Late yesterday morning, as we were heading out of Columbia after finishing church at First Baptist, and on the way to see Santorum in Florence, we saw something a bit rarer in these rather reddish parts of the country: a giant photo of Obama and his logo pasted to a tall sign.
We had to investigate, and a couple of us popped out to talk to the folks working behind the counter.
As you might imagine, one of them, Khalad Hirabi, likes Barack Obama. Indeed, he likes Obama so much, in fact, that he and his business partners named a string of convenience stores after the president. He says that it has been a “boost to business.”
“People come here because they like the name,” he says, but also because they like our personality.
Hirabi and his cousins bought this particular location, which is also a gas station, in Columbia in early 2011, and changed the name soon thereafter. They owe three other Obama-branded convenience stores in Dearborn, Mich. All of the cousins are originally from Yemen.
Compared to life in Michigan, however, Columbia is a slower, friendlier place. One of the biggest differences they’ve noticed is less crime.
But they still have their challenges.
“We only have trouble once a month,” he says, noting that the cops come much faster here than in Detroit, and that people are more respectful of each other. They also say that the reception of the African-American community has been positive and welcoming.
John, a customer filling up outside, said that’d he come by because it was convenient (he lives in the neighborhood). He’s also a fan of the president, he said, before hopping back in his SUV and wishing us a “blessed day” in his “pretty little state” with what we’re noting is the characteristic South Carolinian smile.
Though not affiliated with the president, Hirabi said that an Obama volunteer had recently gassed up at their station and thanked them for their support.
When asked about the 2012 election and Obama’s reelection prospects, they said they’ll keep the name no matter what.
It is, after all, good for business.Will Mari contributed to this report.