Cantey-Plowden opens cash and carry grocery store

The Cantey-Plowden Co. building is seen at the corner of Hampton and Sumter streets in 1943.
The Cantey-Plowden Co. building is seen at the corner of Hampton and Sumter streets in 1943.

This issue of Reflections remembers the early development of the Cantey-Plowden grocery store located in downtown Sumter during the 1920s and into the '40s.

The Cantey-Plowden family store 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 and ethical treatment of their customers.

The Cantey-Plowden store was organized in 1926 after the liquidation of the Neill O'Donnell Co. "In February of that year, W.R. Plowden and Dr. E.P. DuRant, owners of the People's Grocery since its inception on June 1, 1920, went into business with B.O. Cantey, who had been with the O'Donnell Co. for many years. Several other Sumter citizens 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 40 miles of the city.

"On Sept. 7, Cantey-Plowden opened their 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 recently operated by the O'Donnell & Co. when this firm retired from business."

Their reputation for retaining a high level of respectability was instituted by the officers who ran this company. The officials 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 staples and fancy groceries and vegetables. One consistent feature of all three stores was a reputation of being clean and spotless."

In January of 1942, Cantey-Plowden moved into its new home at the corner of Hampton Avenue and Sumter streets, what was once the old 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 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 plans called for the construction of a parking lot to allow for ample parking for the store's patrons.

"Cantey-Plowden featured one of the state's largest and most attractive arrays of staple and fancy groceries, vegetables and fruits. The store prided itself on having an efficient delivery service at all times." In addition to Cantey-Plowden, several local "mom-and-pop" grocery stores flourished in the Sumter community until the arrival of chain supermarkets.

Information and photos used to prepare this article were taken from Sumter Item archives.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at or (803) 774-1294.