Martin’s stores looking for Blue Christmas

Owner Robbie Martin at Shades of Blue in Winnsboro. | Barbara Ball

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – For Robbie Martin, running several shops in Ridgeway and Winnsboro – with more planned – has a lot to do with building the kind of small-town atmosphere that creates a destination.

“A lot of travelers come through town. Ridgeway is a cut-through to the coast, and in the summertime we get a lot of traffic from that, and then we have Lake Wateree that’s only 15 minutes away, so a lot of people have vacation homes there, and they come through,” Martin says.

“We are very fortunate because a lot of small towns can’t boast that all the storefronts are full, and that’s something unique about Ridgeway. In a lot of towns, you see buildings that aren’t kept up, but you come into this town and it’s very charming.”

But the shops’ mainstay is re peat local customers, she says, who come from the surrounding area to enjoy Ridgeway’s shops, restaurants, and Mayberry-like atmosphere.

“I think people have just wanted to get away from the malls, and they like shopping with independent family-owned businesses,” she says.

“And you know them by name. Stores here are not places that you feel like when you go to a mall or you go into a big-box store that you don’t know who they are. If a husband comes in here to shop for his wife, we know what his wife likes, and we know her sizes. It’s a personal shopping experience.”

Martin’s two boutiques, Bella & Blue in Ridgeway and Shades of Blue in Winnsboro, carry casual clothing, jewelry, purses, shoes, accessories, and gifts. She says an important part of her business philosophy is to offer items that are affordable and provide options for all sizes and ages.

Her other two businesses, Palmer Street Market and Cotton Yard Market, are both in downtown Ridgeway.

She describes Palmer Street Market as a Southern gift boutique, which carries candles, jewelry, handbags, t-shirts, artwork, gourmet foods, and gifts. Among the popular brands: Simply Southern, Bridgewater Candles, Mud Pie, Archipelago, and Bourbon Honey.

Cotton Yard Market is a vendor vintage market, which sells home décor and accessories on consignment, plus shop merchandise and vendor booths that often feature antiques, vintage items, and collectibles.

Martin, who grew up in Columbia’s Forest Acres neighborhood, says she and her husband first visited Ridgeway during the town’s annual barbecue festival, Pig on the Ridge, a few years ago. Taken in by its small-town charm, they returned with friends to shop for antiques.

“We came to Ridgeway a little over six years ago and just fell in love with the small-town community,” says Martin. She and her husband, Dan, also own a historic home in downtown Ridgeway.

Now, she says, Fairfield County has her heart. Opening a shop was a longtime dream, and when the couple’s only child, Ryan, left for college, Martin decided to make the leap.

At first, she says, she just rented a booth space at the Cotton Yard Market. One booth turned into two and then three – and then she bought the space next door to open Palmer Street Market. Not long after that, she bought the Cotton Yard Market and opened Bella & Blue, all in Ridgeway. Shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Martin opened Shades of Blue in Winnsboro.

“It was almost like we were caught in a tornado, everything happened very fast,” she says, “but sometimes when doors open you just walk through them without questioning.”

She has since purchased the building across from Shades of Blue in downtown Winnsboro with the intention of eventually opening a jazz lounge and event center, she says, but that’s been on hold during the pandemic.

The shops, she says, have faced challenges over the last two years, from staffing to shipping in goods to sell. So they have shifted our focus more to made-in-USA items.

Martin says her plan for the future is to grow her current small businesses and maybe develop more businesses in Fairfield County’s small towns as part of the county and Town’s revitalization. “The plan is to grow in Fairfield County,” she says. “It’s our home, it’s where we’re planted, and we just have a love for these small-town communities.”

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