Husband and wife team Doug Aylard and Karen Oliver took a chance two years ago on opening Vino Garage in a refurbished transmission shop on North Main Street.
In January, the duo will open a wine bar in the wine-and-beer retail shop, and begin serving light lunches and dinners as they try to establish themselves as a neighborhood gathering spot in an area they think is poised for a development boom.
“I think (the North Main area) is going to be actually the next Vista,” Aylard said. With thousands of residents within walking distance in the Cottontown, Elmwood and Earlewood neighborhoods, and construction poised to begin at the new Bull Street development, “It’s ripe,” he said.
Already, interest in the area is increasing, said Matt Kennell, president and chief executive of the City Center Partnership, which guides growth in the downtown area abutting North Main Street.
“There are more people looking at that area,” he said.
North Main has several benefits the other side of Main Street can’t offer, including some large parcels of land that could be assembled for new construction, as well as surface parking opportunities.
Also, “they’ve got some strong neighborhoods close in, the rooftops that retailers look for,” Kennell said.
Ultimately, what is good for one downtown area will be good for them all, he said. “It’s just exciting to see all of this coming together.”
Bob Hughes, developer of the 165-acre Bull Street redevelopment project, said last month that 41 stores and restaurants have signed letters of intent to locate on the former S.C. State Hospital site. Groundbreaking at the site for some of those retail projects and a new minor league baseball stadium is expected to take place before Christmas, he said.
That development – the largest and most significant land deal in modern Columbia history – is half a mile from Aylard’s Vino Garage and from a redeveloping Main Street corridor. And Main Street is just across Assembly Street from a thriving Vista entertainment district.
“It’s not just one district (here and there) anymore,” Kennell said. “I see a lot of opportunities for connections,” which will make each district stronger.
“My crystal ball is (connectivity) what’s going to make or break us in the future,” he said.
That means making it easier for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to move easily between the areas through improved transit, and added bike lanes and sidewalks.
“Unless you can easily get back and forth, I don’t think any of them are going to be as successful as they can be,” Kennell said.
Meanwhile, Aylard is hoping his store will be a pioneer in the anticipated development of North Main Street.
“I live in Cottontown, and this is a thoroughly under-served area of town,” he said.
That’s one reason he opened Vino Garage.
“We like to carry things that you can’t find in grocery stores or the big box stores,” he said, such as a “wonderful” unfiltered Spanish tempranillo from La Manca for $15 a bottle, a number of Portuguese reds and whites for $8-$9, and a “really tasty” red Bordeaux blend from South Africa for $12.99.
“People like to come in here and tell me what they’re having for dinner, and I give them something that I know will go with the food,” he said.
The store also carries a variety of beers, including those from local craft breweries. And it hosts tastings on the first and third Saturdays of each month, except in January.
Aylard’s plans for January include opening the wine bar, as well as serving items including cheese and assorted meat plates.
“It’s just going to be a nice place for the neighborhood to call our own,” he said.