Chesnee Communications first landed on our radar when we heard about its Community Page, a Website where folks can find out about what’s going on in the former mill town of Chesnee, SC, population 900. There are listings of school events, including sports, links to activities, classified ads, weather, Chesnee’s channel lineup and pictures of town events, among other things. Yet when we dug a little deeper, we found that the site is just one of many ways family-owned Chesnee serves its community.
Spend time in Chesnee’s lobby—its office is smack in the middle of Main Street, you can’t miss it—and you’ll see another way customers are connected. ACA VP/COO Rob Shema did. “I was there for an hour,” he says. “About 50 people came in. Some paid their bill, others came to chat. The woman behind the desk knew every person’s name. It was great,” he says.
Wait—there’s a place in America where customers pay their bill in person? “That’s how it’s done in small-town America,” Chesnee Cable TV Manager Paige Venczel says with pride. It’s a town only 3 blocks long and there’s no hotel. “We’re so small we don’t even have a bar in town,” she says.
An engaging lady who likes to laugh, Venczel is a lifer; she’s been in the family business since she was a schoolgirl. Her maternal grandparents founded the company 81 years ago as an independent telephone provider. She and her parents are among its 26 employees. Cable TV was added in 1996. That’s when Venczel’s mother asked her to run the cable business. “My mother said she knew nothing about cable, so I begged people for information and here we are 17 years later, still learning.”
But let’s get back to bill paying. “Our lobby on the first of the month is like a meet and greet,” Venczel says with glee. “People come in every month… they pay their bill and stand and talk… it’s neat, they become our friends. Look, half the people [who come in] you go to church with so you gotta talk about Sunday sermon or who fell asleep during it.” And when people know they will be late with their payment? “They’ll come up to me at the grocery store and tell me.” For the record, Chesnee offers online bill paying.
Then there is the connection to the community through doing good. “I could spend all day telling you about things we do in this town,” Venczel says. Beyond sponsoring “anything that goes on in the schools,” she’s especially proud of The Santa House, where kids can come before Christmas and get their picture taken with Santa. “People told us we could never offer this for free, but we’ve never taken a penny.” Then there’s the pre-K Head Start School that Chesnee Communications adopted. “We do something for these kids every month.” At Christmas, “it’s very sad because our kids at the school need socks and underwear. So we bought for 56 kids socks and underwear and a toy,” she tells us. And don’t forget the summer motorcycle festival…
While Chesnee is a small town, there’s nothing minimal about Chesnee Communications’ community efforts. For its local channel, “we have a man who takes a video camera with him everywhere he goes around town… you name it, we tape it,” Venczel says, “from the Christmas parade to every high school football game, basketball game and baseball game.” This past season the camera even left town, following the high school baseball team as it became the 2-A State Champion. When the team arrived in Chesnee at 2am, trophy in hand, the camera was there. “It had nothing to do with the fact that my son is on the team,” Venczel laughs. Seriously, though, it’s these local connections that keep Chesnee subscribers loyal. – Seth Arenstein