February 6, 2014

Moe Levy’s iconic sign comes down as Columbia store prepares to close

Moe Levy’s impending closing marks the end of one era. INSIDE-- share your memories of Moe Levy's.

For 64 years, a lighted Moe Levy’s sign marked a brick building on Lady Street, drawing customers’ attention to a landmark downtown business.

As that business prepares to close in about a month, the sign quietly came down this week. It was sitting in a back room Thursday, oddly detached from its longtime spot.

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Moe Levy’s impending closing marks the end of one era and the beginning of another on a block at the epicenter of downtown Columbia’s revitalization.

Last fall, Columbia developer Ben Arnold bought the majority of the block and redevelopment already is under way. For pedestrians wary of crossing a busy and wide Assembly Street, the Lady Street corridor is expected to be a long-sought-after connector between a redeveloping Main Street and the Vista entertainment district.

Already, a CrossFit Vista has moved into a 4,120-square-foot space along Lady Street behind Moe Levy’s. Nearby, Sweat Indoor Cycle Studio, a cycling studio owned by Jamie Scott Fitness, will open this spring. Two years ago, Arnold opened The Palms, a Miami-style apartment building in the former Rodeway Inn, at the corner of Main and Lady streets, and the Cantina 76 restaurant opened late last year in the former Chick-fil-A spot.

Arnold has said he hopes to bring a national retailer or restaurant to the historic Moe Levy’s spot. Moe Levy opened the clothing store at the corner of Assembly and Lady streets in 1920. The iconic sign went up in 1950, when a new building was built and when Levy’s son-in-law, Harold Rittenberg, joined the business. During World War II, Levy opened Reliable pawn shop next door on Assembly Street for his young bride, Florence, to run.

And run it she did.

Florence Levy was a fixture behind the counter at Reliable until she died last March at the age of 106. She outlived her husband, who died in 1974, by nearly four decades.

“That’s sort of why we’re closing this side,” said Harold Rittenberg, 83. “It’s like the end of an era.”

Rittenberg now is selling off the last of the shop’s skiwear. He has ski bibs and accessories marked down 70 percent or more. He said he will move the Levi’s that the store was known for next door to Reliable, where he plans to operate for another three years.

Rittenberg, who runs the store with his wife, Gloria, also moved the big blue, lighted block letters that spell out Moe Levy’s inside Reliable, above a portrait of Florence Levy, so that a small piece of the store will live on for a bit longer.

“It kind of gives me a little pit in the stomach to close the store,” Rittenberg said. “I’ve kind of got a little sentimental about it. But there’s a time for everything, and this is the time.”

As for the sign that graced the Lady Street side of the building for all those decades, Rittenberg has offered it to the S.C. State Museum. The museum said it is reviewing the sign for possible acquisition.

“It’s been up there 64 years,” Rittenberg said.

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