Rekindling Main Street in Upstate South Carolina

When the City of Spartanburg started the Main Street Challenge in 2013, there was some uncertainty about the response that the program would receive. But those concerns were quickly put to rest; the program was a hit. More than 30 businesses entered the competition that first year. In 2014 the number of entrants nearly doubled.

The Main Street challenge is a competition for area entrepreneurs to actualize their dream of having a storefront on the most valuable of locations: Main Street. But the benefits of the challenge far exceed just the businesses that win. Both the city and its residents welcome the new and unique businesses that the competition attracts.

Spartanburg has had two successful years with Main Street Challenge programs so far. As a result of the challenge, Spartanburg has seen the addition of Paisley Paw, Tirado’s Empanadas and More, Health in Hand Juice Bar, Motte & Sons Bootlegging Company, Haute Mama, and The Local Hiker.

With the huge success following the Main Street challenges in Spartanburg, the town of Laurens launched Jump Start, which is their version of the Main Street Challenge. Last year they awarded their first Jump Start business, Yo’ Cup Café and Coffee House, and just recently they announced a second competition for this year, which will award up to two businesses.

In January 2015, the Pickens Revitalization Association announced their own competition. Allison Fowler, executive director for the Pickens Revitalization Association, said, “We felt the Main Street Challenge, proven in the City of Spartanburg, was a perfect fit to jump start business in Pickens, thereby increasing the vibrancy of the overall downtown.”

In mid-May, Pickens selected four finalists after reviewing business plans and evaluating which businesses would be the best fit for the city, and on June 1, they announced the winner of their first Main Street challenge: the Appalachian Ale House and Morris on Main. Their new location will be in the old Morris building at 205 E. Main Street. They are actually two separate business models to be housed in the same building: Appalachian Ale House will specialize in local beers, while the Morris on Main Business Center will offer economically reasonable office space to small business owners.

Fowler hopes the Main Street challenge can become an annual event in the city of Pickens. This year’s challenge was funded by corporate grants and from an anonymous donor. The city hopes to see an increase in funding for future challenges.

The city of Easley consulted with Pickens as they began modeling their own Main Street Challenge this year. Brittney Gamble, grants coordinator for the City of Easley Community Development, said they were inspired to do a Main Street Challenge after seeing the success of other cities promoting programs for new business startups. Gamble said, “The City wanted to show that it stands behind those who desire a downtown business, but may need that extra push of support or financial backing to get their concept off the ground.”

The City of Easley had intended to introduce its inaugural challenge in January of this year, but encountered a delay, which adversely affected turnout. Gamble said, “Next year we hope to have a large enough pool of applicants from which to select our goal of three winners.”

The finalists for the 2015 Easley Main Street Challenge will be selected on June 8, with the winner being announced July 6.

Article by Deb Peluso