Mood upbeat on Columbia's Main Street

City staff has recommended Columbia City Council approve zoning changes that would make it easier to convert the old Palmetto Center into student dorms. But meanwhile, there are new signs of economic vitality elsewhere on the city's Main Street.

Main Street now offers Italian ices and organic frozen custard in exotic flavors as part of the latest boom in new business activity.

Joe and Jessica Kastner are responsible for the cool treats part of that scenario. Their shop, Paradise Ice, has been open a couple of months.

"We're drawing people from further away every day," Joe said. "We're getting people from the hospitals and that's starting to come down and draw a bigger radius in customers."

A few doors away, David Withers and his business partner have just opened something kind of special for Main Street. It's a floral shop called Something Special.

"We wanted to be a part of that rebirth," Withers said. "My partner Grant Lorick has lived in Columbia all his life and I've been here ever since I started at USC and I consider it home. And so we're just excited to see Main Street come back to life again."

Next door to the flower store, the location that used to be McCrory's seems ready for a new tenant -- 30,000 square feet of office or retail space.

Also near Main and Taylor streets are several more properties in various stages of renovation.

All of this is happening, say business owners and developers, a year after the opening of Mast General Store.

"Right now there is more activity during the day than there has ever been in my period of time in Columbia," Columbia Development Corporation's Fred Delk said, "And there's certainly going to be a lot more in the evenings coming very, very soon."

Withers says the city could help the process along by getting rid of parking meters -- not everyone agrees with that -- and making start-ups easier for entrepreneurs.

"It would be nice if they could get a more streamlined process where you go to one place, make your application, and they take it from there instead of having to go multiple places and get multiple permits to get a business up and running," Withers said.

But there's still an upbeat mood on Main Street.

"Within a year this street is going to be a completely different face," Joe said.

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