When Consumers Feed and Seed opened in Lexington 61 years ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Elvis Presley was on his way to becoming an icon, West Side Story opened on Broadway, and U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina set a record by filibustering for 24 hours and 18 minutes against a civil rights bill.
It was the first feed-and-seed store in Lexington, back when you could walk down Main Street and know everyone by name, founder Hampton Caughman said.
On Dec. 28, Consumers Feed and Seed closed. It had been passed down from one generation to another to another, and sat at 525 Columbia Ave., where it was for most of its history.
Yet like most other mom-and-pop shops in Lexington and around the country, the pressures from big box stores and internet shopping, plus a decline in the agrarian lifestyle, caused strained finances.
“All these big stores are eating up these small little stores,” said Caughman, 92. “Back when we opened up, we were the only ones around there selling feed and seed.”
In 1957, David Frye Sr. and Caughman decided to open up a feed store behind a grocery they were operating in West Columbia. They took over the business started by Otto Reenstjerna, a U.S. navy veteran who had decided to go into ministry and left the business to attend Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
Eight years later, the store moved to Main Street, across from where the Lexington courthouse stands now. In 1964, it moved one last time, to the Columbia Avenue location.
There, customers could find all kinds of seeds and animal feed, as the name implied, but also gardening equipment, pesticides, plants and even baby chicks. But likely the most memorable thing to be found at Consumers Feed and Seed was the surviving small-town feeling of being known and welcomed.
On a gray January morning this week, the store’s front glass doors were dusty, still plastered with old stickers advertising different products and with a few new sheets of paper taped to them.
“We regret to let you know that we have made the difficult business decision to close our store after 61 years,” the sheets of paper read. “Thank you for your loyal support and friendship over the past years. We will truly miss everyone, but we feel that the time has come.”
Inside, shelves are empty, lights are off, only some merchandise and wall decor remain.
The most recent owner and operator was David Frye III, who took over in 2005. His father, David Frye Jr., 75, worked at the store for 54 years, from the time he was 21 until the store closed.
Together, they saw a changing Lexington, almost in slow motion. They sold seed, delivered feed, watched grandparents who used to come in with their grandparents bring toddlers to pick out a baby chick in the springtime.
“It was just a slower pace,” Frye Jr. said. “Now, a lot of folks, they don’t have the time or the room to have gardens … Lexington grew and all that, and we slowed on down.”
Consumers Feed and Seed was a practical nostalgia shop, if not a shopping mainstay, for Lexington residents. It smelled a certain way, some of them recalled after the Fryes announced the closing on their Facebook page. Others remembered shopping there with parents or grandparents, years ago.
The store, for Lexington, was a memory box.
One couple, Frank and Tina Finders, often went to the store to buy supplies for their pumpkin patch. The couple went on to nab the S.C. state record in 2009 for the largest pumpkin grown in South Carolina: 1,164 pounds. They broke their own record, which had been 897 pounds in 2008.
“They always remembered us when we would go in there,” Tina Finders wrote.
Frye Jr. said he is retiring and his son is searching for a new job. Caughman, the original owner, will turn 93 years old next week.