Mast to begin work on Columbia store

Mast General Store in Waynesville, N.C., showing the fashion department and the mezzanine, where the outdoor department is located.
Mast General Store in Waynesville, N.C., showing the fashion department and the mezzanine, where the outdoor department is located.

Mast General Store announced Monday its highly anticipated store on Main Street in downtown Columbia will open in summer 2011.

Downtown retail experts said the move already has started drawing interest from restaurants and smaller retailers looking to make a move.

Mast, which has helped foster growth in the towns where it has located, chose Columbia because it had a strong revitalization plan for Main Street and a thriving interest in outdoor activities, store officials said.

"There's a lot of energy" in Columbia, Mast vice president Fred Martin said. "I'm very confident that this is going to be a great experience for Mast."

The retailer has eight stores in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, including one in Greenville that opened in 2003.

"Along Main Street right now, this is the opportunity time," said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp.

"This is the time when people should be looking at that area to bring in new hospitality and retail," he said. "Mast is going to be that first biggie."

Construction will start next month on the revitalization of the historic, former Lourie's store building at Main and Taylor streets, Martin said.

He would not say how much the renovation project will cost, but the store has been approved for $2 million in federal loans.

Condos or apartments on the store's top two floors likely will come later and be handled by another developer, Martin said.

The store, based in Valle Crucis, N.C., is known for its cutting-edge outdoor gear and old-fashioned candy, toys and housewares. Mast started looking at Columbia less than a year ago, when retail recruiter Amy Stone contacted the owners.

"They will be a destination," drawing shoppers downtown, she said. "They'll put a lot of feet on the sidewalk."

Stone said the number of retailers looking at Main Street has picked up since Mast bought the Lourie's Building in November.

Delk said he had a meeting with a Charleston restaurant owner Monday who had not considered Main Street as an option until he mentioned Mast would be locating there.

Mast has been a catalyst for growth in other areas where it has located, Martin said. He compared Columbia's Main Street with Greenville's now thriving downtown area as it was starting to revitalize.

"Greenville just was on fire," he said. "We see that happening on your Main Street. Things are happening pretty quickly even since we began looking into it."

In the past year, an 18-story office tower opened at Main and Gervais streets.

The area also has seen a small influx of new restaurants and professional offices.

A developer has announced plans to convert a hotel at Main and Lady streets into apartments. The Nickelodeon art house cinema is continuing with plans to move to the former Fox Theater, adjacent to Mast.

One major setback, however, was the loss of 900 jobs when SCANA moved its corporate headquarters to a new campus in Cayce.

Martin said his company is approached frequently by struggling retail corridors that want Mast to locate there. But he said store owners liked the growth they were seeing on Main Street and the cohesiveness of the groups working to revitalize the corridor.

Other advantages were the outdoor lifestyle, spurred by the area's three rivers, the Riverbanks Zoo and USC, he said.

"We have to see the potential, and we have to see the plan," he said. "It can't just be a wish."