Coca-Cola in Orangeburg

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From Model A and Model T trucks carrying a few cases of Coca-Cola on the dirt roads of yesterday to transport trailers that can deliver more than a thousand cases on today’s highways, Orangeburg’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company has come a long way.

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It had its beginnings when Robert Jennings Sr., P.M. Smoak, Fletcher Fairey Sr. and W.S. Barton put their heads together to bring a plant to Orangeburg in 1904. They opened it about 18 years after Coca-Cola was founded by Atlanta druggist John Styth Pemberton.

The local company’s first location was downtown on Middleton Street behind the WTND radio building.

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The Middleton Street location was soon outgrown, and the plant eventually moved to Broughton Street. In 1918, it moved once more to Russell Street, just east of where Orangeburg Pecan Co. is located.

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In 1977, the company purchased property on U.S. Highway 601 across from where the Regional Medical Center is now located. Four years later, the plant moved to its present location.

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Jim Avinger is the company president. The Avinger name has been a constant with Coca-Cola in Orangeburg almost since the beginning, starting when A.N. Avinger Sr. was hired as manager.

The senior Avinger, grandfather of the current president, remained as manager until the 1950s when his son, A.N. Avinger Jr., assumed the position.

Vice President and General Manager Dwight Frierson, who joined the company in 1974, said Coca-Cola has been able to adjust to change throughout its history.

The reason is simple: knowing the customer.

“We grew up here,” he said. “We know the people. We know our customers. We know the consumers.”

The number of Coca-Cola bottlers has declined from a peak of 1,000 in the 1960s to about 80 today.

The Orangeburg plant got out of bottling locally about 15 years ago and currently maintains a 45,000-square-foot warehouse from which it distributes about 1 million cases annually throughout Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

Orangeburg Coca-Cola owns a bottling plant in Bishopville with seven other bottling companies.

Today, the Coca-Cola plant employs about 30.

“We have good employees,” Frierson said. “We’ve got folks in here for over 20 and 30 years. They are from the area.”

Original story by Al Somervell, The Times and Democrat

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