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Softek, Parkland Plaza Cayce: early 2000s   12 comments

Posted at 12:42 pm in Uncategorized

Columbia has had more going on in the tech sector than you might expect. Back in the early 1980s, NCR in West Columbia was making a well regarding line of Unix mini-computers called the "NCR Tower" (because of the thin & high deskside profile). Of course at that point, AT&T, flailing around after losing the long distance monopoly, bought NCR, didn't have a clue what to do with it, and ran it into the ground.

Sometime later, in the early 90s after the PC revolution was well underway, a Columbia company called, if I recall correctly, Wells American made a name for itself making IBM PC compatibles which were completely modular, even the CPU was on a plug in card, and upgrading the processor was a simple card swap. Unfortunately (for them), at that point, generic motherboards became the big thing and were able to way undercut what Wells was doing with its custom parts, driving the firm under.

One business that lasted a bit longer was Softek.

I first became aware of Softek when I needed a dumb terminal and modem. I was working as a graduate assistant at USC (in a better office than anything I ever have had in the private sector though the pay was, um, nominal), and my office had an RS-232 connection to a Unix minicomputer, and a number of phone jacks, so the idea I got was that I could hitch one of the department modems up in my office, hitch a dumb terminal and modem up at home and then do work on the computer from home, ie telecommuting before that was really a word. I asked around and one of the guys told me of a store on Main Street that could sell me the equipment, and I walked over there from campus to check it out. That was Softek. Their store was on the East side of Main, somewhere near where Rising High was, I think. The staff was friendly and I had no problem finding what I needed. In the event I ended up with a Liberty Freedom-100 green-on-black terminal, and a US Robotics 1200 baud modem, both of which I still have (though I'm pretty sure the terminal is non-compos-mentis at this point). My telecommute plan worked out well, except for the part where I hitched the modem to an "unused" phone jack that was actually the department head's line.

As I became immersed in computers, I quickly fell in love with text processing tools, and came to view typewriters with great alarm. When my sister decided to make a serious bid at writing, I decided that she had to have a word processor, and made another trip to Softek. This time I ended up with a "Leading Edge Model-D", one of the first IBM PC Compatible computers, the "NewWord" word processing program (I had initally wanted to go with WordStar, but the Softek staff explained to me that all the WordStar developers had quit and gone to found NewWord), and a Brother daisy-wheel (remember those?) printer. This worked out well, and my sister was able to use it for quite a number of years before moving to an iMac. (I have the Leading Edge, and it still worked last time I booted it).

Thus emboldened, I also got a Leading Edge from Softek for my father a few years later, though he never really got the hang of it.

When that second Leading Edge bit the dust (power surge, I think) I went back to Softek to replace it, but found that they had moved from Main Street across the bridge to Parkland Plaza in Cayce. They had quite a bit more space there, and were running a sizable repair operation as well as selling equipment. In the few years since my last visit, they had also moved from selling other brand computers to building their own. They were now a white-box operation: You would tell them the specs of what you wanted, and they would put it together from generic parts and slap their brand sticker on the front. My understanding was that they had a profitable contract, or contracts with some State agencies to supply computers with local support.

After that final purchase from them, I kind of lost track again, and didn't check them out until I was back in Columbia for some reason and needed a cable or some sort of part. I went out to Cayce, but Softek was gone. Some googling around established that they still had a (minimal) web site where they promised they could build you a computer, but it seemed like a one-guy operation. (That web site now seems to be gone). I have no idea what happened, but if I had to speculate, I'd think that when Dell and others went to the "build-to-spec" model and added on-site support firms like Softek probably lost a lot of State business. That's just a guess though.

At any rate, from the signs on the door, the successor business in the Parkland Plaza location has moved on as well.

Written by ted on May 15th, 2008

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12 Responses to 'Softek, Parkland Plaza Cayce: early 2000s'

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  1. The had crappy management and poor organizational skills. I once waited 6 weeks for a computer that was promised in a week and when I finally gave up and asked for my money back, I had to call the police before they would refund.
    Good riddence!!!


    23 Jul 08 at 7:08 pm

  2. I am sad they lasted that long. I had one of their "computers" in the late 80s which was junk.


    29 Jul 08 at 8:38 am

  3. I never bought a computer from them but I was always intrigued with their Sunday ads which promised all sorts of high tech stuff which sounded better than the generic stuff that was offered by IBM. I do remember my cohorts, at PMSC, who bought a computer and had to wait weeks to have them delivered. I never saw the advantage of owning a computer until the internet appeared. Then I wanted one!


    17 Jun 09 at 9:38 pm

  4. I purchased a computer from Softek in 1990 and it actually still will boot up, though it is not used anymore.

    My experience with the company covers all of the comments listed. Softek was a major player in the computer world for roughly 6-8 years. When the company was located on East Main, it was at its peak. After losing the state contracts, it moved to Parkland and actually was in two locations in Parkland. The photos are the better site and as the company continued to spiral downward, it moved across the shopping center to a two-three room suite.

    The last time that I visited their location, there were two young employees and the owner, whose first name was Tom.

    They did build good computers.


    13 Aug 10 at 2:17 pm

  5. I worked at Softek during the heydays. There were sometimes long delays to build systems since Tom was looking for the best materials at the best price. We worked hard to support each and every computer we sold. I guess people prefer the Dell model now where you ship it back and hope for the best.

    There has been a resurgence of late in locally built and maintained computers. These shops are very familiar to me and seek to provide a high level of support and service.

    Softek pioneered that business model and it is good to see computer buyers migrating back. We provided a cost effective computer for people who would have otherwise been unable to afford one.

    I am proud of the work we did and the products we sold. It was a very exiting time.

    Cheers, Tom.


    26 Oct 10 at 1:28 pm

  6. I bought some stuff from Softek at various times, had pretty good results, mostly bits and pieces for machines I was making/keeping running. Can't remember if I ever bought one of their fully-assembled machines or not. There was another place that I also bought from that was similar, but can't remember their name, same deal, started as a one-main operation, then out of his modified garage, then a full store and finally not sure what happened to them - Palmetto Computers or something like that?

    As to Wells American, weren't they involved in some kind of scam or something that led to their going out of business?

    Ted, you didn't work at NCR, did you? I was out there for a while around the 'Tower' days, working on their Cooperation software.


    26 Aug 11 at 12:58 pm

  7. I didn't find any reference to hanky panky in google, just some notes on bad sales and a Chapter 7 filing in 1991.

    I intereviewed at NCR, but didn't get hired. The way things worked out for them and the way things worked out for me, I think it was for the best!


    26 Aug 11 at 11:57 pm

  8. I did see the following, something about them owing Ziff-Davis $300k+ and not paying because ZD didn't run some set of ads or something, but that wasn't what I was thinking about. I'd thought there was something about them misquoting revenues and not delivering on shipments etc., but maybe that was not them.

    Here's the ZD thing:

    I consulted out at NCR for a little over a year. I really liked working there, but then after AT&T bought them, I think things kind of went downhill.


    29 Aug 11 at 9:38 am

  9. Oh, man...Wells American! That takes me back. A friend's family bought one of those systems in 1986-87, and it was the first IBM-compatible computer I ever got to know. We burned many an hour writing goofy screenplays and playing the PC version of "Jeopardy!" on that machine.

    At the time the IBM-branded PCs were so heavily marketed that I was surprised when my friend told me their new computer was this Columbia-based brand I'd never heard of. I think I even wondered (being mostly ignorant of the computer world back then) if it was legal for them to make PC clones. But my friend's dad was in IT and I figured he had inside knowledge of such things. Other than a passing mention my friend made when Wells American went under, I never heard anything else about them. Sometimes I wondered if they actually existed, or if I imagined it! Thanks for the blast from the past.

    Alaska Jill

    1 Sep 11 at 5:35 am

  10. Was this not the building that Duff's Smorgasbord occupied? The circular/rotating food server was kind of neat. Just saw where the Duff's in Pigeon Forge, TN closed as of January 2011. Not sure if there are any more left.


    2 Sep 11 at 9:29 am

  11. I'll try to look it up some time -- What timeframe was the Columbia Duff's?


    2 Sep 11 at 10:46 am

  12. I'd say 80ish - 83ish. I don't recall when it opened, but I think it was still open as late as '83


    2 Sep 11 at 12:46 pm

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