By Abe Hardesty Anderson Independent Mail, S.C.
Early last year, real estate agent Sally Rogers was in a sales mode when she showed friend and neighbor Angela Shaffer some commercial property.
Within a matter of hours, she became a buyer.
As Rogers showed Shaffer some potential locations for an olive oil/balsamic vinegar specialty shop, she received the sales pitch -- and grew increasingly interested.
"I was helping her find a place ... and I soon realized I wanted to do this," Rogers said.
"At one point, she said, 'Why don't you do this with me?'" Rogers recalls.
In a matter of three days, Rogers and Shaffer were olive-oil partners and were soon renovating a building in the middle of Ram Cat Alley. The Healthy Olive opened May 21, and Rogers hasn't had time to sell any real estate since.
"It took off so fast, it amazed us. The plan was for me to work from 11 to 2, but at 2 o'clock we were usually too busy for me to leave," Rogers said.
Even before the business opened, she enjoyed the setting.
"I love the building," she said. "It was so much fun to fix it up. And I love the business. It's fun meeting people."
Rogers describes "a very good first year" at The Healthy Olive, one so successful that her real estate license is inactive.
"I just don't have the time," said the longtime Seneca resident, who had been part of her husband Perry's real estate business.
The early success in a specialty business has much to do, Rogers believes, with the fact that Seneca is a small town where "everybody wants to see businesses succeed."
It also has something to do with the fact that few stores offer more than 60 varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
That made an impression on Shaffer when she visited an olive oil store while visiting Maine last spring.
An adventurous sort -- "most people would use the term 'crazy,'" Shaffer said -- Shaffer's interest in entrepreneurship immediately went from zero to 100.
"I had been in medical sales 20 years. I had no interest in being an entrepreneur," Shaffer said while at the store last week. "But I liked the product. I liked the health benefits. Who doesn't want to eat things that have health benefits? I kept thinking, 'Seneca doesn't have anything like this.'"
That was true of most cities 10 years ago. But The Healthy Olive, along with the Red Moose Emporium on Clemson Boulevard in Anderson, is part of a national trend. They're among four olive specialty stores that have opened in the Upstate in the last two years, and two of more than 500 stand-alone olive stores that have opened nationwide since 2006. Oil-tasting bars are also on the rise in gourmet food spots such as delicatessens, cooking schools and high-end supermarkets.
Shaffer and Rogers have been more involved in The Healthy Olive than they anticipated. They attended a training school in Oakland, Calif., that helped them gain product knowledge, and the retail management has been a shared learning experience.
Shaffer's job as a sales representative with a pharmaceutical company was eliminated in September. She hopes to get back into the field eventually while continuing to work at The Healthy Olive. For now, it keeps both Shaffer and Rogers busy.
They had intended to lease a commercial spot in Seneca but instead purchased an 84-year-old building in need of remodeling.
"We loved the (high) ceiling, the (hardword) floor and the (large) skylight," said Shaffer, who made the move to Seneca from South Florida eight years ago because she wanted to experience South Carolina's Upstate.
After 15 years in Florida, the former Hilton Head resident said she "wanted to get back to South Carolina, but not the ocean. I picked a place near Clemson, and when I saw the lake (Hartwell), I sold my home in Florida, quit my job and moved here."