Julio Torres, 46
Torres Superettes, 843 Rutledge Ave.
Experience: 10 years.
Clientele: Neighborhood residents, old timers, and newcomers who have forced Julio to replace some of the 40s with $14 craft beer six packs.
The times they are a-changin': We've been in this corner 17 years. When I was 16 years old, the gentleman who lived in that house across the street offered me the house for $60,000. It just sold for $478,000. There was more drug activity and prostitution on this corner until we took over. The cops wouldn't do anything because it's public, so we had to get rid of that riff raff. And now it's incredible, the change now is good. People asked for the kitchen, we got them the kitchen. People asked for craft beer, better cheeses. We're trying to move with the neighborhood, you know? I've seen a lot of my clients also pass away, good old timers that always came in here. A few like Ms. King. She still comes in approximately three-four times a day just to check on the girls, check on everybody, plays her little lottery, and goes home. A lot of prostitution when we first took over. They'd come in and hook up here. The cops would come in and say, "Do you have video?"
They'd hook up here?: They'd do the money exchange, and the person in charge would pick up the money and he would call and say, "O.K., it's good," and then they'd meet up somewhere. Through the years the police has been really supportive of us. Thank God nothing serious has happened.
- Adam Manno
Sherin Smith, 59
College Market, 543 King St.
Experience: 5-6 years.
Clientele: A mix of King Street's homeless population and college students picking up energy drinks.
Luck of the draw: I watched a lady — no, she's dead now — but this guy, his name was Isaac, I watched him make $63 right there in front of the store one day, but every time he got a dollar, he ran in here and bought a scratch-off. What I loved about it is he was spending it as fast as he got it, and I was keeping track of the money that he got. Then the owner came and I said, "You see that guy right there?" I said, "No, no, don't run him away, 'cause every time he makes money out there he brings it in here. Every penny he gets."
Craziest story: This guy, I think he had a mental health issue, and that was kind of frightening. First he wanted to use the phone and I allowed him to use the business phone because I didn't realize that he had that kind of problem until he went down toward Cannon Street and then he came back and asked to use the phone again. "I need to take my medicine, I need my medicine." A fellow who works across the street, you know, he frequents the store. [Nearby merchants] kind of look out for you, they're really concerned about your wellbeing. It's almost like a little network. I was new on the block so they kind of watched me. He was already familiar with me, and he said, "Do you think I need to call the police?" And I said, "Yeah." He got kind of nervous and I got kind of nervous. I moved back like this and I stood away. Sure enough, the police came and then the fire truck and two officers. He was standing right by the potato chip rack. He said, "Wait a minute, I don't want no fire truck. That's a big red truck, I want the truck with the blue and green squares on it." And I wasn't sure what truck he was talking about. More officers arrived and the police officers started saying — they didn't know whether or not he had a weapon or anything — they formed a circle, so they had him in a circle and they said, "We need you to step outside." Sure enough, he needed to take his medication for real. The next day, I saw him and he had a wristband like he had gone to the hospital. Came in here, and acted like nothin'. When I first saw him again, I got kind of nervous. After a while, I started realizing: It's a lot of people who have mental issues walking around here and you have to be careful.
- Adam Manno
Chuck Grooms, 69
J&W Grocery, 129 Wentworth St.
Experience: 16 years.
Clientele: 50 percent college students, 30 percent construction people, 20 percent neighborhood folk.
Most annoying thing customers do: Play lottery, 'cause the majority of the time they don't know how to do it or how to play it, and they don't know what they want. Instead of giving me everything at one time, they want to give me part of it this time, two minutes later give me something else. Lottery takes up a lot of time, and we don't even make any money off it. We hope that they come in to buy something, but 99 percent of them don't buy a 75 cent drink, so that's pretty bad. We got vendors coming in to bring stuff in, and people doing lottery, and people doing this, it makes it pretty busy sometimes. At lunch time, there might be 10 people standing around waiting to do lottery.
Shittiest experience: He talked great English, he came in here and he said, "Do you read?" I said, "Yeah, I read occasionally." The next time he came in, he brought a book. It was on the Civil War. I read a third of it. It was kind of gory, so I didn't really like it. He came back in, and I said, "I finished your book," and he says, "Do you write books?" I say, "Mighty funny you said that, because I'm in the process of writing a book for my grandkids, my childhood memories that I have and my wife's been wanting me to write it." He said, 'Well, I edit books. Would you like me to edit?" I said,"Yeah, I wouldn't mind at all". About two weeks after that, I thought about bringing it in. It was in a manila folder: All my pictures when I was a kid, when I played baseball. I gave it to him, everything was in a package, nothing was put together. I seen him about two weeks after that, he came back in here. Just as nice again, as anything, I said, "Are you about finished with my book?" He said, "I had to work overtime at MUSC and I'll have it shortly." I said, "O.K., sounds great." Never did see him after that. Then I went to our video, 'cause I was gonna get a picture of him and put it out here in case anybody knew him. Our video only goes back 30 days, and it was 32 days when I went to it. So there's no way I could get a picture of him or anything. Never did come back in. Nothing. He was dressed in regular clothes. He probably was lying to me, now that I think about it, he probably didn't even work for MUSC. Like I said, he was kind of dark-skinned and I could tell he was a foreigner. Very nice, placid guy. Very likeable, you know? I'm an honest type person, and I guess I'm too honest, because all that I gave him and now I don't have any of that stuff and it can't even be replaced? My mom's house caught on fire and I don't have any pictures of me when I was a kid. I haven't told [my wife] yet. We've been married for 50 years this February and if I told her what I did, she probably would have a heart attack. If the guy came through the door and handed it to me, I would say thank you and that's it. That's how much I would appreciate just having it back. Sometimes, at night, I just lay there in bed thinking about it and I can't even go to sleep. Sometimes I just lay there and it gets on my mind, but what else can I do?
Audrey 'Angel' Gadsden, 57
Martha's Quick Stop, 687 King St. #B
Experience: 3 years
Clientele: Neighborhood dwellers and people stumbling in late at night from Rec Room next door.
Dog day afternoon: There's this lady. She comes in the store, probably high or whatever, but she's acting like a dog, acting crazy and everything. That was funny. She walks around, she goes, "What do you have here that I can eat?" She was walking around with her hands in the air, barking like a dog. Ultimately, she leaves on her own.
So he goes to jail: This guy comes into the store and says "I want to steal something I want to go to jail." I wasn't here that day, my boss was here, he says, "What do you mean you want to steal something?" He says, "I just need some place to stay tonight, I need to go to jail." So he steals an energy drink from over there and he runs out the door and my boss goes, "Just bring it back, I'm not gonna lock you up." He goes, "No, take me to jail, I wanna go to jail now." So [my boss] calls the police, 'cause he walks out the door with it, and the police take him and they try to talk him down, but he fights the police so he can go to jail. So he goes to jail.