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Remembering Columbia’s history, embracing Main Street’s future

Within the past 15 years, Main Street in Columbia has seen a revitalization bringing a liveliness back to the historic district.

A State of Main Street address coincided with First Thursdays on Main last Thursday at Michael’s Café & Catering celebrating the boom that brought Main Street back to life.


John Sherrer (photo by Natalie Szrajer)

Historic Columbia and the City of Columbia representatives applauded business owners, architects, city leadership and banks for coming together during Columbus Month which Columbia derived its name from. “Columbia was the first planned city in the United States after the colonies in 1786,” said John Sherrer, Director of Cultural Resources for Historic Columbia.

Sherrer recounted the history of Columbia explaining the shift from a booming economy in the late 18th and 19th centuries to a slump and back up again within the past 15 years.

“When you get to the 1970s and 1980s in part, you have the success of shopping malls that sap the vitality of Main Street. It (Main Street) hit a slump through the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Within the last 15 years, there’s been an upswing,” said Sherrer.

“Historic preservation minded businesses and individuals committed to preserving the past while embracing the future have left us inspired and formed and positioned for further success,” Sherrer said, pointing to Mast General Store, Agape Senior, Capital Places, Lula Drake and Mad Monkey as businesses who had a vision for recognizing the past and helping to shape Columbia’s historic commercial district.

Sherrer is thankful for the city’s leadership and employees, property and business owners, construction companies, architects and on a humorous but serious note, the banks. All of these partners and collaborators have “embarked on a journey making Columbia’s Main Street a noteworthy destination,” Sherrer added.

Amy Moore (photo by Natalie Szrajer)

Amy Moore (photo by Natalie Szrajer)

Before Main Street was renewed, the City of Columbia Planning and Preservation’s Amy Moore commented on how empty Main Street was when she first came to town. Moore credits the business or property owners who took advantage of Columbia’s Bailey Bill, a tax abatement program passed by state legislature in 1992.

“The Bailey Bill is a 20 year tax abatement of city and county taxes investing a certain amount of money into historic buildings and you get the 20 year abatement,” explains Moore. “We had over 30 buildings take advantage of Bailey Bill on Main Street alone helping with revitalization here.”

Historic buildings have seen new life again thanks in part to the City Center Partnership established 15 years ago, explained Matt Kennell, director of the City Center Partnership. Kennell jokes that business used to be so slow, free beer was used to lure people.

“With hurricane winds swirling above us, you’ll see hundreds maybe thousands enjoy First Thursdays. Every Saturday on the historic Main Street district, the Soda City Market is here and expanding to a third block next year where literally 2-3,000 people come to experience something real, something honest,” said Kennell.

“Thanks to the pioneers who continue to invest, I see nothing but good things for Main Street’s district,” Kennell concluded.

img_3276For more information about the Bailey Bill, visit: columbiasc.net/planning-preservation/historic-incentives.

Learn more about Columbia’s history through Sherrer’s just released book, Remembering Columbia, available for purchase at Historic Columbia’s museum shop.

Featured image: The art gallery at Michael’s Cafe on Main St., showcasing work of local artists (photo by Natalie Szrajer).

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