PROMISED LAND, S.C. (WSPA) – When thinking of historical locations, visions of large impressive monuments, battle fields, or statuesque buildings come to mind first. But, one humble historical business in Greenwood County, The Promised Land Grocery Store, has been a historical lifeline to its community.
Promised Land Grocery, just seven miles outside of downtown Greenwood, has been the county’s best kept secret for 47 years.
To note, the store doesn’t just offer groceries. It also is a gas station and a restaurant that arguably sells some of the most noteworthy chicken for miles. This one-stop-shop, in Greenwood county is owned by Willie Thomas Jr. He owes the business’ notoriety to one simple thing, his chicken.
“The big thing they come in for, I sell a lot of chicken. I sell a world of chicken,” Thomas Jr said.
Lifelong customer, Joel Hackett, agreed that the chicken keeps everyone coming back.
“The flavor. The, the, the, special recipe. You can’t tell it-you can’t tell it,” Hackett said.
In addition to the chicken, customers have easily stayed for the laughs, which Thomas Jr. has plenty to share.
“One year I counted it up. I did like McDonalds did 100 and, I said 176 thousand pieces of chicken that year,” Thomas Jr joked. “I’m not gonna do that again.”
In November 1973, Thomas Jr purchased the gas station and grocery for his family business. While family members worked the store, Thomas Jr also worked for Greenville county. After his retirement from the county in 2006, working for 36 years, Thomas Jr worked full time at the shop.
He said working two jobs for several years had it’s perks. Additional funds from his county job we able to help the store when times were slow. Then, when times were great, there was an abundance of funds.
Over the years, the family watched the business evolve from a one room building, into the large structure of today.
“I try to keep what the community wants. I listen to them when they say, ‘I want and I don’t have.’ And I go out and I try to get.” Thomas Jr added, “This is a place they can drive up and get a few things and don’t have to drive all the way to Greenwood.”
Thus, for the past 47 years, the community has always been his focus. In the beginning, Thomas Jr said there was a gentleman that ran the grocery store while he minded the gas station. But, less than six months later, one day the man never came back. Thomas Jr said he had to take over the grocery section in addition to his gas station.
“What built the store more is the kids. Candy. A lot of candy. And so they would get candy and the kids bring their parents,” Thomas Jr said.
Eventually, the restaurant was added on making this store a one-stop-shop. On Sundays and Saturdays, six and 10 course meals are served. Hackett said it’s the family’s chicken recipe that keeps everyone coming back.
“You know the chicken. Lawd! I tell you, words can’t describe the taste. The love, the humbleness, and the good people that they are,” Hackett explained.
“They loved momma’s cooking chicken. She did a good job. But, I added more to it. I kept working with it and I kept getting different ingredients and different ingredients and I worked with it. Everybody wants my formula but they can’t get it. That’s my businesses that’s my life,” Thomas Jr said.
Promised Land Grocery Store is where community members meet to get gas, share stories over a meal, or pick up the necessary items they would have to drive into Greenwood to purchase. Just a few feet from the store is Promised Land’s historical land marker. The location of both the store and marker serve the same purpose, allowing the community tell its story.
“We all family. You know, family within family. Like I said Promised Land, this is where you want to get your chicken at,” Hackett explained.
“Guy tell me, one story. He tells me the land was promised to us. If we clean it up, because it had so many rocks and things in it. The plantation owner didn’t want the land. Said, ‘if ya’ll clean it up you can have it.’ But, it didn’t happen when they cleaned it up. But that story, I don’t know whether it’s true or not. I just heard that.” Thomas Jr noted.
According to the South Carolina Encyclopedia website, he wasn’t wrong in his story. Promised Land was founded in 1870 as part of a land resettlement program for recently freed slaves. The name, Promised Land, was from the freed slaves “promise” to pay for the land.
The Promised Land Grocery store is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. It seems that customers can always a smiling face, a kind word, and some chicken to share.