Harbison Boulevard started out three decades ago with a Walmart shopping center and not much else.
“Irmo had nothing, and (developers) saw an opportunity,” said Hance Jones, a partner with Carolinas Retail Partners who grew up in Irmo and remembers riding his bike down Harbison Boulevard to the new Walmart in the late 1980s.
Since then, the bustling street has become “ground zero” for retailers looking to enter the Midlands’ market, said Rox Pollard, a vice president and director of the retail services group for the Colliers International commercial real estate firm in Columbia.
“There’s a number of retailers that would love to come to Columbia, but they’re not coming unless they can be (fronting) the road on Harbison,” Pollard said.
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The shopping area has the Midlands’ most vibrant mall, the nearly 25-year-old Columbiana Centre. And, on any given weekend, shoppers flood Harbison’s stores. Wait times at many restaurants can build up to two hours on a Friday or Saturday night. The area also has the Midlands only Nordstrom Rack, DSW and Coach stores.
The thriving corridor has benefited from suburban growth, an affluent population that lives around Lake Murray and its location, on Interstate 26 near downtown Columbia. “It’s just easy to get to from Chapin and even from Lexington. ... I live downtown (in Columbia), and I can be at Harbison in eight minutes,” Jones said.
The challenge for Harbison now is that it’s built out with little room to expand. “There really is no more developable land,” Pollard said.
So retailers wait patiently for their opportunity to enter the market when another retailer leaves. If they have the right product, they know shoppers will drive to get to it.
“If you live in Camden, you will come to Nordstrom Rack,” Pollard said, referring to the discount clothier that opened on Harbison when a bookstore closed.