At 11 a.m. on Main Street, there was a salesman standing behind a glass display case full of gleaming diamonds, a construction crew preparing to kick up dust in a vacant building and a group of florists arranging flowers that probably made someones day.
Down at the museum, a standing-room-only crowd was just breaking up after an art-history lecture you just dont miss a Brad Collins lecture, one of the participants explained and there was an uplifting sense of excitement and camaraderie just inside the door.
Today, a new exhibition opens.
The response from the 950 people who made up Thursday nights sold-out preview to the number of people inquiring about memberships leads the folks at the Columbia Museum of Art to think a lot of people are going to want to see Impressionism from Monet to Matisse.
The artists are familiar, their subjects joyful.
Nancy Brock, a docent, is looking forward to being part of it all.
Brock has always been fond of Impressionism even though, she said, some people find it overly sentimental.
Degas was an old friend, she said, bundled in her coat, prepared for January. My mother hung his ballerinas in my bedroom as a child. Every little girl stumbling through ballet school probably had them on the wall.
Outside, a workman on the plaza dismantled the ice-skating rink that brought a new pastime to downtown Columbia this Christmas. The ice was slushy along the edge, a remnant of holidays and glitter.
Main Street seems to be coming into its own, with new businesses and big events drawing people and dollars.
People are thrilled that Main Street attracted the headquarters of Agape Senior, which is renovating three side-by-side buildings for hundreds of office workers and patients by late summer.
Historic storefronts are emerging from behind dated veneer.
At Something Special, shiny red hearts dangled from the ceiling of the flower shop. A pair of fairies paused on the mantle. Over the register, a quote attributed to Claude Monet is painted on the wall: I must have flowers ... always, always ....
Michael Higginbotham said he cant quite identify the aroma that lingers in the showroom.
Everybody says that: It smells so good in here, he said.
Across the street, a mother and daughter huddle in natural light from a floor-to-ceiling picture window. They are planning a wedding together at Wedding 101.
The door is at street level, but the shop is up a long, carpeted stairway.
I love it when people wander up, and they look up and say, Its beautiful, owner Connie Hancock said.
Here, love songs play all day long.
Sometimes Hancock hosts wine tastings.
Right now, she has a collection of wedding-dress samples for sale in satin, taffeta and organza with beadwork and trains.
In the past year, some of her clients have discovered the art museum as a beautiful venue for a wedding reception.
Its a fabulous, fabulous place to have an event, Hancock said. Its urban. Its chic. It kind of gives you that big city feel.
She grew up in the suburbs of Northeast Richland and is a big fan of downtown who wants to see it come back.
I want to see more beautiful businesses down here, she said. Greenville has done it. I think we can, too.
At Kings Jewelers, Jeffrey Picow, also born and raised here, said the museum has done its part to improve Columbias quality of life.
Its bringing people downtown, he said. Its a nice crowd. Polished.
Joelle Ryan-Cook, the museums deputy director, said more people are interested in learning about art.
A decade ago, 15 or 20 people may have showed up for a lecture at the museum, she said.
Now, 150 people come.
Impressionism from Monet to Matisse will be up at the museum through the gray months of winter.
Ryan-Cook expects it to be a crowd-pleaser.
The Impressionists looked at activities of everyday life, of everyday people. People are able to relate to that, she said.
They can be comfortable looking at those images full of joy and light and color.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.