Mast General Store buys Lourie's site, opening store

The Louries -- from left Barry Lourie, Louis Lourie, Mick Lourie, Frank Lourie -- during the family's 75th year in the apparel business.
The Louries -- from left Barry Lourie, Louis Lourie, Mick Lourie, Frank Lourie -- during the family's 75th year in the apparel business.

Mast General Store officials said Wednesday they will open a location at the historic Lourie's building on Columbia's Main Street - the business district's first major retailer in nearly 15 years.

The popular store, which started in the North Carolina mountains and has branched into other cities including Greenville, is a combination cutting-edge outdoor outfitter and old-fashioned country store.

When it opens in a year or two, the store will occupy 15,000 square feet on the first floor and in the basement, Jeff Meadows, store designer for Mast, told The State on Wednesday. Mast plans to put apartments on the second and third floors of the building at Main and Taylor streets.

Matt Kennell, president of the City Center Partnership, which promotes investments in Columbia's central business district, called Mast a "new version of a department store" that should draw locals and visitors.

Rob Thompson, a Columbia photographer and Mast fan, said he likes the old-timey atmosphere of the store and the quality of its merchandise.

"I just think it's a neat store," he said. "Every time we go to Greenville or Asheville, we stop by."

The news is a boon for Main Street, which has struggled in recent years to attract to retail shops.

A retail study completed last year by a Washington, D.C., consulting firm said Main Street and Lady Street were best suited to become downtown Columbia's shopping destination, but little has happened since the report was released.

"We're incredibly excited to have Mast come into Main Street. It will bring energy and enthusiasm," said Amy Stone, Columbia's retail recruiter. She said the store and the large number of customers it attracts also will serve as a catalyst to bring in other businesses.

"Other people will want to be there because they are there," Stone said.

This is the first major retailer to open on Main Street since three department stores closed in the 1990s - Belk, Macy's and Tapp's.

Main Street seemingly has traded retail stores for office towers, three of which have been built there in as many years. The third, the 17-story Main & Gervais tower, is set to open in December or January.

A problem facing the district is the 20-story Palmetto Center, which lost its main tenant, power giant SCANA, when the state's only Fortune 500 company moved to a new corporate campus in Cayce in September.

Still, Mast could be a salvation for Main Street north of Hampton Street, which is home to a number of low-end clothiers, as well as decades-old jewelry stores, and nail and wig shops.

Along with the Nickelodeon arthouse cinema, which is set to open next door to the Lourie's building, Mast should help boost the hip factor of that section of the street.

The Lourie family has had trouble selling their iconic building at 1601 Main St., which went on the market for $2.5 million in December 2007 and failed to draw even a single bid at $799,000 in May. Terms of the building sale to Mast were not announced.

Lourie's was a men's clothier for nearly a century, dressing powerful politicians and high-ranking executives. The shop's closing last year was considered the end of an era.

In a year or two, the location will carry Mast's mix of hiking and outdoor gear to penny candy and handmade toys to clothing and handbags. The stores usually employ 20 to 30 people.

Each Mast store is tailored to its own market, said Stone, the retail recruiter. "They will do things in their Columbia store that they don't have in other stores," she said. "It will have the same feel but be different."

The store does not yet have a timeline for development but will announce an opening date - probably in 2011 or 2012, Meadows said.

Kennell, the center city guru, said he's not surprised the store will take its time to open because the company is methodical in building a successful operation

Mast, based in Valle Crucis, N.C., opened its first store in 1883, and now has eight stores in three states.

"They aren't flashy folks," he said, "but very solid."