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James W. Smith Real Estate: Forced out by fire, company moves back home

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Jimmy Smith said he didn’t want another big office when he was designing his new realty firm to replace the building that burned in 2013. It’s a tenth the size of the office that held his sports memorabilia collection.

“I didn’t use that big office,” Smith said. “It got to be kind of a storage place.”

The new James W. Smith Real Estate building on Highway 17 is a “lean and mean” version of the previous headquarters, even though it’s 5,000 square feet on two floors with two kitchens, six bathrooms and a laundry room. Gone is the big waiting room for guests. “People get their keys,” Smith said, “and they are gone.”

The biggest upgrade is in the office computer capability and security, Smith said. He will be able to watch the feeds from 16 security cameras in his office as soon as the last four are installed. Smith can look out his door and see the front counter from his office, so he knows who is checking in. The conference room is right next door, and he can pop in any time, like he did recently wearing an autographed Notre Dame football helmet given to him by former coach Lou Holtz.

The new building has fire and smoke detection and a sprinkler system. Midway Fire and Rescue made recommendations about fire safety that included interior and exterior emergency lighting. The old building had cedar siding and 30,000 feet of “pecky” cypress that burned quickly when an office machine overheated and caught fire. Smith said the new building has about 2,000 feet of “pecky” cypress as molding and wainscoting with fire-resistant Sheetrock as the major material. Rather than a storage room, the new building’s attic houses just the sprinkler system and air-conditioning ductwork.

The building has LED lighting, foam insulation and a metal roof that drove up the total price — Smith said it was about a million dollars. His power bill, however, has dropped from about a thousand dollars a month to $500.

Smith said he’s glad to be back on Highway 17 with its visibility, even though he thought about selling the lot after the fire. “People knew where we had been for 23 years,” he said. He has hired eight new agents since construction on the office began as business tripled. There’s room for just four more, Smith said.

The firm’s top five sales agents have private offices with others in cubicles. The rankings get shuffled every year, Smith said, providing incentive for everyone to get — or keep — an office.

Most of Smith’s sports memorabilia will be displayed on the second floor. He has cases for footballs and helmets, from the Dallas Cowboys to Notre Dame’s 1988 national champions. Smith’s alma mater, South Carolina, is the predominant team with Steve Spurrier paintings, photos and signatures and those of his best-known players, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney already hanging. Smith said he’ll have some memorabilia from rival Clemson to suit some of his friends. One new prize is a 1980 South Carolina football schedule signed by coach Jim Carlen and the team.

Across the room is a similar case for South Carolina baseball memorabilia, including bats from the team’s College World Series victories that were replaced after the fire by Ray Tanner, USC director of athletics. There’s even a “very special” base used in the World Series signed by former coach Tanner and present coach Chad Holbrook.

Smith has a baseball bat and photo signed by New York Yankee Bobby Richardson, who lives in Sumter and visits Litchfield in the summers. “Super guy,” Smith says. He has a discolored basketball signed by coach Bill Foster and the Clemson team that survived the fire. The only football to survive the fire was one signed by coach Brad Scott, who left South Carolina for Clemson. They are in a case with a Tar Heel hat signed by North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams and a hat signed by former Clemson football player Michael Dean Perry. One of his prize possessions is a framed picture of basketball coaches Frank McGuire and Dean Smith from the Diet Pepsi Tournament of Champions in the 1970s.

Smith said he got a lot of help in rebuilding from county employees. “Boyd Johnson, Sel Hemingway, Robert Cox, Joanne Ochal — they really helped me through it. It’s tough building commercial any more with the rules and regulations.”

The office cat, Buttercup, a fluffy, yellow tabby, never left the property after the fire. Smith came to feed her twice a day and had someone else look after her when he was out of town. “She’s been hanging around here for five years, I guess,” Smith said.

With the rocking chairs and ceiling fans, the new office has a traditional Pawleys Island feel. He’s planted roses back in front and has ordered sod for the lawn. Smith wanted the same blue color carpet in the new building as he had in the original. “It makes you feel like you are at home again,” he said.

Other business news: Pawleys Island Pharmacy: Expansion gives Litchfield its first pharmacy since 1990s

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