New brewery will help make community a Columbia hot spot

“The Wood,” as neighbors call it, stands alone.

As the new Hunter-Gatherer brewery takes shape on the outskirts of downtown, Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood stands poised to boost its place-to-be profile.

Tucked behind a maze of modest, well-shaded residential streets, Hunter-Gatherer’s new site on Airport Boulevard on Columbia’s south side could become a unique destination with downtown-like appeal.

Already, its neighbor, the City Roots farm, draws crowd after crowd with a rotating slate of events, from Mardi Gras to the Tasty Tomato Festival to periodic farm-to-table dinners to a weekly farmers market.

And just down the street at Owens Field Park are attractions you can’t find anywhere else in the city: a skate park for all ages, a handicap-accessible playground and a Miracle League ball field with a special soft turf designed for people with disabilities.

“It’s becoming more of a destination,” said Eric McClam, one of City Roots’ owners.

It’s Rosewood’s little family-friendly, hipster corner that’s threatening to make the whole neighborhood just a little cooler. And there’s no other place like it in Columbia.

Anchored by the farm

City Roots, which bills itself as South Carolina’s first urban farm, settled in a sort of odd industrial area by the Hamilton-Owens Airport in Rosewood in 2009.

In the eight years since, it has blossomed into a hip hot spot, drawing thousands of visitors each year for tours, festivals, markets, dinners and drop-in volunteer farming and produce shopping.

Even so, “we’re not naive enough to believe that we’re by ourselves enough to be a generator of commercial traffic,” said Robbie McClam, who co-founded and co-owns the farm with Eric, his son.

Enter the Hunter-Gatherer brewery, which will open in August or September in the renovated, historic Curtiss-Wright hangar across the street from City Roots.

“It takes a unique business like City Roots or Hunter-Gatherer to be able to bring people in. You’re not going to be able to rely on drive-by traffic” in this area, said Hunter-Gatherer owner Kevin Varner. He opened the original Hunter-Gatherer microbrewery and restaurant on South Main Street in 1995.

The brewery will be a destination. Like City Roots, it promises to be a talking point and landmark to solidify the neighborhood’s place on the map, Eric McClam said.

A ‘community-minded’ scene

The activity by the airport is “changing Rosewood,” and it’s making the large neighborhood – city-data.com says more than 5,400 people live there – one worth investing in, said Krystal McManus.

“I’ve actually thought of getting one of these houses down here ... within walking distance to all of this,” she said while walking her dog, Sydney, at Owens Field Park last week. She lives just minutes away, at the edge of Shandon, across Rosewood Drive from Publix.

Sure, the neighborhood has room to improve, McManus said. But “the more community-minded people come and live here, the better off we’ll all be.”

As they walked, Sydney ran to greet her “other master,” McManus’ 23-year-old son, Tommy, at the skate park. He’s a regular there. And he’s something of a mentor, whether he knows it or not, to kids like 12-year-old Daniel Schwarz who come there, too.

On this muggy afternoon, Daniel’s mom, Liz Chapman, sat in her car reading with the air conditioning running, keeping an eye on her son. He skated with Leslie Roth’s three sons and some friends, while Roth alternated between the curb at the skate park and a seat on the new playground equipment.

The Roths frequent the park on weekends when the oldest boy, 10-year-old Eli, plays soccer there.

Chapman is a regular at City Roots festivals; she loves that she can relax there knowing that the kids are safe playing nearby.

“Everybody’s real laid-back and friendly. It’s a family-friendly atmosphere,” she said.

It’s a vibe that reminds Varner of European parks where parents sit and have a beer and socialize while their kids play.

The Hunter-Gatherer will fit right in here, he thinks.

It’s ‘The Wood’

Rosewood has always had an “artsy, eclectic” character, Eric McClam said.

But the area’s identity has sharpened in recent years, his father added.

“It really has sort of picked up a little hip vibe of its own and has a sense of pride for what it is and who they are,” Robbie McClam said.

You see that pride in new bumper stickers touting “The Wood.” And you see it in the success of newer businesses along the Rosewood Drive corridor – like The Local Buzz coffee shop, Pelican’s SnoBalls and The Kraken Gastropub – that have come alongside some long-lasting businesses and helped attract more young residents to the neighborhood.

The young blood and the activity by the airport are helping change the perception of the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to deflate all of this, ‘We’re living in the hood with crime,’ and that’s why that bumper sticker, ‘The Wood,’ was designed,” said Debbie McDaniel, who owns the Revente consignment shop in Five Points and has lived in the heart of Rosewood since 1991.

She and her husband married beneath a pecan tree in their backyard shortly after moving in.

They’ve seen many of their older neighbors replaced by young families investing in renovations to older homes, and by people like McDaniel’s nephew, a recent college graduate who is renting in the neighborhood.

A lot of their newer neighbors are young people who act “like old hippies from the ’70s,” McDaniel said.

And she loves that. They fit right into “The Wood.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.