The Cantey-Plowden grocery store that operated in downtown Sumter during the 1920s and into the '40s was a family store that met the criteria expected of the typical "mom-and-pop" store. These businesses were expected to offer personal service; feature fresh, local products; have social connections between management and customers; and guarantee quality, ethical treatment to its customers.
The Cantey-Plowden store was organized in 1925 after the liquidation of the Neill O'Donnell Co. "In February of that year W.R. Plowden and Dr. E. DuRant, owners of the People's Grocery, went into business with B.O. Cantey, who had been with the O'Donnell Co. for many years. Several other Sumter residents were included to form the new Cantey-Plowden firm." The business offered quality service "to Sumter, Sumter County and other points within a radius of forty miles of the city.
"On Sept. 7, Cantey-Plowden opened the first cash-and-carry store at 33 S. Main St. The venture was a success from the first and was managed by Sidney White. In November of 1929 the popular Cantey-Plowden Grocery store opened 'a second member of this chain located at 14 W. Liberty St., in the Osteen building.' The Cantey-Plowden Co. took over the grocery store formerly operated by the O'Donnell & Co. when this firm retired from business."
Their reputation for operating their store at a high level of professionalism was instituted by the officers who ran the company. They were J.A. McKnight, president; B.O. Cantey, vice president and manager; and W.R. Plowden, secretary. The three stores maintained "a full-line of staple and fancy groceries and vegetables in all three stores." One consistent feature of the stores was that they had a reputation for cleanliness.
In January of 1942, Cantey-Plowden moved into its new home at the corner of Hampton Avenue and Sumter Street in what was formerly the Polly Prentiss Building. "This new building was designed to make shopping easy and was considered modern in every respect. It featured a stock room at the rear and a second floor which was used for storing reserve stock. A freight elevator facilitated rapid transfer from one floor to the other, and the store also featured a modern meat market selling western meats, poultry and dairy products. The building was 96 feet long and 36 feet wide."
The entire O'Donnell building, which, in addition to Cantey-Plowden Co., housed the Knight Furniture Co., was later remodeled and occupied by the J.C. Penney Co. Cantey-Plowden, like most of the local markets in Sumter, would cease operation once the large chain markets became a part of the Sumter business community. Their buildings were often removed or remodeled to allow room for other facilities.
The information and photos used to prepare this article were taken from Sumter Item archives.
Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 774-1294.