As business owners, neighbors and city officials debate the changing landscape of Five Points, we take a look at six people who have a stake in the urban village’s future.
Papa Jazz record store owner
2014 Greene St.
Cassettes, CDs and the internet all could have been the death of Papa Jazz record store.
But they weren’t.
Nearly 40 years strong, the Greene Street shop thrives on used vinyl and CD sales, classic and alternative rock fans and college-aged music lovers, says its owner, Tim Smith.
“At my age, it’s funny to think that I sell an awful lot of records by people that I listened to growing up who are all dead now,” said Smith, 57. “Or, when people say, ‘I’m looking for something really old,’ I’m thinking, ‘That’s not old! The people in that band are still alive!’ ”
When Papa Jazz opened in Five Points in 1980, there must have been half a dozen other record stores within a mile, Smith says.
Only Papa Jazz has survived.
Why? It found its niche. When it faced challenges, it adapted. And the people who love the place have stayed true to it.
Just like his small business, Five Points has to do the same to survive, Smith said.
“Challenges pop up and things change, and suddenly you’re not selling eight tracks anymore,” he said. “You have to adapt and deal with that if you’re going to be around. The same kind of things affect a neighborhood the way they do an individual business.”
And for the sake of Papa Jazz and all the other mom-and-pop shops, Five Points must figure out how to adapt to its current challenges, Smith said.
“Most people that have been down here as long as I have have spent millions of dollars to be in business,” Smith said. “So it’s important for everybody that people feel good about coming down here.”
Martin Luther King neighborhood resident
As a young Nigerian immigrant (via New York) turned University of South Carolina graduate student, Olufemi Olulenu found he had a number of “mothers” looking after him in the Martin Luther King neighborhood in the 1970s.
“They didn’t allow me to be a bad boy, because there were too many people around here watching me,” he said.
He moved out of the neighborhood for a spell, then moved back in the 1990s – buying a house on Pine Street from the civil rights icon Modjeska Monteith Simkins – because he felt a calling to take care of the neighborhood that had taken care of him.
Though the area became known for drugs, prostitution and violence, Olulenu wouldn’t give up on it or his neighbors.
He became a protector and saw improvements.
Now he sees a new challenge for the neighborhood: A recent wave of college students has moved into MLK as renters.
Most every weekend now, Olulenu watches streams of young people stagger the few blocks up the hill from late nights in Five Points.
They urinate in flower beds, vomit on sidewalks, bang on doors and holler from the streets.
They’re drunk, they’re vulnerable, and they need protecting, Olulenu says.
“I have to protect my community,” he said. “We don’t want young students coming from Five Points or anywhere being victimized by crackheads and crack dealers. They’re still around.”
Owner of Bar None
620 Harden St.
Marty Dreesen has a distinct philosophy about life.
“When you die, leave the world a better place. And I think the world is a better place since Bar None has been here.”
Since it opened in 1994, Bar None has been a gathering spot for the widest number of people imaginable. Dreesen ticks off a list that includes chefs and musicians, business people and politicians, folks from just about every walk of life.
It’s open from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. and is a gathering place for happy-hour regulars, late nighters and service industry workers when the other bars and restaurants close.
Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are launched there. Friendships are forged. Even its name carries a positive vibe.
“Because of the friendships and the experiences that have occurred here, way more good has come from Bar None than bad,” Dreesen said.
Unlike many, Dreesen has an optimistic view of Five Points’ future.
It used to look rundown, he said. But after a beautification program that was completed in 2006, “it’s gotten a lot nicer. People take that for granted.”
He added the “kids today are much more responsible.” They Uber instead of driving drunk. And the late night shenanigans are nothing new.
“There are just a lot more kids now,” Dreesen said.
Owner of Portfolio Art Gallery
2007 Devine St.
Judith Roberts’ love of art began when she was a toddler.
Her father fought in Europe during World War II, and he would send her postcards, storybooks and other momentos from Italy.
Roberts studied art, and when she and her late husband, James, moved to Columbia in 1971, he suggested she open an art gallery.
“I said ‘Oh my. I don’t know anything about running a business,’ ” Roberts said.
But one day when Roberts returned from a trip to Maine, James informed her that he had rented space for a gallery in Five Points.
At first, Roberts also sold art to businesses like brokerages and law firms.
“They understood business portfolios, so I named my gallery Portfolio.”
In 2006, Portfolio was voted one of the top 100 galleries in America by 18,000 artists polled by Niche magazine.
Roberts says that despite the problems, she is optimistic about Five Points future.
“We’re more than just college students and late-night madness,” she said. “Five Points is genuine. It’s unique. People are moving away from the malls. They want well-balanced, in-town neighborhoods. That’s what we are. And they want handmade American goods. And that’s what I sell.”
Owner of Yesterdays Restaurant and Tavern
2030 Devine St.
Growing up a self-proclaimed “Marine Corps brat,” Duncan McRae lived all over the country and worked his way through college in restaurants.
After a stint as food and beverage director for a Hilton hotel in Dallas, McRae decided he didn’t care for the corporate life and that he wanted to open a business: a tavern, bar and restaurant serving local, Southern “American food.”
“I was looking for a place that had a state university, a capitol and a lot of business,” McRae said, adding that the choices were narrowed down to Tallahassee, Fla., Austin, Texas and Columbia.
In the end, the liquor, beer and wine license in South Carolina was cheaper than in Florida and Texas, and Yesterdays Restaurant and Tavern opened in October 1977. In addition to lunch and dinner menus and a changing menu of daily specials, the tavern has a late-night menu, delivery to several neighborhoods and, now, a Sunday brunch.
More than 40 years later, Columbia has grown, and other Five Points businesses have come and gone. But Yesterdays remains a pillar in the urban village.
“I like what I’m doing,” McRae said of why his business endures. “Generally, if you like what you’re doing, you’re good at it.”
If he had it all to do over again and open a restaurant in Columbia in 2018, McRae said he would open two: one in Five Points and the other in West Columbia.
“It’s the market we’re looking for,” he said. “We’re not looking for Jaguars and Beamers and three-course meals. We’re looking for people that want to have something to drink, get a good meal and enjoy themselves.”
University of South Carolina student
Jacob Robinson, 21, is from Atlanta. He choose to attend the University of South Carolina on an academic scholarship because of its location.
“I’m close enough to home – only three and half hours – but I’m still away from my family,” he said.
He has a double major in real estate and finance and plans to work a little after graduation, then decide whether to go to grad school.
“I’d like to to stay somewhere in the Southeast,” he said.
Robinson likes to hang out on the weekend at Breakers, a Five Points bar.
“I’ve been going there a lot more lately,” he said. “I like the outside atmosphere at Breakers. It’s not like a cramped bar.”
Why does he choose Five Points over the Vista, Main Street or other areas?
“It’s definitely cheaper for one thing, and I’m a college student,” Robinson said. “There are more people my age there. I live in Five Points, too, so it’s within walking distance.”
What about the bad behavior that occurs on the weekends?
“There are definitely people who make poor decisions,” he said. “But it’s not everyone.”