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Living on Peanuts

Living on peanuts

Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010
By RODDIE BURRIS - rburris@thestate.com

The Peanut Man has come a long way.

When Chris Hinely first sold boiled peanuts in the cold, wind and rain from a spot along Clemson Road in the booming Northeast, officials from the university that owned the spot where he parked came by and told him to get off their property.

Reeling at that time from the December 2008 loss of his computer software sales job, and compounded all the more by the fact that his wife, Carrie, had been laid off from her job as a home services manager four months before, Hinely reached for a tailwind from America's top retailer, Wal-Mart.

Leia Link, 2, of Columbia, shows her mom which candy she wants at The Peanut Man candy store in the Village at Sandhills. - TIM DOMINICK/tdominick@thestate.com
Gallery: A living from peanuts

He parked his goober wagon in a corner at one of the company's superstore parking lots he said, and you guessed it; he was told to leave.

Like a nomad and at his wife's insistence Hinely hauled his peanut wagon downtown to Main Street where he set up to sell, only to have the city come by, shut him down and write him a $750 ticket.

That was all in one miserable day.

Four months ago, aided by friends and church members, family and even strangers who volunteered, Chris and Carrie opened The Peanut Man candy and peanuts store in a 2,100-square-foot store front in the Village at Sandhill shopping center in Northeast Richland, and business has been gang-busters.

What we hoped that we would do when we talked with Kahn Development (Village at Sandhill property owner), we have doubled or tripled that number each month, said Chris Hinely. And this month, we will probably do five to six times what we do in a normal month.

Carrie's hand-made chocolate, draped over peanuts, almonds, cashews and other goodies, her pralines, gummies, 13 flavors of popcorn and of course, Chris' boiled peanuts, it's a child's paradise.

"Everybody who walks in it's like, "Oh, my God, I'm in heaven. Or, Wow! This is what I've always dreamed of," said Carrie Hinely.

But it took a solid leap of faith, bolstered by a strong will to survive. The Great Recession has hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians looking for work and looking to reinvent themselves. The Hinelys are a success story among thousands of tales of woe.

The Hinelys have three sons, one of whom will be entering USC in two weeks. Just two Christmases ago, they had no steady jobs, a mortgage and a house that wouldn't sell. And they are every bit as awestruck as the customers who marvel at the array of goodies in their store.

They put everything on the line: Carrie's 401-k retirement plan; all their savings and the stomach to max out their credit card.

"We wanted to be the type of store that when you go to Savannah or Charleston, or any historic or big town has a nice candy store in it," said Chris Hinely. You can see pralines being made, nuts being cooked, chocolate being dipped, popcorn being popped; we wanted all types of peanuts and old-fashioned candy.

"The idea was when you walked into the store we wanted you to feel like a kid, no matter what age you are," Hinely said.

On a visit to Savannah to visit Carrie's grandmother last year, they stopped in at the Savannah Candy Kitchen, an established candy store in that city. "I said there is nothing in here we can't do," Carrie Hinely recalled.

The Hinelys paired Chris' skill with peanuts and Carrie's will to learn how to make candy and good chocolate, then figured out how to make it work as a business.

Through it all, they said they paid their tithes, even when they were down to their last $1,000 and their mortgage payment was due."We'd rather be 90 percent blessed than 10 percent cursed," they said in unison, laughing.

Two weeks ago Carrie Hinely had made 600 Christmas gift baskets, filled with little toys, candy and peanuts and selling for $10.99 to $49 each. On Tuesday, she had 80 baskets left.

"When they are gone, that's it," she said.

Also on Tuesday, the Hinelys, who have seven employees, were preparing for their first store Christmas party, at which they were prepared to give each employee a bonus.

"Our biggest thing is the atmosphere," said Carrie Hinely. "When I was little I used to go with my grandfather and he used to take me to a penny candy store, and we would grab an ice cream float.

That's what I tried getting here a place that parents or grandparents can take their children safe, where they can come in, sit down and have that atmosphere of enjoying something with their kids, and there is nothing here in Columbia like that. People enjoy (being able) to do that," she said.

The Christmas season has been good so far. Next up is Valentine’s Day.

"Hopefully it will continue," Chris Hinely said, "because we've still got people coming in saying. "Wow. I thought you just sold peanuts."


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