September 5, 2007
Jeff Wilkerson had an interesting front page article in The State today about how more shopping might be in store for downtown. Columbia has its pretty parts, it also has its fair share of what I call euphemistically gaps.
I walked up Main Street the other day starting from the Capitol. Second or third on your right, a boarded up ground floor sticks out like a sore thumb. Continue further up the street and you come to a few new buildings (office and residential), nice trees and some streetscaping. But the further you go, the more it starts to fall apart. They mention the awful facades on some of these buildings in the article.
I have often wondered why we can’t entice national retailers to locate on Main Street and that seems to be exactly the goal of a new initiative by the City of Columbia. I have always felt that there should be a Field of Dreams mentality to Main Street – build it and they will come, or in this case, get some retailers like the Gap and Banana Republic to locate on Main Street and the consumers will come. We are beginning to see the signs of trendy, corporate spots popping up on Gervais where Starbuck always seems to have steady business. Some people are leery of going the route of corporate chain stores, but as they describe in the article, they are the motherlode.
People don’t think of Columbia as historic and as is rightly pointed out in the article, Columbia will simply never have the density of charm that does Charleston. But what we must have is the density of charm on Main Street. It’s our showcase. Achieving a consistent shopping experience similar to King Street in Charleston is entirely possible.
I applaud the efforts by Columbia City Council to boost retail downtown. $200,000 is a reasonable amount to attract retail to Main Street. Council must not fall into the trap of analysis paralysis over this issue, however. We already know what kind of stores we need to go after, let’s find someone who can get on the phone and sell. With due respect to other areas of the city, let’s focus on Main Street and get this done correctly.
We visited a couple of friends this past summer who asked why we are still living in Columbia. Short of being insulted and firing right back, why are you living in this rat race of a city with over inflated housing prices and ridiculously small homes, we kept quiet.
But that is a great question to answer for all of us who live here and who want to make this an even better place to live. How do we want to market and brand our city?
(Most of the nation knows little about Columbia, South Carolina because it gets confused with all the other Columbias and Columbus, Ohios. I just read a short history of our capital city and apparently the vote for naming the city was fairly contentious. Is anybody up for a renaming the city campaign? Hugerville? Thurmondgrad? Now that would get people’s attention. Hey if the Costanzas can rename Christmas, Festivus…)
I could name dozens of things I like about Columbia. We just spent two days boating, waterskiing and camping in a state park that is 30 minutes from our house, door to campsite. How many cities can make that claim?
If Columbia were a stock I would buy it. It has been a steady, if not spectacular performer for the past several decades. It has a low PE ratio; its outlook for future earnings improvement is great. We have a downtown university that has the potential to spin off numerous major players on the global scene. It has determined leaders – the management team is in place. And as Frank Lourie said in the article, it may take a little more time, but in five years it will be a totally different environment than you see here today.