Mobile food market opens in Whitmire months after its only full-service grocery store closed

WHITMIRE, SC – (WIS) Starting this week, the town of Whitmire in Newberry County has a new resource to address food insecurity.

Uncle Willie’s Grocery held a grand opening for a mobile food market, the Uncle Willie’s Mobile Market, which plans to operate in the city every Wednesday for the next year.

This comes after the city’s only full-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, closed in February.

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“A lot of the conveniences that we enjoy in metropolitan areas, in a lot of our rural areas of the state, they don’t have that,” said Christa Williams, the owner of Uncle Willie’s Grocery. “I think it’s only fair to share. Instead of wasting goods and throwing things away, why not share with other communities that don’t have access to it.”

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The city’s Piggly Wiggly has been replaced by a Dollar Tree/Family Dollar combination store that opened a few months ago.

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Whitmire is home to about 1,400 people. Its mostly elderly population now has to travel about 20 miles to the nearest grocery store.

Williams, who opened Uncle Willie’s Grocery on Main Street in Columbia in April of this year, said the mobile market’s hours in Whitmire will be set based on the needs of the community.

The stock of items will also be based on community need. At its grand opening, items for purchase included breads, cheeses, jams and fresh produce.

Several longtime Whitmire residents tell WIS they are grateful for Uncle Willie’s.

“I want to thank you Willie for coming,” Jewell Nelson said. “We appreciate him, and hope they can stay with us for a long time.”

Nelson faced the prospect of a 45-minute round trip just to get the essentials.

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“It’s very stressful because when we need something we want it right here in Whitmire,” she said. “We don’t want to have to drive all the way, and we’ll do without just because we have to drive so far to get the things we need.”

In opening the market, Williams said it was important not to duplicate the efforts of the other small shopkeepers here: Joe’s Market and Dream’n Acres.

“We wanted to work together and complement the resources that are here, and not cross the boundaries, so we want to work with the community,” she said.

Whitmire Mayor Billy Hollingsworth praised the work of both local grocers, saying they had “really stepped up” to fill food gaps in the last year.

Since the Piggly Wiggly closed, Hollingsworth said he has contacted 13 different grocery store chains, trying to get them to open a store in Whitmire, but so far those attempts have been unsuccessful.

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“We will never stop trying,” he said. “We will continue to try to get a full-fledged grocery store in Whitmire.”

Hollingsworth said he understands their hesitation and is not frustrated.

“I know it takes a lot of volume to pay for itself,” he said.

Despite a lack of fresh produce, Hollingsworth promised, “There is not a citizen in Whitmire who will starve, not a citizen.”

Williams is also considering opening a stand-alone grocery store in Whitmire sometime in the future.

Uncle Willie’s Grocery plans to create a similar food market in Clarendon County in the coming months.-

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