Mast General on homeless: Staff, guests no longer feel safe - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Mast General on homeless: Staff, guests no longer feel safe

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A letter penned by the president of Mast General Store, Inc. outlines his growing concerns about homelessness in downtown Columbia.

Fred Martin says he hopes the city will act quickly to reverse a growing problem. "Steps need to be taken now rather than later," wrote Martin in the letter sent to the city's elected leaders on July 11.

"It is unfortunate that after seeing positive gains being made each day in the Main Street community that we are now experiencing an environment where our staff members and our guests no longer feel safe even within the confines of our building," wrote Martin.

Mast General opened its doors in May, 2011. The city touted the North Carolina retailer's decision to open in the old Lourie's building on Main Street as the boost needed to pump new life into the city.

Known for its blend of outdoor clothing, travel gear, housewares and nostalgia, Mast spared no expense to create a unique shopping experience for the Midlands. "You are getting our crown jewel," said Martin in April, 2011. "This will be the best-looking store that we've every produced. The bar has been raised for your community, I promise you."

In return, city leaders committed funding to streetscaping improvements along Main Street to help court the retailer.

The store opened to much fanfare and in the following two years, signs of life began popping up within the once-stagnant Main Street commercial environment.

Martin, however, is concerned the momentum may be coming to a halt.

"Safety in the Downtown area did improve for a time, but over the last six months, we have witnessed a trend in the opposite direction," said Martin. "It is important that we do not lose ground with those citizens who have stepped outside of their comfort zones to come Downtown to discover a new favorite restaurant, enjoy the Farmers' Market, or to pick up a gift for a friend."

"The Mast Store supports the Six Goals Plan that focuses on private and public facets that can work cooperatively to constitute a usable plan to meet and address the needs of the homeless in the City of Columbia," continued Martin. "This document, as it was presented to us at the CCP Public Space Committee meeting, provides a foundation to build on and to move forward."

"Whether you adopt the Six Goals as presented or a hybrid of this plan, I urge you to move quickly to garner results," concluded Martin. "I appreciate your service to this community and your time in considering our opinion."

The letter was addressed to six council members and Mayor Steve Benjamin.

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