Why is a bodega opening on Main street in Columbia?
When Amye Rushing was a Richland County assistant prosecutor, the options for a quick lunch or even a snack during breaks in her court cases were limited.
“There wasn’t anything on this end of Main Street,” said Rushing, now a defense attorney. “You had to get in the car to get a Diet Coke.”
So the seed was planted for Local Yocal, a locally focused, New York-inspired boutique/grocery/cafe now open at 1712 Main Street, across from the county courthouse.
Rushing purchased the former Harvey Golden law office building in 2015 and began renovations. She leased out half, opened a law office in the back and tricked out a clean, modern 3,000-square-foot storefront with a long bar and plenty of space for funky things.
And funky is the key word here.
In addition to bodega staples such as milk, eggs, soda and beer, general manager Jennifer Zagata trolls places like the Soda City Market for locally made goods from Two Brothers beef jerky (made by Motor Supply owner Eddie Wells) to handbags stitched by West Columbia’s John-Nicole Creations.
“I want unique things, not things you can find in every store in Columbia. And I want to make these unique things available to people on Main Street all the time, not just 9 to 1 p.m. on Saturday,” she said, referring to the weekly market’s hours.
The food is also out of the ordinary.
In addition to guest appearances by folks like Franny Wright of Baked by Franny cinnamon rolls (Thursday was national cinnamon roll day), chef Michael Gown prepares a wide assortment of in-store fare — grilled jerk chicken wings, perlou (that’s chicken bog to me and you), fat salads, deli sandwiches, overstuffed biscuits and hotdogs.
All of the items are available for take out, or you can enjoy them in Local Yocal’s small cafe.
There are also egg salad, chicken salad, shrimp salad and pimento cheese “grab and go” sandwiches in the market’s cooler.
For something a little sweeter, the store offers “over the top” milkshakes featuring toppings like s’mores, Oreos and Whoppers.
“Our breakfast shake has a Pop-Tart in it,” Rushing said.
The store also has a juice bar, offers its own brand of Local Yocal coffees and features a wine wall — a huge chalkboard showcasing featured wines.
But in addition to groceries and grub, Local Yocal also has a substantial bar (featuring zebra-striped bar stools) where you can wind down with a beer, a glass of wine or a champagne cocktail. And the store’s 9 p.m. closing time is negotiable.
“If people are still here, we’ll stay open,” Rushing said.
The concept of mixing retail, groceries, prepared foods and hospitality is nothing new — even the big boys like Lowes Foods are doing it. But Rushing and Zagata brought it down to a smaller scale and put it on Main Street.
“We wanted it to be a boutique,” Rushing said.
It took three years to renovate the building and bring the store to fruition, Rushing said. But it wouldn’t have happened without the copious assistance of the city of Columbia’s Office of Business Opportunities, she said. The office assists small, minority, veteran and woman-owned businesses.
“It’s been a difficult project,” Rushing said. “But they work with your bank. They offered all kinds of resources. And they are still involved.”
While the store’s funky mix of merchandise, food and drink is their stock in trade, Rushing hopes folks will come back for the fellowship.
“We just want it to be fun,” she said. “We take pride in talking to everyone and making them feel welcome. We want people to tell us what they want. And we’ll get it.”