2017-07-14 / Front Page

Revitalizing 1600 block of Main Street

The 1600 block of Main Street is the place to be. There’s a hustle/bustle that says, “ We’re back,” including new retail businesses, residences, and restaurants that are attracting a new group of young, energetic people.

“It’s exciting to see the next generation become energized by what’s going on downtown,” said Martha Fowler, whose family has owned 1631 to 1637 on Main Street, storefronts that have seen a resurgence in the form of new businesses.

Fowler said her mother bought the block of buildings as an income-producer when she and her children moved back to Columbia from Little Rock, Arkansas, after the sudden death of her husband.

“It was really just to sustain us while we were growing up,” she said. “When my mother passed, my siblings wanted to liquidate, but I didn’t want to do that. Somehow I knew that Main Street would come back.”

1600 block of Main Street 1600 block of Main Street It was a vision that was a long time coming. Up to just a few years ago, that portion of Main Street didn’t have the vibrant businesses it has now. The addition of Mast General Store in 2011, Michael’s Good Life Café, the relocation of the Nickelodeon Theatre, and several other popular eateries have made the block humming and vibrant both day and night. The addition of a bowling alley in the space formerly occupied by the Army & Navy Store will provide some additional nightlife to the street as well.

Fowler said the resurgence of the block can be traced back to the formation of the City Center Partnership, an entity that was founded in 2001. Fowler jokingly said she was “the token woman” on the original board, adding she appreciated the leadership that brought new ideas and new companies to the block.

According to its website, the CCP “provides public space management, economic development, place management, marketing services, and public advocacy for the Main Street District… and focus(es) on filling vacancies in commercial properties, retaining existing downtown businesses and recruiting new ones, expanding the downtown residential base, and creating a safe, clean, and friendly downtown environment.”

“I think a lot of things have happened to make Main Street successful,” Fowler said. “Forming the partnership was huge, having the Mast come here was amazing, and there’s more to come with new residences that will change the face of downtown.”

Fowler’s properties in particular, offer a nice mix of retail and business, including Pilates by Victoria; Mad Monkey, a video production boutique with an in-house web development team; and Lula Drake, a wine bar, which was the dream of Mad Monkey’s part owner Tim Gardner.

Fowler said the revitalization of Main Street can be compared to what she experienced while renovating her block of buildings—peeling back the old to find treasures below.

“I’ll never forget climbing an 18-foot ladder to see what was underneath the plywood on the top floor, and there were these beautiful windows,” she said.

Fowler said she still has plans for Main Street but can’t elaborate at the moment; however, she said she is not going to rest on the work she and many others have done so far.

“I’m always going to be looking for ways to improve Main Street,” she said. “This sort of fell into my lap, but I love it, and I love all the work these people have done.”

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