A little flavor of New York is coming to Columbia’s Main Street.
“Bodegas” – small corner grocery stores that feature fresh produce and meats, beer and wine, baked goods, milk and eggs and other staples – are as familiar on the streets of New York City as hot dog vendors and yellow cabs.
Born in New York’s Hispanic neighborhoods, bodegas fill the gap between convenience stores and large grocery stores. They are neighborhood fixtures in the Big Apple, offering a core selection of groceries a short walk from the apartments and flats that surround them.
Now that concept is coming to Main Street with Local Yocal, a New York-inspired bodega whose owners hope to capitalize not only on Main Street’s substantial daytime workforce, but the growing number of residents and night-time visitors as well.
“It’s the one thing Main Street doesn’t have,” said owner Ayme Rushing, a Columbia attorney.
It’s also another sign of the renaissance of Columbia’s Main Street, which during the past five years has become a flourishing residential, commercial and retail district.
Rushing said the idea blossomed when a friend who had recently moved to Main Street complained that if she needed something small from the grocery – a quart of milk, a loaf of bread – she would have to walk down from her apartment, get her car from the parking garage, drive to the grocery store, then go back home.
Why couldn’t she just walk somewhere? she asked. “So we felt there there was a need for it,” Rushing said.
The store is expected to open in November. The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, with weekend hour to be determined.
But the road to opening hasn’t been easy for Rushing and her partners.
“We’ve had a lot of things come together and a lot of help,” Rushing said.
Rushing and former Gamecock women’s basketball player Kelly Merrone four years ago purchased the one-story, former law offices of Harvey Golden at 1712 Main Street. They bought it for $400,000, and are investing another $400,000 to open the store.
“We got it before everything started skyrocketing,” Rushing said.
Landing financing was difficult. But working with the city of Columbia’s Office of Business Opportunity, which supports female- and minority-owned businesses, Rushing, Merrone and “chief creative officer” Jennifer Zagata landed a loan with Security Federal Bank.
As for the name Local Yocal: “We were brainstorming,” Ayme said. “Jennifer came up with it and it stuck.”
Zagata explains: “We’re local, but we’re the upscale cousin to the yokel.”
The Columbia native published a definition on her Facebook page: “A knowledgeable, progressive cousin of the yokel. A community centered bodega offering local products to the residents and employees of Main Street.”
In addition to fresh, locally sourced produce, dairy, meats and baked goods, Local Yocal will also feature a gourmet milkshake bar, juice bar and coffee bar.
Being situated across the street from both the Richland Judicial Center and City Hall, the trio decided to offer “grab-and-go” lunches.
The bodega’s owners also hope to capitalize on the everyday needs of the 1,300 or so folks who now live in the Main Street District, particularly at the 21-story The Hub, home to 850 University of South Carolina students when school is in session.
“They’re not going to find 12 brands of flour,” Zagata said. “We don’t have room. But they’ll find everything that they need.”
And there will be a wide range of beer and wine.
To free more room for groceries in the 3,000-square-foot store, wine will be stored downstairs in a wine cellar and sold from a listing in a book.
“We had a 40-bottle rack, but it just took up too much space,” Zagata said.
As for those large baskets of fresh flowers on the front sidewalk that are a hallmark of many New York bodegas?
“Funny you should say that; I was just thinking about it,” Rushing said. “We’ll do it if we can.”