The Garners Ferry Road corridor just southeast of Columbia is in the midst of an identity crisis as it waffles between new development and streetside sock vendors.
The area stands poised for a boom as the economy starts to recover. New strip centers are going up, a new restaurant opens this week and retailers are once again beginning to eyeball the empty spots.
The area was getting a lot of interest from fast-food restaurants, clothing retailers and even a couple of big box stores before the recession started a couple of years ago, said Hance Jones, a broker with CB Richard Ellis who is marketing retail space in the corridor.
The Garners Ferry corridor has a lower population and income level than other major shopping areas, including Harbison Boulevard and Clemson Road at the Village at Sandhill, according to industry statistics. But its traffic volume, which rivals both of those areas, made it a natural as the next boom area, Jones said.
Interest came from local stores and regional retailers that are in the Midlands but don't have a presence in southeast Columbia, he said.
But interest slowed sharply as the economy tanked and funding for commercial projects dried up.
Now that the economy is again showing some signs of life, brokers are optimistic that some retailers could return to the corridor.
"It's nowhere back to the interest level that it was, but it's definitely busier," Jones said. "Things are taking longer to actually get done."
Alan Moyd, a broker with Grubb & Ellis Wilson Kibler, said interest has started picking up just in the past few months.
"This quarter has been better than the previous eight quarters," he said.
He has an insurance agency and a hair salon looking at spots in Grace Hill Plaza, a small center that opened about three years ago at Universal Drive.
Raw land, however, is still on the back burner, he said.
"We just need to get the banks to lend more," he said. "That's the only thing stopping us from coming out of this recession."
Several stores have opened along the corridor in the past year, including a Southeastern Salvage Home Emporium that in November took over the empty space of the old Walmart and a Walgreens near Hazelwood Road. Kimbrell's Furniture also expanded in the same shopping center with a new building that doubled its size.
Here's what is to come:
- Hibachi Grill P&G Buffet opens Saturday at 7550 Garners Ferry Road near Walmart. The restaurant will serve Chinese, Japanese and American cuisine, buffet-style with more than 150 items. Lunch and dinner buffets range from $6.99 to $9.99.
- A 20,000-square-foot gym called Planet Fitness is under construction in the Southeastern Salvage shopping center. It should open this summer.
- A new Little Caesars pizza restaurant recently opened in the Bi-Lo shopping center.
- A Bojangles' is under construction between the Bi-Lo and Walmart shopping centers. The fast- food chicken and biscuit restaurants will open next month.
- Garners Ferry Plaza, behind Rush's, is getting a long overdue facelift. Jones said he hopes the renovations will help attract new tenants to the half-full center. He said he is in negotiations with some discount retailers to fill up to 15,000 square feet of the vacant space there.
- A Microtel Inn & Suites is under construction next to Lowe's. The 63-room hotel is set to open in July.
- There's a new lunch buffet in the Bluff Road near Williams-Brice Stadium. The Loose Cockaboose Sports Bar and Grill, 936 S. Stadium Road (just behind Carolina Walk condominiums) is serving lunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. each weekday. The all-you-can-eat buffet costs $8.25 (drink included) and features chicken bog, mac and cheese, fried chicken, broccoli casserole and more. Sandwiches also are served for $5.75.
- The beloved Biscuit House on Bluff Road was closed this week - but only for vacation. It will open up again Monday morning and should stay open until July, when it closes permanently.
- Quiznos at 1602 Airport Blvd. in West Columbia will close its doors April 30 because of the down economy, franchisee Charlie McBride said. The store, which has been there since June 2006, will keep serving its two items for $5 meal deals until they run out, McBride said.
- Delhi Palace Indian restaurant has moved to 542 Saint Andrews Road. The restaurant, previously on Briargate Circle near Broad River Road at I-20, continues to serve the same menu, including a buffet.