Each day at lunch and dinner, diners crowd the tables along Lincoln Street in the Vista, sheltered by two of the defining structures in Columbia's history - the railroad canopies.
The canopy north of Gervais Street protected passengers filing into the Union Depot, now the Blue Marlin. South of Gervais, the Seaboard Airline Railway canopy covered workers loading freight into the warehouses that line Lincoln Street.
Now the latter, built in the late 19th century, is undergoing a $120,000 makeover, paid for with a portion of a state liquor tax rebate that can be used for historic preservation.
"That's our gateway to the convention center and the Colonial Center, and we really want it to look nice," interim city manager Steve Gantt said.
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In addition to providing a covered walkway through the Vista, the canopies and the warehouses that accompany them along Lincoln Street are the spine of the arts and entertainment district.
They house LongHorn Steakhouse, Bull Market Restaurant & Taverna, The Wild Hare Sports Cafe, Palmettos Restaurant and Liberty Tap Room.
But more importantly, the two canopies are symbolic of the district's railroading past and underscore the Vista's unique character
"We figured it was well worth our while to give it a new life," city construction manager Ken Wells said of the Seaboard canopy.
The canopy on the north side of Gervais Street was renovated in the 1990s when the South Carolina Railroad's Union Depot was turned into the Blue Marlin.
But the canopy on the south side of Gervais has been in disrepair for decades.
Clogged gutters caused water to flow into the electrical system onto nearby businesses. Water could sometimes be seen running down into the light fixtures.
"It makes you wonder when you see a light fixture filling up with water," Gantt said.
The I & E Specialty construction firm of Lexington is replacing the asbestos roof, removing lead paint and installing a new electrical system, guttering and lights. The whole thing is also getting a new white paint job.
Workers have been toiling from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. to avoid the restaurants' operating hours. The work should be completed in about two weeks.
B.J. Bauman, manager of The Wild Hare, said he appreciates the upgrade and anticipates it will enhance his business.
"In the summer and whenever there is an event at the Colonial Center, those tables do really well," he said. "(Repairs) will help our business."