Edens company started in small office on Beltline Boulevard

Joe Edens
Joe Edens

Edens, a national shopping center company with more than 120 properties, was formed in Columbia just more than 50 years ago in a small suite on Beltline Boulevard.

Joe Edens, the founder, said he started the company with a $500 line of credit. “That’s all I could afford at the time,” said Edens, who now serves as the company’s board chairman emeritus.

The first shopping center Edens could afford to build was also on Beltline Boulevard, a 70,000-square-foot space anchored by Bi-Lo in 1967, which represented the Mauldin-based grocer’s initial foray into the market, Edens said.

From there, Edens was approached by investors who wanted to cast their lots with him in raising a top-flight, full coverage commercial real estate organization. Edens said he kept his eye on the development side of the business, particularly on grocery store-anchored shopping centers.

Edens’ affinity for grocery stores was “natural,” he noted. His father and uncle had founded a small chain of grocery stores in South Carolina that they ultimately sold to the Winn-Dixie grocery chain in 1954, he said. Edens’ first job was in one of those stores bagging groceries, stocking shelves and helping customers, he said.

“I understood that business very thoroughly and it probably helped me a great deal in dealing with development of shopping centers for other companies,” Edens said.

Early on, Edens did development work with such companies as Food Town – which became Food Lion – as well as A&P and Kroger. He stuck primarily with low-cost grocery providers, unless the market dictated otherwise, as it did for Columbia’s Trenholm Plaza.

Constructed in the mid-1950s, Trenholm Plaza was purchased by Edens in 1979 “at a price people thought I was absolutely crazy to pay,” he said. “We’ve never stopped with our upgrades and the effort to be considered as really an integral part of that overall community.”

The company would never put a discount food store or other retailer considered “low-end” in a high-income area, Edens said. “It’s worked very well.”

Trenholm Plaza had two grocery stores, a Piggly Wiggly and an A&P, when Edens purchased the shopping center. Today, Publix and Fresh Market anchor the shopping center. The two businesses “complement each other very nicely,” Edens said. “It gives an individual the sense of that (shopping) center providing for pretty much whatever they may need in the way of food.”

The current management of Edens sees value in urban revitalization of retail properties in residential areas that are growing, the company patriarch said. In areas where residential properties make a negative turn, retail resources have to be pulled out and capital redeployed elsewhere, Edens said.

Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398

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