The Midlands’ retail renaissance has been driven by a rebounding economy and the area’s location, which allows it to take advantage of growth in other parts of the state.
The retail market is “busting at the seams,” said Hance Jones, a partner with Columbia’s Carolina Retail Partners. “All of the developers are busy.”
Lenders have loosened up a bit and retailers are more active than they have been in the past few years, Jones said. “It’s kind of primed the pump for lots of showings.”
After a devastating recession that saw many retailers fold and others put expansion plans on hold, growth slowly started to come back. Nationwide and in Columbia, retailers filled in many of the empty buildings that littered the landscape.
“All of those good ones are gone,” Jones said, and retailers are looking to build new stores in growing areas. “We have a little more confidence in the future of the economy.”
Here’s how the Midlands market is morphing:
Attracting higher-end stores. Midlands shoppers traditionally have had to travel or go online to browse the merchandise at some of the more desirable national or regional retailers. But as the economy continues to rebound and chains go back into growth mode, some of those popular stores are landing in Columbia. This year, J.Crew and Scout & Molly’s opened in Forest Acres’ Trenholm Plaza, Monkee’s set up shop on Devine Street and Nordstrom Rack was greeted by hundreds of shoppers at a grand opening on Harbison Boulevard. The trend promises to continue with Anthropologie opening up shop this month at Trenholm Plaza.
Discount stores galore. Shoppers’ habits changed during the brutal recession, which saw many lose their jobs or take pay cuts. Penny-pinching habits that consumers developed have stuck for many even as the economic picture is improving for some. As a result, the area continues to attract retailers that offer bargain prices, such as DSW shoe store and HomeGoods on Harbison, Rose’s on St. Andrews Road, Ollie’s on Garners Ferry Road and Entourage in the Vista, which sells all items for $42 or less.
A jump in consignment shops. Consumers also have carried over their new thriftiness to thrift stores. In the past few years, Once Upon a Child has doubled the size of its Harbison location and opened a new shop in Northeast Richland. Plato’s Closet just opened its second store in the market in Northeast Richland. And Clothes Mentor opened on Harbison. Debbie McDaniel, who has run a consignment shop for years in Five Points, opened Revente’s Second Chances on Millwood Avenue. And Goodwill has been expanding and opening new locations throughout the Midlands.
A changing grocery scene. When Whole Foods opened in the new Cross Hill Market on Fort Jackson Boulevard, the grocery scene in the Midlands already was in the midst of change due to recession-spawned mergers and closures. The grocery store with a cult following forced other grocers, including Earth Fare and The Fresh Market, to step up their game with store remodelings and new product offerings. Trader Joe’s brought its first store to the Midlands the following year. And, earlier this year, the area attracted a new IGA format, KJ’s Market, on St. Andrews Road.
A bouquet of boutiques. Boutique shops are blooming, especially in the downtown area – from Main Street to the Vista to Devine Street and throughout the Golden Triangle that stretches from Trenholm Plaza to Cross Hill Market. Shoppers can browse bridal boutiques on Devine Street, including London Lace and Sash Bridesmaid Boutique; women’s clothing shops, such as Cross Hill’s M Boutique; and even a specialty shop for men’s casual clothing, Circa 1332 on Main Street.