When I was small, Cromer's P-Nuts used to advertise locally a good deal, and their ear catching slogan, Guaranteed Worst In Town! certainly made an impression on me though we never shopped there that much.
The first Cromer's store I was aware of was on Assembly Street at Lady Street, where this building now stands:
My mother took us there a few times on downtown shopping trips, and I recall being impressed with the wide array of merchandise that included items I never saw anywhere else. A lot of these were carnival type "prizes", and indeed the store seemed much more focused on school fair fare than on peanuts. You could rent sno-cone and cotton-candy machines, cart mounted popcorn poppers and sets of helium cylinders for floating baloons. It was a fantastic assortment of stuff for which I would never have a need but which nonetheless fascinated me.
The Assembly street store was there at least into the late 1970s. I started driving alone in 1977, and I can recall taking a classmate of mine all the way from Polo Road to Cromer's on Assembly so we could buy some sno-cone cups for a science project. As I recall, the idea was to cut the tips off of them at different distances from the tops, giving a selection of different sized holes in the bottoms. We were then going to time how fast it took to drain a full cup in each case and relate that to some formula or other. Honestly, it was mostly an excuse to be away from school on a nice spring day (with permission) as much as anything else. My guess is that would have been 1978. Shortly after that, the downtown store burned down.
The downtown store wasn't the only Cromer's in town however. They also had a store inside of Dutch Square. It's hard to say exactly since the interior of Dutch Square has been remodelled since then, but I think the Cromer's was more or less in the spot now occupied by Trendz.
The mall store was smaller than downtown, but it had something downtown didn't have: Monkeys!
That's right, the entire back of the store was a glassed-in monkey-habitat, and there were always several monkeys there swinging around or doing things less salutory. I don't know exactly what the reasoning was -- The store didn't sell monkeys. It was purely a publicity gimmick, and as such I suppose it worked. Certainly it got kids who otherwise had no intention of buying anything into the store, and I would guess that once in, a certain number of them were going to spot something that caught their fancy.
I'm pretty hazy on when the Dutch Square store closed, and whether it was before or after the downtown store burned down, but I'm pretty sure it did not make it into the 80s.
In the same general time frame, Cromer's branched out to the Grand Strand, and opened a large store on US 17 just below Myrtle Beach in the general area of the Air Base (above Kroger and below what is now the Flea Market/Food Lion plaza).
I went in several times, and what I remember most is the "mongoose". It "lived" in a hollow stump-like construction with a trap-door lid over the top, and was fronted by a sign describing the mongoose with an emphasis on its speed and visciousness. The text ended with an invitation to view the magnificent creature by carefully raising the trap-door. By this point, nobody (other than a very small kid) would think there was an actual mongoose in there, but you were curious and you raised the trap. At which point there was some sort of recorded roar, and a spring-loaded beast would jump at you, like one of those snakes in the nut can, but worse. It never failed to get a few people to gasp, and for the rest of the store to wait in anticipation of the next person to fall for it.
I don't think the Myrtle Beach store made it into the 90s, and the place is now some sort of Harley Davidson shop.
In the meantime, Cromer's in Columbia regrouped, and opened a store on a small side street of Bluff Road near the Farmers' Market. I'm not sure when it opened, but it was there as late as 2005 as I finally needed one of those helium cylinders for baloons. At that point, it seemed to me that, given the non-foot-traffic location, Cromer's was focusing even more on event supplies than before, and that straight retail customers were not the norm.
Sometime between 2005 and now, Cromers returned to downtown. I suppose you could debate that, as it's not in the old downtown "shopping district", but I would say 1700 Huger Street (the corner of Huger & Blanding) counts. The new location shares a building with Cogdil Carpets.
Along with the new building, they now have a web site, but since I've never been in, I can't tell you if they have a monkey or a mongoose.
UPDATE 1 Aug 2009: This link has a picture of the Assembly street store burning down. It was taken by Robert Busbee of the Columbia Firefighters Association. The date given for the fire is 8 December 1993. A number of other historic fires are pictured on the Firefighters website. (Hat tip to commenter Brian).
UPDATE 21 April 2013 -- Commenter Melanie sends in this picture of the Dutch Square location *with monkeys*!