Beyond your average gift shop

EmmaBy Emma Dowling, Cedar Shoals HS (Athens, Georgia)

When most people imagine a museum shop they think of a small store with cheesy souvenirs and overpriced t-shirts. The Cotton Mill Exchange, found in the South Carolina State Museum, is unlike any other.

Inside the 400 square foot store, local goods from across the state can be found. Merchandise includes clothes, candy, jewelry, art and more. And all products are hand picked by a state native.

“The merchandise in the store needs to either relate to the exhibit in the museum or somehow relate to the history and culture of South Carolina. I’m constantly looking and searching, but a lot of what I buy is from local people,” manager Scottie Ash said.

Ash opened the Cotton Mill Exchange at the same time the museum opened in 1988. After moving to Florida and Georgia and living there for many years, she decided it was time to come back home. Ash’s love for her state drove her to want to share the unique things that South Carolina has to offer.

Emma Dowling CME

“I go to a lot of local craft fairs, places where different artists show their stuff. If it’s a handmade product, I don’t buy it unless it’s from South Carolina. I enjoy buying the pottery and baskets the most, things that are handmade in South Carolina, by local craftspeople,” Ash said.

As new attractions enter the museum, the Cotton Mill Exchange keeps up by tracking down merchandise to match the captivating exhibits. From space to the state’s history, the Cotton Mill Exchange has a wide variety of handpicked goods.

“I love working at the museum here because of all of the kinds of people I get to interact with. The museum has members, so we do see a lot of people coming through that we have seen before, but we definitely get more new faces than recurring,” an employee of both the museum and the Cotton mill exchange, Jessica Sister said.

The Cotton Mill exchange is not just for tourists, as most museum stores are. State residents often visit the store to find local art and products that best represent their beloved home.

“I can’t think of a store anywhere near us that sells the same kinds of things that we do,” said Sister.

[Find out more about the adventures the CJI team had at the museum on their official Instagram account.]

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