Sisters tackle turning a century-old building into a café

Sisters Calle and Kaitlyn Walters, originally from Williamston in Anderson County, are renovating this 100-plus-year-old building in nearby Pelzer, SC, into a cafe and community space. (Stephanie Mirah/The Post and Courier via AP)

PELZER, SC (AP) — It only took several visits to a century-old building in a small former mill town in Anderson County to spark a business idea in Calle and Kaitlyn Walters.

The three-and-a-half-story brick building — which lived several past lives before the Walters sisters acquired it last summer — sits at 108 Lebby St. in the historic town of Pelzer, by the Saluda River. which winds its way along the Anderson and Greenville county line.

Before the Walters reclaimed the property from the former mayor’s family, it sat idle on the market for years and was vacant for more than seven years.

The sisters’ interest in the building began around two years ago when Kaitlyn and her now-fiancé visited the property as a potential place to put her blacksmithing business. The structure was not built to accommodate his work, but Kaitlyn “had a hard time letting it go”.

“We’re from this area,” Kaitlyn said. “I’ve always loved this building and was really scared to see anyone else doing anything to it.”

The Walters sisters are from Williamston, a few miles south of Pelzer. Their maternal grandmother was born in the city of mills and part of their family still lives nearby, like their parents who live in Piedmont.

On their third trip back to the building, they toured with a couple who wanted to buy the land and would lease it to the Walters. But they didn’t just want to rent the space, they wanted to own it. The Walters closed on the property in July 2021.

“I think the business started with the building,” Kaitlyn said.

The building has a basement, a ground floor and a top floor, the half floor coming from a small staircase that leads to the only bathroom in the store.

While old exercise equipment and sofas clutter the interior, renovations are underway to turn it into Cryptid Coffee. The sisters plan to move in early fall.

Calle has always wanted his own coffee. She spent five years working at Anderson University Coffee, The Village Grind in West Greenville Village, and Junto Coffee in Taylors. Kaitlyn graduated from Winthrop University with a degree in sculpture and photography and has since wanted to open an event space and gallery.

They launched Cryptid Coffee, but their business goes beyond a traditional caffeine hotspot. They want it to be an interactive community meeting place that plays a role in the larger revitalization efforts underway at Pelzer.

Life in the town of Anderson in the 19th and 20th centuries revolved around the Pelzer Manufacturing Company. At its peak, the business consisted of four cotton mills. The neighborhood had mill housing as well as institutional and commercial buildings, many of which were owned by the mill company. The town was deemed historic in 2017 and today over 1,600 people live in the town, including Calle itself.

The Pelzer Heritage Commission acquired a set of parcels in 2013 which included parts of the factory properties and lots along the Saluda. With grants from federal and state environmental groups, the commission cleaned up the properties. With the help of Anderson County Council, he created a redevelopment strategy.

In September 2021, the commission, in partnership with private developers and commercial entities, announced several mill redevelopment projects. Nine small cabins are planned along the Saluda River, 80 seniors’ apartments at Pelzer Upper Mill and 95 loft-style apartments at the Pelzer Lower Mill site. In the Pelzer Mill Office building, a New York-originated, South Carolina-inspired gluten-free cookie and buttermilk brew concept called DaleView Biscuits and Beer will open.

Create a meeting place in a small town

Once the sisters move into their storefront, the ground floor will serve as a café, with the walls decorated with works by local artists for sale. They want the space to be interactive. In the same vein as the Swamp Rabbit Cafe in West Greenville, the sisters eventually want to add a small grocery store concept with produce sourced from local farmers. They want to organize events, live music and markets.

“It’s a great way to really get involved in the community we grew up in,” Kaitlyn said.

Like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, cryptids are creatures that are said to exist but have not been proven. The sisters swapped a number of names for the company, but returned to Cryptid to encapsulate their own fascination with conspiracies and the anomalous.

The essence of the Cryptids is currently reflected in the names of some of their drinks like “The Thing”, a violet flavored coffee drink, only in season for a limited time and named after the science horror movie -American fiction from 1982. The sisters picked violets from Kaitlyn’s garden and made the syrup themselves.

Cryptid uses Junto Coffee as their main source of beans, but the sisters want to be a multi-roast cafe also selling bags of beans from other cafes.

“I want to be more playful with our drinks,” Calle said.

Calle has tried making a carrot cake latte before and will eventually experiment with a sweet corn latte.

Customers can sample Cryptid Coffee today by visiting their long-term pop-up location within a wedding florist design studio, Philo Floral, on Old Buncombe Road in San Souci. They have been in space for about three weeks and will remain there until the end of August.

Preserving a century-old building

While the history of the Pelzer building may vary depending on who is being interviewed, Calle and Kaitlyn outlined a potential timeline. They admit they are still trying to fully verify it.

It is widely believed that the current building began as a pharmacy. Their mother says she went to the drugstore soda bar and stood in the doorway to cool off because there was no air conditioning. To honor the story, the sisters want to give away some kind of soft drink.

The basement of the building would once have housed a morgue. The Masonic Lodge, a fraternal organization, previously occupied the top floor. There was then a small gym, then a hair salon that offered haircuts and tanning booths, then a photographer’s studio.

Calle and Kaitlyn worked to certify the storefront as historic. They submitted their renovation plans for approval, so as not to spoil the integrity of the building. Some of the changes they asked for – making the windows bigger, replacing glass, adding paint in some places – were turned down. But, no matter what, they still want to make sure the building is protected.

If for some reason they needed to sell the land, the next owner “will have to keep it as is, moving forward,” Calle said.

“I think with Pelzer, especially because it’s already a historic town, it’s important to make sure it stays that way,” she said.

Obtaining the permits required for the building was slow. The sister’s parents are entrepreneurs and self-employed, so construction is not new to the family. The sisters are working alongside commercial contractors on this project, but they personally performed the interior deconstruction.

They expect to spend more evenings and nights in space soon to meet the planned schedule to create a space where the people of Pelzer can congregate.

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