When Guy Jones first set out to open an outdoors store in the early 1980s, Columbia’s three rivers were barely on anyone’s radar – anyone outside of paddling enthusiasts, that is.
Then a graduate of the University of South Carolina’s MBA program, Jones says he looked around town and noticed there was no one selling canoes.
“So I thought, ‘What the heck. Let’s give this a try,’” he said.
So Jones in 1983 opened the River Runner in West Columbia at the corner of State and Meeting streets, moving in 1992 to Gervais Street in the Vista, where the colorful canoes are a friendly street-side sight.
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Thirty years after he started out, Jones’ business is thriving. And one of Columbia’s best known secrets is starting to get out.
“The river’s star has been rising,” he said. “In a lot of ways, that’s certainly been a benefit to our business.”
And with the opening of the first phase of the Vista Greenway – a bike and pedestrian path from Lady Street to Finlay Park – and further efforts to develop the riverfront, Jones believes there will be an even greater interest. Residents and visitors alike will be enjoying the area’s natural amenities, he said.
“The idea of being able to actually walk or get on your bike or get on your longboard and go somewhere in the Vista is very appealing,” he said.
What also would make the Vista more appealing would be more retail, Jones said.
Jones, a member of the Congaree Vista Guild business organization, said the area has “some great options” already with restaurants and bars.
“But we don’t want to be just restaurants and bars,” he said. A mix of national and local retailers would be ideal.
“What we want to provide is an opportunity for people to come to the convention center to walk around and enjoy going into the shops,” he said.
But by the same token, Jones says, it’s important to protect those things that make the Vista special – such as the area’s many historic properties.
“That’s part of the charm. This area is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s registered as an historic warehouse district.”