COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Over the last few months, one part of Richland County has turned into a growing ground for new businesses. That area sits between Broad River and Bush River roads around Dutch Square Mall.
The economic investment is being seen not only around the mall, but in the mall itself. That's a welcome sign as Dutch Square is still seeking retail businesses to fill empty space.
"Our focus is just to give back to the community," said Raven Jones, owner of His Will Thrift Store.
It's a mission that His Will Ministries has taken on over the last 18 years and has been met in part by running a thrift store in West Columbia. But to get more exposure for all, managers of the store recently decided to branch out by opening a second location a short drive away inside Dutch Square Mall.
"Dutch Square is just like the closest mall to the community. It's just like the closest mall to Lexington County," Jones said.
It's investment that comes as the mall and its owners are still looking for clients to fill space.
Last year, retail giant Belk opted to leave Dutch Square. Yet, with giant stores lacking, small businesses have started popping up inside. About seven restaurants and retailers have shown up just within the past few months.
"Actually, the mall made it affordable for us to come here," said Karen Watson, owner of The Crab Shack.
Something that left the owners of The Crab Shack clawing to get in.
"We get a lot of traffic from the movie theater from Burlington and just people coming into the mall," Watson said. "It's a wonderful feeling to see people become entrepreneurs and to be able to make their dreams come true."
And outside the mall, the growth also is seen. Franchise restaurants are among sites opening up shop with some just doors away from where controversial businesses used to operate.
"The location behind me was an adult club," said Seth Rose, a Richland County Councilman.
Rose said he believes the removal of clubs, like Heartbreakers and Pandora, has directly resulted in the new investment. Both were believed to be in direct violation of county zoning laws. Heartbreakers closed, while a fire last year ended Pandora.
"I feel this area was neglected for decades. You can't turn around something like that overnight, but getting this done really was a huge shot in the arm for this area, and we are starting to see the benefits come to us over time," Rose said.
"I feel really positive about this area now," Jones said.
The Richland County Council has also taken action to try to improve that stretch of Bush River and Broad River roads. Rose said last year's budget included funds for improved lighting near the Dutch Square Mall. The councilman said he has also sought out opportunities to keep growing business inside the mall.