For most people, Cola is a carbonated and caramel-colored soda pop to enjoy when you’re thirsty, but for residents of Columbia, Cola means home.
The use of "Cola" has been widespread, but the question of where the term originated is another matter entirely.
According to John Sherrer, the director of preservation at Historic Columbia, one potential origin of the term was an unofficial postal abbreviation used during his childhood. At nine years old, all Sherrer wanted was a Star Wars action figure since the film had just come out, but things were not as simple as he anticipated.
“Everybody was collecting little Star Wars figures. And I sent away for this Star Wars figure that the only way you could get it is if you had proof of purchase of a number of other figures. And the address I used was my home address, and I put 'Cola, S.C.' and then the zip code," Sherrer said. "I got my figure in the mail, months later after it had all these stickers, all these like little handwritten notes, and it said something to the effect of, 'this address does not exist.'”
Sherrer said someone somewhere must have done their due diligence to be able to figure out that "Cola, S.C." was an abbreviation for Columbia. As time passed and language evolved, people began to recognize the city simply as "Cola," said Sherrer. Eventually, the nickname evolved, and "Soda City" was born.
"I think it's cool that the way language evolves. And also memory. This is the kind of little story on people's memory and assumptions," Sherrer said. "But the use of 'Soda City' has been very widespread and popular. There's even the Soda Cap (Connector)."
The abbreviation "Cola" has since grown in popularity, and in turn, so has "Soda City."
Jada Watts, a third-year biological science and psychology student, first heard the term "Soda City" in her Uinversity 101 class but said she has heard the term many times from her peers and around campus.
"Our teacher was telling us about things to do around campus and that’s when I first heard the term 'Soda City,'" Watts said. "She was just telling us it’s a great place to go on the weekends, and it's a great place to take your family."
Many students, like Watts, are familiar with the term "Soda City" due to the Saturday morning farmer's market of the same name. However, for Emile DeFelice, founder of Soda City Market, the term "Soda City" is more than just a name — it is a defining trait of the city.
"(Soda City is) a microcosm of our area. It's like if you can go up to Decker (Street)and get great Asian food, you can go out in West Columbia and get great Latin American food," DeFelice said. "What it means to people is 'Wow, this is a microcosm of the place that we live.'"
Neşet Hikmet is a USC College of Engineering and Computing professor and a Soda City vendor through his farm, Toms Creek Family Farms. He has been bringing produce from his farm to the market for four years now because he said it allows him to be a part of the event's “integrated environment.”
"You have the young ones, the middle age and the elderly," Hikmet said. "It's a mixed community and all walks of life, so it's fun. Usually, everybody's nice to each other. They take their dogs for a walk, kids for a ride, so it's a fun, more community than a farmers market."
DeFelice said the about 150 vendors that occupy Main Street every Saturday morning embody Soda City's culture.
"Once we stumbled upon (Soda City), I was like ... 'that's good,' so that’s what we went with, and I wanted it to be so other types of businesses could use it and certainly you have Soda City Comic Con now," DeFelice said. "Showing the name itself, just absolutely took off.”
For DeFelice, the market is just another way for people to form a connection with their community. Sherrer said that because of the market's continued success and the revitalization of Main Street, it has kept the term popular among locals.
"When you get to Columbia, regardless of how you're referring to it" Sherrer said. "It means something to you because of the experiences you've had with it."