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Cromer's P-Nuts, various locations (not closed)   31 comments

Posted at 1:10 am in grand-strand,historic,stores

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*!

cromer_monkeyshines_tn.jpg

Written by ted on February 4th, 2009

31 Responses to 'Cromer's P-Nuts, various locations (not closed)'

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  1. I believe the original Cromer's building on Assembly burned in 1993. They rebuilt in the same location. The Cromer's in Dutch Square was further down on the right (if you were walking towards J.B. White's), almost directly across from Woolworth's. I used to get my hair cut at the Rogue, and Don would give me 50 cent for popcorn if I behaved. Dutch Square sure smelled better when Cromer's was a tenant! I would love to have a listing of all the stores in Dutch Square in the mid to late 70's. I'm sure it would bring back some memories.

    Jonathan

    4 Feb 09 at 9:20 am

  2. The old building downtown had some artwork, possibly by Blue Sky, on the side for a few months back in the 1980s. This is a little fuzzy, but I believe it was the back half of a car resting against the wall, with tire tracks extending up the building, and possibly a cartoon-type word balloon with some wise-crack, like "Wow! That was close!." (That's certainly not the actual wording, but I'm at a loss for what it was.)

    badger

    4 Feb 09 at 9:26 am

  3. badger - I think the message was "I said to turn LEFT, Harold!" Cromer's got rid of it after awhile because people complained about it. I have no idea what there was to complain about, but I do remember that's what happened.

    Dennis

    4 Feb 09 at 9:44 am

  4. The Mrytle Beach location was still in business in the late 1990s

    Tom

    4 Feb 09 at 4:49 pm

  5. wasn't the location in Dutch Square no more than 5 store up if you walked out of Whites into the mall area?

    I remember they had the best soft serve ice cream

    Michael

    6 Feb 09 at 1:50 am

  6. Well, both you and Johnathan think so. I'll try to take a picture further down towards White's next time I'm out that way.

    ted

    6 Feb 09 at 2:11 am

  7. If you walked out into the mall from Whites, Cromer's was on the left hand side between Whites and the Morrison's/Eckerd's entrance to the mall.

    Tom

    6 Feb 09 at 10:38 am

  8. CROMERS!! My Neighbors, at the time, ran the Dutch Square store!! I believe it closed in 1982. I remember it closing, right before we moved from Columbia. I also remember our neighbors giving us a garbage bag sized bag of Caramel Corn, every Christmas. It would be gone, about a month later... My sister and I loved Carmel Corn!

    I always remember it being right next door to Barrel of Fun, after you walked out of Whites. it was the second store, on the left... But It's been so long since I've been in Dutch Square, I wouldn't rememer. I remember the monkeys, and I somehow remember the Dutch Square store having somewhat of a "loft" where they would keep party supplies and practical jokes...

    Mike M.

    8 Feb 09 at 5:11 pm

  9. Actually, I remember going to the Cromer's in Dutch Square Mall when I was very young, but we didn't live here until 1992. I distinctly remember the monkeys in the back.

    Bill C.

    10 Feb 09 at 1:16 am

  10. I remember last going to the Cromer's in Dutch Square when I was in high school and had a driver's license. So that would have been around 1992 also.

    Dave

    10 Feb 09 at 2:06 am

  11. Huh. That's a lot later than I thought!

    ted

    10 Feb 09 at 2:09 am

  12. When I first visited Columbia in March 2002 (before moving here), I stayed at the hotel at the corner of Lady St. and Main (a Quality Inn, then, I believe). My first night in town, I remember walking down Lady toward Assembly and seeing the peanut place across the street on that corner and wondering, "How in the hell does a peanut joint make it down here?"

    Not sure when it closed, but I'm almost certain the place I saw was Cromer's.

    Eric

    15 Feb 09 at 10:06 pm

  13. In the Dutch Square store I remember going in that mall and seeing monkeys. That store was like total eye candy for me when I was a kid, really fun looking, mysterious, and somewhere mixed in a little creepy too.

    Melanie Gallant

    31 Mar 09 at 5:01 am

  14. Monkeys!

    Cromer's was still in Dutch Sqaure circa 1992-1993 when I worked at the Eyewear House kiosk/mall island across form Merle Norman. We used to go get popcorn on breaks and watch the monkeys sleep. Those monkeys were, like all monkeys, creepy.

    Brian

    2 Apr 09 at 3:23 pm

  15. Didn't the Cromers at Dutch Square have those crazy mirrors that made you look distorted? I remember having a blast with my friends looking at those thing.

    Beth

    9 Apr 09 at 1:26 pm

  16. The Dutch Square Cromer's most certainly was still there in the early to mid 90's. I worked nearby and would go to DS often for lunch and would always be amazed that they kept those monkeys in there what with all the unsavory things that monkeys like to do.

    The most recent tenant in Cromer's old DS location was a Hallmark Gift Card store.

    Cromer's is one of very few Columbia landmarks still in operation so I was glad when they moved from the Bluff Rd location (which indicated to me they were in trouble) to the better one on Huger.

    Brian

    16 Apr 09 at 7:25 am

  17. I remember the Sheheen's (sp) in the 70's. I thought they managed the place. Their daughter was in elementary school with me, and her older brother worked there. I always thought the Bluff Road location made a lot of sense. They could not be closer to WB stadium, with all of the peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, etc. they sold there. Delivery costs would have been zero. I would think any tenant moving TO Dutch Square would be in trouble. You could probably set up shop there for a little more than it could cost for the entire business license for the year. They'd probably throw that in for free, if you signed a two year lease.

    Jonathan

    16 Apr 09 at 9:09 am

  18. I'm not sure WB stadium would have that huge a difference for Cromer's business. Sure, the business as a result of USC game days would be huge (both sold in the stadium and walk-up) but we're only talking about 6 saturdays out of the year, 7 tops. I'd imagine they do much more business than that via the Colonial Center downtown, considering that venue is used upwards of 100 times annually.

    Cromer's must have agreed, having moved to a location on Huger that makes a lot more sense.

    Brian

    16 Apr 09 at 9:18 am

  19. How can you go wrong with the slogan 'Guaranteed worst in town'

    I'd support them just because of thier slogan.

    Lisa Lowrey

    31 Jul 09 at 10:47 pm

  20. In the 60s Cromers owned most of the 1200 block of Assembly street. This included the old John Paul's site, The old State Armory building (made the popcorn and such in there) and the corner building as well. When the old state armory building was being remodeled the first officer workers in said you could smell the popcorn for years after....

    Jeff

    25 Aug 09 at 6:58 pm

  21. I remember going in the Cromer's at Myrtle Beach when i was little. This was around the late 80's. I remember they had the outhouse in the store and when you went to open the door the dummy on the inside would say "Close the door there's a draft in here!" lol. Classic .

    Elad

    2 Sep 09 at 7:00 pm

  22. One of Mr. Cromer's daughters - Ginger Cromer taught middle school in Irmo in 1975 on and was my teacher in 7th grade. She later got married and her last name changed. I recall her telling us students about the monkeys when we'd ask. I think she had a pet one that didn't get along with the other ones. She was really pretty and sweet and had a great disposition and genuine enthusiasm about teaching i wish I saw more of today. I once stopped in their business office on Assembly Street when I was in my 20's in college @ USC and said hello as it had been many years since I'd seen her. She didn't recognize me at first and when I told her my name, she suddenly felt very old. I recall Cromers having the gag gifts and practical joke items as well. It was one of the first distinctive places in Columbia when I moved there from Florida as a kid.

    Steve

    27 Oct 09 at 3:20 pm

  23. I was just wondering the other day about what store was it in Dutch Square that had the monkeys. For our new Easter dress every year we would go to JB Whites, then we would pass the barrell of fun, stop in Cromers to watch the monkeys for a while and then go to Stride Rite for shoes.

    Christy

    20 Jan 10 at 1:07 pm

  24. Cromers was the best place I ever worked at. I was there in the mid 80s. worked with Don and Joe who were both in management. The two Mr Cromers as I called them were great to work for also they taught me a lot about the peanut and concession business, when my son got sick with cancer they were supportive ( no problem to bring him to work with me ) Don and Joe who ran the Myrtle Beach store were the best also. A lot of nice memories about Cromers live on and on in my mind, ( who could forget the blimp getting lose and ending up on the airforce base more than once ) I could go on and on about The Cromer Experience as I've probably told anyone who would listen about cromers since I moved back to Ohio. So I'll close by thanking the Cromers and Don and Joe for showing this yankee what Southern Hospitallity really is.

    Mike Stiles

    15 Dec 10 at 12:57 am

  25. Everyone: It is SO GREAT to hear your stories about Cromer's and it's different locations! We'd love to hear more too! If whoever manages this blog could post again to share cromer's stories, I'd be so grateful to add them to OUR blog as well! Please email me at ashpash@cromers.com!

    Ashleigh Pash

    23 Jun 11 at 9:04 am

  26. Each Cromers store had something unique, something different about them. I thought the Cromers with the tire tracks down the side was in Myrtle Beach, but I could be mistaken. I absolutely loved the Cromers on Assembly Street. It reminded me of an old timey gas station. Not only did they have gag gifts and small toys, they had COSTUMES! Oodles of them! The Cromers on Huger today is NOT the Cromers of yesterday. They have really cut back on a lot of their merchandise, perhaps due to the problem with tainted stuff we were getting from China, they just chose not to take that risk anymore. They seem to be more about the peanuts and popcorn now, which is Ok, however this really took a bite out of my prizes for the kids at Church. I miss the old location, the people and the smells.

    Miz T

    16 Aug 11 at 2:49 pm

  27. I know that the Cromer's at Dutch Square with the monkeys was still open in the summer of 1994. Two people who were working there at the time told me it would be closing soon. I think it closed later that year or in 1995.

    Dutch Square is certainly a shadow of what it was. When my family and I moved to Columbia in 1973, Dutch Square was THE place to shop. Home sale ads indicated how far the houses were from the mall. And the monkeys were practically a local landmark.

    But the mall hasn't been able to recover the business it lost to Columbiana. When I was last there in December 2010, at least half the store fronts were empty. Most of the remaining stores were selling either t-shirts or pop culture wear. If you want any business wear, your only choices are Belks and Burlington. The mall sure looks depressing.

    BeamMeUp

    31 Oct 11 at 3:46 pm

  28. I could have sworn that one on Huger has been there since the late 90s or early 00s.

    Mr Bill

    21 Aug 12 at 12:30 pm

  29. I used to work at the Woolworth's in Dutch Square way back when and hung out with Don and Joe. I would love to get in contact with Don. I stopped in Cromer's just the other day.
    The man told me what he thought was Don's last name. Anyone have info that could help me find Don?
    Thanks. I enjoyed seeing Cromer's.

    Shelby

    1 Jan 13 at 10:47 am

  30. I just wanted to say that the MB location made it until at least the mid-1990s, I'd even say 1997 or 1998.

    Ryan G

    1 May 13 at 4:00 pm

  31. I respect my great uncle for his P-Nut empire. I used to buy his boiled p-nuts from the vendor carts on Main and Assembly St. 5 Cents for roasted & 10 Cents for boiled I think it was. Now every time we come up for a visit from Miami we always buy a couple 5lb. bags of boiled for the trip back. Still love em'!!

    Timothy Lee Cromer

    14 Jun 13 at 2:08 pm

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