When software designer Justin Theriot decided to strike out on his own, the Chapin resident wanted to be in downtown Columbia, closer to his collaborators and clients.
So he chose a location for his fledgling BitBuilt company that might seem an unlikely spot for a high-tech business — Columbia's 106-year-old Arcade Mall.
There, among Italian terra cotta columns and bas-relief cherubs (lots of them), Theriot bangs out custom software for insurance and security firms, among others.
"It's centrally located," he said. "I like the socialization with other people in the mall. And there's a historical aspect."
The L-shaped mall is tucked away in the 1300 block of Main Street, with entrances on both Main and Washington streets. Since it was purchased by Columbia developer Ron Swinson three years ago, the mall has been undergoing a complete renovation intended to scrub off the dated 1970s decor and restore it to its pre-World War I glory.
"We're trying to bring it back as much as possible to the original structure," Swinson said.
The Equitable Arcade (its official name) was built in 1912 by The Equitable Real Estate Co. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It was the first enclosed mall in South Carolina and surrounds the Barringer Building, the state's first "skyscraper" at the corner of Main and Washington streets.
The exterior of the building is Italian terra cotta, as is a significant portion of the interior columns and balcony.
Swinson spent more than $1 million to purchase the building. And the cost of renovations has gone way beyond that, he said.
The terra cotta surfaces, both inside and outside the building, have been repaired, and a protective coating will be applied. Large, outdated planters have been replaced with new ones.
Lighting has been replaced. Restrooms have been completely renovated. And tons of behind-the-scenes work, such as electrical updates, have been completed.
The final touches of the initial renovation projects — new entrances — will be done in about a month.
"But I don't think we'll ever stop working on it," Swinson said.
The spaces of a number of longtime tenants have been renovated — Salon Sole, Swanson’s Deli, His and Hers Tailoring, Blue Sky’s Art Gallery, Capital Quarters and Le Chic Hair Salon are among them. The art galleries of Bonnie Goldberg and Tish Lowe have each moved from downstairs to upstairs bays.
But there are a bevy of new tenants as well.
Pita Pit sandwich shop is open for business at the Main Street entrance to the mall in the former Salon Sole location. And the Savannah-based Stoner’s Pizza is being built at the Washington Street entrance, across the concourse from a relocated Salon Sole.
Other new tenants include Wilhelmina Waxing Parlour, Dr. Phone Fix, Pelliclaude handmade gifts, Soda City and Palmetto Commercial Services. The law office of Charles Johnson, the real estate firm Crosland Barnes and a marketing and public relations firm, Blue Avenue, have been renovated, expanded and are open for business.
And announced just last week, eBike Central, a retailer of electronic bicycles, will open July 2 in the historic Arcade Building at 1332 Main St. The North Carolina company operates two locations, in Greensboro and Durham.
Four contiguous bays are still open on the downstairs at the angle in the center of the building. Swinson said he hopes to add a coffee shop, craft beer sellers or wine bar (or all three) to the space to add to the hospitality element of the mall.
"We hope you could come for breakfast and coffee, get lunch or get dinner," he said. "We want it to be a place where people come and linger."
The unoccupied office spaces are under renovation and available for lease through Carolinas Retail Partners.
The basement, formerly home to “Columbia Down Under,” a collection of bars and restaurants in the early 1970s, is unoccupied because of difficulties complying with fire codes and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"We don’t have a good solution," Swinson said. "It’s going to be difficult to bring that back to a nightspot. But it would be my goal to open the downstairs to some public use."
Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership, said the mall's revival is continuing the momentum of growth and revitalization on Main Street.
"It's one of the first retail centers in the downtown district," he said. "And it has a chance of being one of the biggest concentrations of retail in the district. It has the potential to be a real destination."