The Harper's Store chain was a family-run group of five-and-dime stores that operated in Oconee and Pickens Counties from the 1920s through the late 1980s as well as a tri-state area, before going out of business in a changing marketplace.
The first store opened on Ram Cat Alley in Seneca in the early 1920s as Coats and Harper 10 Cent Store. It was run by Mr. J. P. Coats, who was superintendent of the Seneca Schools, and James Earle Harper, whose earliest retail experience came in working at the company store in Newry. Coats soon sold out to Harper and the business moved across the street into a two-story building.
In 1923, Coats built two 25' x 100' store rooms with full basements in the middle of the block. The 10 cent store moved into one, and the Bee Hive, a department store also owned by Harper, into the other. Following financial difficulties in the late 1920s, Earle Harper sold the 10 cent store to his son, William Clay "Bill" Harper, and closed the Seneca Bee Hive location, moving his family to Toccoa, Georgia, where he had another 10 cent store and another Bee Hive. The Toccoa Bee Hive would close during the Depression years of the 1930s.
A Harper's was opened in Hartwell, Georgia, in the late 1920s but only survived for a few years. Another, in Commerce, Georgia, did better, staying open and being sold to son James Henry Harper who ran it until his death in 1974. Other family members then ran it a few more years before it was liquidated.
Bill Harper opened a store in Easley in 1932, and it operated in the same location for over 50 years before finally falling prey to Wal-Mart.
The original Ram Cat Alley store's basement was used as a warehouse to supply a second store in Seneca which opened in 1934 on Main Street. Originally 50' x 100', it was enlarged several times. The family referred to this as the New Store, and the Ram Cat Alley location as the Old Store. A warehouse was built behind the Main Street store, facing North First Street, and the offices moved into the upstairs of this building.
A small store opened in Walhalla in 1934 in the corner room of the Verner building. A store building in Westminster was purchased in 1937, and the youngest brother, Sidney Harper, moved his family there to operate it. Another existing business in Honea Path was bought, bringing the chain to eight before World War II halted expansion. The Walhalla store moved into a new five-room building erected by the Bauknight family in 1941, occupying one 40' x 100' space, but eventually expanding into all five rooms and taking over the building, with the exception of a corner drugstore.
At their peak, the Harper's chain employed more than 200 people. Shortly after the war, a new store, number 9, was opened in a newly-constructed building in Pickens. Additional stores were purchased in Washington, Georgia, Clemson (on the east side of College Avenue where Chanelo's Pizza would later open), and Belton, followed by Covington, Georgia, originally in the downtown and later in Newton Plaza. The Covington store was the largest in the chain.
A location in Brevard was the only North Carolina location. A four store group opened in Greer, Gaffney, Spartanburg and Clinton, and another five in Georgia at Clayton, Rockmart, Clarksville, Thomson and Toccoa. The last was in a shopping center in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Two other locations, in West Greenville and Greer, did not fare as well and closed quickly as newer shopping centers began forcing the closure of some locations.
By the 1980s, the real estate market for these older bricks and mortar stores was disappearing as retailing changed, and when the last of the Harper's locations could not be sold, the last five were converted to dollar stores under the Bill's name. These were closed over a period of six years.