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Columbia Business Monthly

Main and North Main Streets Awaken

Jan 01, 2017 08:32PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Dana W. Todd

Photography ©2016 Brian Dressler /

Good eats, good shopping, and more fun is coming to Main and North Main streets this year. Long neglected, the heart of downtown is experiencing a revitalization that will continue into this year as the few remaining properties available are redeveloped. Development is heating up in the North Main Street corridor as Main Street opportunities become fewer and fewer.

Residents usually do not think of Columbia’s Main Street as one major thoroughfare through the heart of the downtown area. Unlike other cities and towns where Main Street USA is a single recognizable entity, Columbia always has viewed its Main Street in “segments.” South Main is dominated by the University of South Carolina. The heart of Main Street, once a row of tired retail stores and office buildings populated solely 9-5 on weekdays, is now in the midst of a retail revival. And North Main, so far an overlooked area to the north of Elmwood Avenue, seemed to slide into neglect once car dealerships left decades ago.

Kicked off by the opening of Lula Drake Wine Parlour at the end of November, Main Street will get another new restaurant, office space, a small amount of additional residential space, and a bowling alley in the first half of 2017.

Lula Drake, the brainchild of sommelier Tim Gardner (also of video production company Mad Monkey), and his brothers, Stan and Jeff Gardner, opened for business in the renovated historic building at 1635 Main Street.

Formerly home to T.O Thompson Jewelers, a hat shop run by Lula Drake in the early 1900s, and a saloon in the late 1800s, Tim Gardner and partners bring small production “clean,” or organic, wines to the Columbia market in the ambiance of the historical building.

“The long and narrow space has a very European flair to it,” says Tim Gardner. “We have different areas where there is a lot of privacy. It reminds me of time spent blending wines in Spain.”

The brothers named the wine bar after the earlier proprietor whose steamer trunk they found in a trap door hidden under two layers of old flooring. Lula Drake’s personal letters, canceled checks, and a gold leaf calling card inspired them to name the establishment after this trend-setting breadwinner (who lived to age 100 and whose family is still represented in town).

Gardner is most proud of the white concrete bar top, meticulously researched and installed by a San Francisco craftsman. Its design is conducive to experiencing wine tasting and education and is a unique focal point in the space.

“We’re excited to join what is already an incredible community of wine and food establishments here in the city,” he says.

Two other buildings are undergoing renovations in the 1600 block of Main Street and will open to the public later this year.

GSM Properties is renovating the old Army/Navy Store at 1621 Main Street and will open a seven-lane bowling alley in the summer. GSM Partner Greg Middleton says the bowling alley will be fronted by Michael’s Café, which will move across the street from its current location at 1624 Main. The addition of a courtyard on the side and back of the building will add outdoor seating capacity to the inside dining room that can serve up to 225 customers. In addition, seven apartments will open on the second and third floors above the current commercial tenant in the Mark’s building next door. Most apartments already have been leased, according to Middleton.

The developer will take the property back to its period of historical significance, roughly the 1920s, adding new storefronts on the first level and cleaning bricks on the second and third story exteriors. Although the former Army/Navy store looks like a single building, it is actually three buildings built at different times and joined together, previously housing a theater and later horse stables, says Middleton. He expects the uncovered 40-foot ceilings will be a wow factor in the new bowling alley.

On the same block at 1649 Main Street, developer Scott Garvin of Garvin Design Group and his partners are renovating the former Hennessy’s restaurant. The building once housed a grocery store and most recently before the restaurant was the home of Ruff Hardware Company. Garvin is restoring the building to an historically accurate depiction of how it looked during a 1941 façade renovation, including unique features such as high windows over display shelving. In the spring, when it is expected to open, the first level will welcome a new restaurant to Main Street, whose owners may choose to include the basement level and a new outdoor sunken courtyard facing Blanding Street. With the low mezzanine removed, the upper floor will be ready for a commercial tenant. Garvin will replace the open stairway, previously torn out, that leads to the lower level. He plans to reuse historically accurate materials such as the pressed tin ceiling tiles found during renovation.

Just a few blocks away at 1332 Main Street, real estate developer Ron Swinson of Peach Properties is renovating the historic Arcade building, which also has an entrance on Washington Street. Many tenants will remain in the building, but Swinson says some new faces are being added, including Pita Pit and J. Remingtonn on the first level.

“This is a special building but easy to miss,” Swinson says. “New entrances will make it more pronounced.”

Swinson is adding new exterior sconces and cleaning up both entrances, uncovering original coffered boxes. A host of interior renovations are taking place in this historic building built in 1912, reminiscent of an open marketplace in Italy. Renovations will remain true to the arcade’s original Italian Renaissance Revival style and include replacement of lighting fixtures to historically accurate replicas, a redo of storefront entrances inside the arcade to mimic the original double doors with transoms, exposing original concrete tiles, and uncovering indoor stairways.

“Renovations will continue for a few years, but the bulk of them will be done by spring,” Swinson says.

He has discovered some exciting features as demolition and renovation continue. On the second level of the arcade, where commercial tenants lease space, the construction team found 21 skylights that previously were not known to exist. Most of the skylights have working transoms, a necessary feature before HVAC systems were added many years after the building was built.

“Over the years, we will see how we can revive the skylights,” Swinson says. Some of them are already uncovered in Crosland Barnes Group’s offices on the second level.

The basement is a time capsule and storage unit from when it was used as Down Under Columbia in the early 1970s – a group of bars and shops. It also is being renovated for retail use.

“We are still working on how to best utilize the basement,” Swinson says. “I would like to see a wine bar, craft brewery, or restaurant there.

“The Hub has generated additional energy and makes a huge difference by helping to drive Main Street development. Downtown residential development creates demand. There’s an energy change on Main Street.”

As more and more of Main Street is developed, investors have begun looking to the north for more affordable properties. North Main Street is attractive to developers since it is surrounded by well-established neighborhoods within walking distance, such as Cottontown, Elmwood Park, and Earlewood Park. According to the latest report from Colliers International, “the cost of land and existing properties along North Main is low relative to competing properties downtown.” In addition, the report says “the city and state are providing financial help to further incentivize growth in the area through reuse of existing buildings and infill development.”

Kristian Niemi, an established developer in the local restaurant scene, has purchased 2510 North Main Street along with his developer partners. Naming it NoMa Revival, the complex will include a restaurant and bar with a butchering kitchen, an outdoor beer garden, a large concert and special event space with a stage, and a back area that used to be an old loading dock as a new outdoor smokehouse for large parties. Extra space in the kitchen will allow for pickling and preserving food. Without the historic preservation guidelines that developers must follow in renovating Main Street properties, this North Main property is without design restrictions and allows Niemi the freedom to build a multi-use facility that suits the community’s needs.

“The event space will be open to all. We already have requests to use it in the mornings for a yoga class and from a small congregation who wants to use it on Sundays. I want it to be like a community center,” Niemi says. “Next door is a funeral home, and they are excited for reception space.”

Niemi intends the restaurant menu to be “hyper local” in its sourcing of ingredients and sees a rotating menu based on seasons and culinary themes.

“Right now, I’m interested in the Dutch Fork area,” he says, particularly with its agrarian German roots.

On Main and North Main, developers are taking advantage of Bailey Bill incentives which encourage reuse of existing buildings and a City of Columbia program that awards monetary incentives for certain renovation projects. All developers express a common goal with their projects – investment that brings a sense of community to the area.