2021 Award Recipients
Excellence on Main Street Award
Back Street Park
Main Street Laurens
After the City of Laurens demolished a dilapidated building at the prominent downtown intersection of Main and Harper streets, it found that the property was too small for new development. The Main Street Laurens design team proposed using the site as a pocket park and worked with the city to install swings as well as tables that restaurants could use as outdoor seating.
The new park remained too exposed to the intersection, however, and initially received little use. The city upgraded the facility with fencing made of brick and wrought iron, enhanced its landscaping and added lamps. It also added new benches, many of which were donated, and a refurbished fountain, dating to 1911, which originally stood on the Laurens County courthouse grounds. The park has become a catalyst for further improvements in the area, as work is now underway at an adjacent parking lot to add trees, curbing, lighting, electric car charging stations and bike racks.
The park celebrates Back Street, a part of the downtown once filled with Black-owned businesses that has since disappeared. A city-established committee gathered the names of the historic business owners, which now appear on a marker at the park’s entrance to honor their role in the history of Laurens.
Butterfly Project, Downtown Sumter
Aiming to add new public art projects —an element that was lacking in the growing downtown district — Downtown Sumter partnered with the Main Street Society, a City of Sumter committee, to beautify and promote downtown. They created the Butterfly project, a series of professionally created fiberglass sculptures, painted by local artists and placed around downtown.
The project chose butterflies as a symbol of growth and change — themes that connect to the revitalization that downtown Sumter has now experienced for two decades. The initial installation featured seven butterflies, with $500 sponsorships that covered the cost of the sculptures and an artist stipend for each sculpture. The partnership sought out artists through an application process and invited children to join in the painting of a butterfly during a special event. The city had the sculptures professionally clear-coated before hanging them on light poles. When the city removes the sculptures for replacement, it will give those sculptures to their original sponsors.
The butterflies have drawn news media and social media attention, and have become an attraction drawing people downtown. The partnership behind the project hopes to create more butterfly installations and is working toward a mural project in 2021.
Holiday Gift Guide 2020, Downtown Florence
After a year of pandemic-related revenue losses, Downtown Florence knew its businesses needed a successful holiday season in 2020. The office curated its first-ever digital Holiday Gift Guide, featuring the products and services available around downtown that would make excellent gifts. The guide aimed to connect shoppers with businesses while also inspiring businesses to get creative with holiday gift packages and experiences.
The project began in October. Each interested restaurant, retailer and service-based business received a free page in the guide as well as access to Downtown Florence staff to take photos, write descriptions and assemble prices. The development office then designed the guide in-house and before promoting it through social media and advertising campaigns, with a $5,000 budget for promotion.
The guide launched just before Thanksgiving with just over 50% of downtown businesses participating, and it was well-received by businesses and customers alike. It categorized gifts by potential recipient, highlighted locally sourced gifts and gifts supporting charitable causes. It also included a page of stocking stuffers priced at $15 or less helped address the perception that downtown businesses are too expensive. Downtown Florence now plans to recreate the guide in 2021.
Gaines Jontz Rehabilitation
Midtown Building, Main Street Laurens
The newly renovated Midtown Building, a historic structure dating to no later than 1884, now hosts popup events, coworking space and private office space. The effort is the first complete building rehabilitation in downtown Laurens in more than two decades.
The project emerged with the property owner’s longstanding desire to renovate a historic building on Laurens’s courthouse square, giving attention to restoring the original integrity and charm of a building that has everything from a general store to a print shop, grocery store, ice cream parlor and paint store. The effort brought back the façade’s original appearance from a more modern metal frame and restored wooden doors to the building. The property owner financed the $175,000 restoration.
In addition to encouraging property improvements and investments elsewhere in the downtown, the project has drawn new activity. The offices and coworking space attract clients who eat and shop downtown. The popup restaurant events in the downstairs space, known as the Midtown Muster, have created new nightlife. Downtown Laurens saw more than $1 million in reinvestment in 2020, and has four new revitalization projects beginning in2021.
Outstanding New Construction
Market Pavilion, Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association
Established in 2015, the Downtown Orangeburg Farmers Market aimed to reduce the impact of the loss of the downtown’s last grocery store, to give local farmers a sales outlet and to increase the district’s customer pace. After years of rapid growth using tents and tables in Orangeburg’s Memorial Plaza— and periodic difficulty with rainy days — the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association decided to invest in a permanent, multipurpose structure. The completed facility is a 6,000-square-foot, open-air, heavy timber frame structure with handicapped-accessible restrooms, office space and a storage area.
To develop the facility, DORA made use of a vacant, centrally located property it had received as a donation. To raise the necessary $900,000 for the project, DORA collaborated with the City of Orangeburg, Orangeburg County, state Sen. John Matthews, local industries and many private groups and individuals. The city obtained a Hometown Economic Development Grant from the Municipal Association of SC to assist with the project.
Although the facility’s first farmers market season began during the COVID-19 pandemic, the market still experienced an increase in vendors and customers. The facility also hosts community events like the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Holiday Market, and has served as a venue for events organized by nonprofits, schools and other groups.
Laura Bachinski, Uptown Greenwood
Laura Bachinski is the owner of Main & Maxwell art gallery and shop, a gallery offering affordable, handcrafted art from more than 50 local artists, consultations, art classes, demonstrations and live music. As a potter who applies her artistic experience to her work, Bachinski values healthy commerce in the larger Uptown Greenwood district. She often signs up for late shopping nights and committee work, and seeks out Greenwood-specific items, and has recently worked with Greenwood’s Board of Architectural Review to create an interactive art installation of the side of the business’s building.
Although Main & Maxwell had to shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bachinski was able to capitalize on its established social media presence, staying relevant with online demonstrations and other videos. She also energetically sought out grant and loan funding to maintain the business during the pandemic. For the 2020 holiday season, Bachinski and her one employee became one of the most enthusiastic promoters of Uptown Greenwood’s holiday shopping events, and they posted one of their strongest holiday sales seasons ever.
Outstanding Business Development Program
COVID-19 Response, Downtown Florence
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020, Florence’s downtown development immediately redirected a majority of its resources to assisting the district’s businesses with the economic impacts. The office developed safety information and resource pages that it continuously updated, created curbside pickup zones, provided technical assistance for businesses starting e-commerce, and administering $67,500 in COVID-19 recovery grants contributed by the City of Florence for 19 small businesses.
The office recreated $10,000 in marketing funds, originally planned for events, to a downtown reopening campaign used as government-mandated closures came to an end. The Florence Downtown Development Corporation contributed $10,000 and volunteer hours, while the Francis Marion University Kelley Center for Economic Development, Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and Florence County Economic Partnership helped with programs, funding options and technical assistance.
The response helped prevent the permanent closure of businesses in the district as a result of the pandemic, and the district welcomed several new businesses during 2020. Downtown Florence now plans to offer additional technical training on planning for disasters and financial planning in 2021.
Outstanding Special Project
Pride of the Piedmont Mural, Main Street Laurens
The first new mural to come to downtown Laurens since 2005, the Pride of the Piedmont mural focuses on what people love about the city — its river, trains, musical heritage, agriculture, outdoor activities and historic courthouse. Painted on a newly renovated building adjacent to Lauren’s Food Truck Plaza, the postcard-style mural draws its name from a fondly remembered springtime festival that ran for decades in Laurens.
The Main Street Laurens economic development team sought out a location, collaborated with the mayor to identify an artist and used a public input session to develop the subject matter. Main Street Laurens obtained $3,500 in city hospitality funds for the project, as well as a placemaking mini-grant from Main Street SC. The city supplied a bucket truck for the artist’s work.
The mural now regularly turns up in visitor and resident social media posts. The Main Street Laurens design team is seeking a location for its next mural — one which will involve crowdsourced painting — and is planning a dedicated public art page for its website.