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Columbia Business Monthly


Aug 02, 2018 01:12PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Matt Kennell

These days it’s easy to become isolated from your greater surroundings.

One doesn’t necessarily need to leave their section of town for food and entertainment. But really knowing and learning another culture (even a culture that may be familiar) requires you to visit the place and meet the people.

Columbia’s Main Street District offers visitors a window through which one can experience something new. What better place is there to showcase a different culture, or celebrate the bounty of local farms or art and music crafted by local hands, than in the heart of the city?

The Main Street District continues to be a magnet for the celebration of life and culture. One of the oldest festivals has transplanted from a distant land to establish its roots in Columbia.

About 75 years ago, Greek families who had immigrated to Columbia began looking for a permanent place to worship. They pooled their money and bought a building at the corner of Sumter and Franklin streets in the neighborhood now known as Cottontown.

As Columbia’s Greek community grew, they needed more space. The downtown Sumter Street corridor had become familiar to them, so they found a site at the corner of Sumter and Calhoun streets to build a new church: The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

Having established a permanent spot among downtown Columbia’s businesses and other entities, the Greek community felt the need to celebrate their heritage and share it with the greater community. Thus, Columbia’s Greek Festival was born. Now in its 33rd year, the festival has become a fall tradition in the Main Street District.

The success of the festival is attributable to two aspects. First is the natural appeal of traditional Greek food and culture. Second is the structure and detail of the organization that prepares and manages the festival.

Festival co-founder and co-chairperson, Mary Rickman, also founded Columbia-based AMCOL Systems.

Early in the festival’s history, she drew on her business acumen, initiating a committee, chair, and management structure to the festival. Now, every aspect of the festival is overseen by a committee and chairperson. There’s even a committee for dolmades—the stuffed grape leaf delicacy—of which they plan to make 10,000 this year.

As anyone who has attended knows, food is a major part of the festival. But there are plenty of other aspects, including vendors of art, jewelry, clothing, and groceries, as well as entertainers, including dancers, musicians, and actors.

Back by popular demand this year will be the reenactment of the Greco Persian War of the 5th century B.C.E.

Rickman is excited about the popularity of this special event. She closes down the 1900 block of Main Street in front of the cathedral, and lets the battle ensue with gleaming bronze armor, bright capes, spears, and shields.

Last year, the festival brought an estimated 160,000 people over a four-day period to the heart of the Main Street District. Rickman is proud that the festival generates enough money for the church to make a sizable donation to charity.

From September 20-23, the entire block between Main and Sumter Streets beginning at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral is transformed into a mini version of Greece—with white tents (reminiscent of the iconic white stucco buildings seen in Greece), festive music and lights, and throngs of people exposed to Greek culture.

Next, you can go from Greece to Central America without even using your passport.

Columbia’s Main Street Latin Festival began in 2003 as a way to showcase the best of the Midlands’ diverse Latino community and to facilitate networking, communication, and friendships among the community. Oh yeah, and having a great time celebrating everything wonderful about Hispanic heritage, including food and music.

In 2004, Columbia’s Main Street was undergoing a transformation that became the streetscape that we enjoy today. But it contributed to the suspension of the Main Street Latin Festival. In 2006, Genaro Padilla spoke to the city about reviving the festival. He had created G. G. Productions as a nonprofit to run the business end of the festival. That year, he estimates that there were about 1,400 attendees.

Over the years, Padilla has been determined to maintain the festival’s free admission, ensuring a chance for anyone and everyone to attend. He notes that families from as far away as Orlando, Fla. use the annual festival as a family reunion. Ex-military personnel also reunite at the festival. Families and friends gather at the main music stage and stake out their spaces so they can enjoy the acts together.
From 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on August 25, Padilla estimates 18,000-20,000 attendees will visit the Main Street District to enjoy the live music, food, and fellowship that is the Main Street Latin Festival.

Since you’re still on Main Street, it’s not a long jump from Latin American music back into Columbia’s independent music scene.   

Since 2012, the Jam Room Music Festival has worked to position Columbia as a cultural destination by hosting a music festival with high-quality talent in a family-friendly setting. The one-day festival focuses on independent, cutting-edge, and critically acclaimed musical acts. A few noteworthy bands that have played in the past include Guided by Voices, Son Volt, Blonde Redhead, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Superchunk.

By positioning Columbia as a cultural destination and connecting local musicians to the regional music scene, the festival strives to attract the young, creative set vital to Columbia’s cultural and economic development.

The Jam Room Music Festival has recently drawn more than 12,000 people. This year’s festival is set for September 29 in the heart of the Main Street District at the crossroads of Hampton and Main streets. Admission is free, so you can relax and take in live music on the festival’s two stages.

This year, Soda City will partner with the Jam Room to provide food and other family-oriented activities during the festival. Every Saturday morning, Soda City transforms three blocks of Main Street into a bazaar of farm vegetables, artisan meats and cheeses, local crafts, and freshly cooked food. It’s a street market rivaling any in the Southeast.

This year, Soda City founder Emile DeFelice plans an evening Oktoberfest on September 22 from 4-10 p.m. The event will feature German food and beverages as well as other German-inspired items.

Do you want to explore different cultures, but lack the time to travel? Have fun at a festival in Columbia’s Main Street District, or experience home at Soda City on a Saturday morning. You’ll be surprised at what you find.