Crime & Courts

Northeast Richland nightclub shut down

Club Essence on Two Notch Road in Northeast Richland, the scene of nine separate shooting incidents over the past three years, is closed.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said pressure from police and neighbors persuaded the building owner not to renew the club's lease.

"Santa Claus came early for this community," Lott said Monday. "This place has been a hell hole."

The department did not release the building owner's name. But Richland County records show the building at 8605 Two Notch Road is owned by Gilyong M. Kim of Columbia.

Efforts to reach Kim and club owner Wallace Hall were unsuccessful.

The closing came as a Christmas blessing to Harry Swindler, owner of the Flooring America store next door to the club and Hillcrest Exterminating a half block away.

The Hillcrest building still has two bullet holes from past shootings that occurred in nearby parking lots. The Flooring America building has one.

Swindler said there have been incidents on his property too numerous for him to count since the nightclub opened in 2006.

Club patrons have littered and trespassed on his property, Swindler said. They've knocked over a retaining wall and broken the window out of a truck. They started a trash-bin fire and beat up a tow truck operator. Not to mention the random gunfire.

"Everybody was afraid to do anything," Swindler said.

But he and his father, Harry Swindler, kept filing police reports until the sheriff's department had built a case.

"If nobody is willing to speak up, then nothing will happen," he said.

Lott said police "have had more problems with this club than all the other clubs in Richland County, combined."

He noted there were houses less than 50 yards from the club. "Now people in the area don't have to worry about random bullets."

Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina NAACP and a Columbia resident, said the violence in and around the club needed to be addressed.

"The folks that I know that have been there (said) that something needed to be done," he said. "It (was) an unsafe environment."

In past interviews, Hall has said that most of the trouble occurs outside the club, not in it.

But Lott countered that "the clientele that they drew here were the clientele that they wanted to draw here. Whatever happened in the parking lot started in the club."

In the two most recent shootings:

-- A woman was shot in the stomach Nov. 7 outside of the club after a fight inside precipitated the shooting, police said.

-- A 21-year-old man was arrested after firing from a car into a crowd outside the club Oct. 24. One person was injured.

Lott said he had been trying to close the club for months.

"I wish I could just padlock a building when we had problems," he said. "But I can't do that. The owner took care of the problem for us. He kicked them out."