My family has always gone all out for Christmas by putting up decorations in the house and yard, so when I returned home from my trip I started thinking. I thought ‘I can do what Bronner’s does’ but on a smaller scale.”

Corley began looking for an empty store to start her business. In the past she had owned and operated “C’s Elbow Room,” a hamburger and hotdog restaurant, so she knew about the business world, but she was ready to move on to something new. She put a down payment on a building outside of town, but her late mother, Helen Infinger Bowers, convinced her to open her Christmas shop in the old Farmers and Merchants Bank that was for sale.

“My mother said that downtown is the heart of any city. If stores succeed downtown, they bring more people in and foot traffic increases the economy. If downtown survives, the rest of the town survives. If stores are empty or unkempt and start falling apart, people leave the area to go to some place better,” Corley said. She realized her mother was right and purchased the old bank.

The old bank is a very noticeable building near the waterfall. The bank opened in 1902 with marble countertops, a bank vault and safes, while in the basement the phone company set up switchboards. A short time later, the bank purchased and installed an old clock outside the building at the corner, called a slave clock. In horology, a slave clock is a clock that depends on another clock, a master clock to work. Before computers and electricity were first introduced in buildings, the term slave clocks referred to electrical clocks that were sent an electrical pulse through wiring to a master clock in the same building.

Inside the Olde Bank is the master clock that runs the unique clock on the outside of the building. The clock that hangs over the sidewalk is actually hollow and has no working parts on the inside. “These clocks were made in New York, put on trucks and driven through towns to sell to businesses and banks, the only places that could afford to buy them,” said Corley. There is a matching clock in St. George.

All of those things in the building are still there and relatively untouched, much to the delight of history buffs everywhere. Throughout the years, people have sent the Corleys items or antiques they received from the bank when it was thriving in that location as Farmers and Merchants Bank.

In 2004, Corley moved into a building that had been empty and untouched for 40 years, and there she found a leaky roof, broken plumbing, rotten wood, and a host of other problems. Her husband, John, even fell off the roof one time while fixing it. But with the help of her family, church and best friends Frank and Carol Ferrell, she filled her shop and opened on July 1.

“Business was so good for many years,” reminisced Corley. But the recession hit around 2011-2012 and sales came to a grinding halt. “Most of my business involved out-of-town sales from travelers and magazines and newspapers that featured it. But people stopped spending money they didn’t have and the price of gas was so high. So my daughter suggested I sell cupcakes to help supplement our income. I thought that was a ridiculous suggestion and no one would buy cupcakes, but it was surprisingly successful. I ended up including more baked goods, then added coffees, sandwiches and breads. I wasn’t sure where I would put everything, but my son, Mack Thomas (proprietor of Infinger’s Jewelery), gave us the idea to hang things from the walls and make room for tables. Serving food kept us really busy up until Covid,” Corley said.

While she was speaking, three separate repeat customers came in from out-of-town to shop and eat. They were shocked to see the nearly empty store and no baked goods or deli.

But in actuality, Corley wasn’t running just one business, she was running six at the same time. “First, we had the Christmas store and stocking shelves, inventory and bookkeeping. Then we also had the deli and keeping food ordered, fresh, and prepared. Next, we had the coffee house, and that was another issue by keeping up with that inventory and teaching staff how to make specialty coffees and cappuccinos. We also had the bakery that took up a lot of hours in keeping freshly baked goods on hand. And then we were also running a catering business. We stayed very busy, and I couldn’t have survived without my best friend Carol and my husband John helping me every step of the way. Carol never took a paycheck, she just came and helped every day,” Corley said. “But it was fun, and I have enjoyed it.”

“I have loved working here with Cindy. Let me put it this way, I wouldn’t work for anyone else. She is my best friend,” said Carol Ferrell. “I don’t feel like I worked here. I feel like I came and helped my friend every day. She and all of her family are my family, too.”

Corley’s passion for her shop resulted in her winning the Governor’s Award for Business Excellence for several years.

Looking around, the store looks rather bare except where the beautiful paintings adorn the walls near the ceiling. John Corley painted the images of the historic Walterboro sites himself, work of which they are both proud.

The Olde Bank and Christmas Shop closed after the death of Cindy’s mother, Helen, three weeks ago and reopened on Nov. 16 with a 90 percent off liquidation sale. The shop was full of customers by 10 a.m. and people were lined up from the cash register inside to the sidewalk outside to pay or get inside to shop.

The future plans of Cindy and John Corley, and Carol Ferrell include playing with grandchildren, and helping out at Infinger’s Jewelry. Her roots are there. She was born and taken to Infinger’s by her mother, she worked there as a teen and even later. And now, her son, Mack, is considering following his mother’s example and moving Infinger’s into the Olde Bank space, but nothing has been settled yet.

“This is a great street to be a merchant. Your neighbors are so helpful, and we look out for each other. They care about you and are supportive of you. We are a little community here, and isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?” asked Cindy.

“I have loved selling things that make people happy, and I have enjoyed having a wonderful staff. I am really going to miss it. This business was a blessing … I loved every minute of it.”

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