Fresh Market Xchange’s produce section includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are certified South Carolina grown. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)

A new market selling fresh produce, baked goods and coffee in the Vista aims to feel like home.

Farmers Market Xchange opened its doors Sept. 1 and is gaining traffic from local businesses and customers who also have shopped at the city’s Saturday Soda City Market. Neset Hikmet, the owner, said the family designed the corner store at 912 Lady St. to feel like a home rather than a supermarket.

The seating area at the market looks like a living room.

He said that he didn’t realize that the store has so many neighbors such as hotels and local businesses. That’s already bringing in returning customers.

“People can feel comfortable to walk in, sit down, then do more shopping and meet their friends,” Hikmet said.

As a child, Hikmet enjoyed cooking with his mom and wanted to own a retail store or restaurant. This dream is coming true, and he is appreciative of customers’ encouragement because it lowers his stress as he learns to manage a retail store.

Hikmet’s family owns Toms Creek Family Farms in Hopkins, which sold its produce at Soda City and the state’s farmers market in Lexington County. Toms Creek is about 176 acres, about the size of the Bull Street development in downtown Columbia. The family raises cows, goats, sheep, ducks and chickens. There are seven greenhouses that produce tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, squash and okra, often year-round, depending on demand.

The farm operates under the rules of permaculture, Hikmet said, meaning the produce is fresh, and nothing goes to waste. If something doesn’t sell in two days, it’s taken back to the farm the next day and used as compost or feed for the animals.

Hikmet is an engineering professor at the University of South Carolina, so he has a special appreciation for the building’s architecture. The brick structure was completed in 1914 to be B. B. Kirkland Seed and Distributing Co., then became Hinson Feed & Seed Co., selling about 300,000 chicks a year.

“It’s very structurally unique but also indicative of Southern architecture and especially Columbia business structures,” Hikmet said.

The wooden columns in the building’s “great hall” are more than 120 years old. The family restored the building’s appearance to preserve its original character. Before the three-story building was completed, the land was home to the Assembly Street Farmers Market. Natural springs on the site allowed farmers to set up tents near where their horses could drink.

The market feels like home for another reason, too.

“It also kind of makes you proud of your heritage, background, because whoever I am was built on what they had back in the 1800s,” said Hikmet, an immigrant from Cyprus whose grandfather and great-grandfather once owned a grocery store. “So, it’s kind of continuing the tradition.”

The Xchange also offers homemade bread and pastries from JJ’s Place in West Columbia. The bakers now do their baking at the Xchange.

Aurora Bell has been a customer of Toms Creek at Soda City for two years and started buying baked goods from JJ’s in the past few months. She’s happy now to have a permanent store in the Vista.

“Being able to buy their products in one place with extended hours is great,” Bell said.

She typically buys eggplants, green beans and peaches from Toms Creek and likes the seeded bread, scones and sourdough from JJ’s. Bell prefers to buy from Toms Creek rather than grocery stores because the produce is locally sourced.

She also enjoys talking with the farmers and supporting a family-run business.

“The community it creates is another thing I appreciate,” Bell said. “So getting to chat with farmers about what recipes they’re making, and I’m making, is special.”

Janet St Hilaire lives in Irmo but doesn’t mind the drive to get fresh products, especially because of all the gluten-free bread options.

“I have celiac disease, so it’s been almost 20 years since I have had it,” she said. “It was probably the best homemade bread I have ever had.”

Other farmers sell at the market as well. It’s not easy for small farmers to have a retail store, Hikmet said, so the Xchange provides that opportunity. Some items that can’t be sourced in South Carolina are brought in from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. But most are locally grown.

The Xchange plans to expand its partnership with other small businesses, and could supply produce to restaurants. Working with the bakery inspired the family to include a coffee station run by Hikmet’s son-in-law, Dylan Pheasant. Pheasant said he is looking for vendors who want to roast and sell their own coffee beans.

“We’re working on some of the small vendors because they’ve got to fight tooth and nail to get their stuff in stores like this,” Pheasant said. “They don’t own a direct-sales kitchen.”

JJ’s is an opportunity to try new bread recipes on a public scale. Pheasant thinks it’s unique to shift from selling produce at farmers’ markets to having a retail business.

“All of this is coming from our love for food, our love for coffee,” Pheasant said. “I mean, we’re all home cooks at heart.”

The family also wants to share food with communities in need.

The city of Columbia wants to increase access to healthy food in food deserts, so the Xchange proposed a food truck with fresh groceries, bread and pastries. The truck would visit impoverished areas three times a week and accept SNAP benefits and EBT perks, Hikmet said.

The farm has the capacity to help, Hikmet said. He has done research with USC’s School of Medicine and the Arnold School of Public Health, studying the connection between food and people’s health. He wants to “not just sell, but to help them understand the value of healthy choices and help physical wellness.”

He anticipates the project will begin in November.

Xchange has locally grown olive oil, pickles, jams and wheat. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)

Dylan Pheasant, son-in-law of the owner, makes a cup of coffee for a returning customer. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)

Farmer’s Market Xchange sits on the corner of Lady and Lincoln streets, at 912 Lady St., on the first floor. Parking is available for customers. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)


Grayson McClendon

Grayson McClendon

McClendon is a senior journalism major with a sports media concentration at the University of South Carolina. During the school year, she interns for Garnet Trust, the NIL collective for student-athletes at USC. She also serves as president of USC’s chapter of Kappa Delta sorority.

Madelyn Weston

Madelyn Weston

Weston is a senior journalism student at the University of South Carolina. She is co-editor-in-chief of the Carolina CrossTalk undergraduate research magazine and previously interned with USC Press. She has covered stories about local businesses, education and entertainment. She enjoys reading, baking and crocheting.