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Archive for February, 2008

University Corner: Things Ain't What They Used To Be   11 comments

Posted at 7:03 pm in historic,restaurants,stores

Eating at Moes on Main today, I was struck by the sign at University Corner (the small strip mall at the corner of Devine & Main), and how it harked back to an earlier era. Of the businesses listed on its directory

    Carolina's
    Stuffy's
    Bits & Pizzas
    Smoothie King
    Varsity BIlliards

only Varsity Billiards is still actually there (and to my memory has been there forever). Apparently the wi-fi coffee shop that was there last year didn't last long enough to make it onto the sign, and apparently they are holding off on putting Firehouse Subs up there..

UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: Took the opportunity tonight to take some pictures of the lighted Varsity Billiards sign as it's a classic design (From the same school as the old Redwing Roller Way sign).

Written by ted on February 16th, 2008

Ponderosa Steak Barn, Trenholm Plaza: late 1960s   5 comments

Posted at 7:36 pm in historic,restaurants

Ponderosa Steak Barn,
Meet Your Friends There!
Where Good Eatin' is a Family Affair!

Ponderosa was in Trenholm Plaza more or less where Holey Dough & Heavenly Ham are now, and was one of the first wave of steakhouses (that I can recall) to come into Columbia. We went through a period of eating Sunday dinner there more often than not. They had a Western theme, both in the names of the menu items and the decor. The Western motif extended to the seating. I think there were booths around the walls of the restaurant, but the seating in the middle of the place was polished wood benches and tables. They weren't quite "picnic" tables because the benches were free-standing, but it was pretty rustic. Aside from the standard steak and burger offerings, they also had a salad bar, which was something I hadn't seen before. As an 8 year old, I had no interest in it, but I think it impressed my mother. They also had "Texas toast" which did impress me, and since it didn't come with anything I ordered, I was always angling to beg it off of my mother or father.

As I said, all of the menu items had Western themed names, and I invariably orded the "Buckboard Burger", which was simply a hamburger (you could get it with cheese as well..). This item led to a 30 year misunderstanding between my father and me. Since I would always get the same thing (and since he would be doing the ordering), he would always ask in that way parents have of kind of "deviling at" their kids:

So, are you going to get the Buggy Burger again?

and then watching in amusement as I got all worked up about it:

It's the Buckboard Burger!

When we were reminiscing about it years later, we finally came to a mutual understanding. My father, who was born in 1915, knew very well what a "buckboard" was -- a type of horse-drawn buggy. I had no idea. He thought I was just being "prissy" about wanting to call the burger by the name it was listed under on the menu, while I always thought he was implying that the burger was made out of bugs!

Unfortunately, Ponderosa burned down sometime in the late 1960s (I think), and never came back to Trenholm Plaza. I believe there was another one in Cayce where we used to go sometimes (and ask to go to the Giant Slide), but that was a long drive, and it didn't seem as good.

Years later, I ran across a Ponderosa chain in the Kansas City area, but the menu items had different names, and I was never able to tell if it were the same operation or just a common choice of a Western name. It was OK, but nothing out of the ordinary. That chain came very briefly to Myrtle Beach (to the parking lot of the Surfside Kroger actually), but folded after a very short run.

Written by ted on February 14th, 2008

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Bruster's Real Ice Cream, 2313 North Beltline Boulevard at Forest: (sort of) Winter 07   11 comments

Posted at 6:39 pm in restaurants

This one is not a "real" closing, but I thought it was kind of odd, so I'm going to note it.

I had noticed Bruster's Real Ice Cream in a few locations before ever stopping by, and it seemed to me that there was always a crowd standing around outside for some reason. When I finally did stop by, I found that the reason is that there is no "inside", at least for customers. All the business is done through walk-up windows, even though the buildings are plenty big enough to have counters inside. The ice cream is pretty good, but certainly not noticably better than Baskin Robbins, Ben & Jerry's, Coldstone or Marble Slab, all of which operations have counters and seats inside. I can't really think of why the chain would adopt such a concept, except to "be different". It's a concept I can see working well in resort areas, but it seems ill-suited to year-round markets. If you get a hankering for ice-cream in November, are you going to go somewhere warm, or stand outside Bruster's?

I noticed a month or two ago that the store on Beltline at Forest had been dark a while, and I stopped by to see what was going on. There were signs in the windows saying that they were closed for "renovations & training" and would be open again early in 2008. Well, it is now early in 2008, and they are still closed. Since it is a brand-new building, and I have seen no work trucks at the site, the renovations angle is puzzling, and I have to wonder what kind of training the staff at this store needed that isn't needed at their other locations, especially since it was a going operation. If I were to speculate, I would say that their business model just doesn't work in the winter at non foot traffic sites. But I would never do that.

UPDATE 27 March 08: Looks like the place is for sale, but for sale as a Bruster's franchise, not as just a building:

I wish him(?) luck, but those "loyal customers" the "for sale" sign references have had half a year to find other creameries..

UPDATE 31 March 09:

Well, they backed a truck up to the place and loaded all the equipment and took down the signs. That was in January I think and so far nothing has gone in there.

UPDATE 8 June 2010 -- Well, it's going to be a Hibachi Express "soon", though it seems like the "soon" sign has been up a month or so, and there doesn't look to have been any interior work done..

UPDATE 23 Dec 20-- Hibachi Express is open:

Written by ted on February 13th, 2008

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Sam Solomon / Service Merchandise, 3 Diamond Lane (Intersection Center): 1982 / 2002   33 comments

Posted at 7:08 pm in historic,stores

During the 1970s, Dutch Square was a major retail hub for Columbia. Columbia Mall in Dentsville had not yet been built, and Columbiana Center in Harbison was not even on the radar. While Dutch Square thrived, the surrounding area thrived as well. Cookesbury Books did a good business across the street, Boozer Shooping Center was at its peak, and Sam Solomon dominated nearby Intersection Center.

At the time, I always assumed that Sam Solomon was a national chain, but I have since found out that it was a Charleston based outfit. As I recall, it had something of a hybrid floor-concept. There were a few "catalog" stores which had only sample items on the floors as opposed to the current nearly universal "all our merchandise is on the floor" sales model. In these stores, you would look at items, and take coupons to the checkout at which point your items would be brought from the warehouse and rung up. At Sam Solomon's, larger items were displayed as samples while smaller iterms were taken by the shoppers themselves to the checkout. Sam Solmon had a little bit of everything, though my memory is that it skewed away from clothes and towards jewelry. I didn't care much about either. Whenever I came, invariably in the company of my cousins making a power-shopping trip to Columbia, I would concentrate on the electronics and gadgets (which I couldn't afford) and the paperback books (which I could -- sometimes). I remember in particularly getting a copy of Asimov's The Stars, Like Dust and a number of "Kenneth Robeson"'s Avenger books.

I don't know the story of Sam Solomon's demise, but have found a New York Times story dating its bankruptcy and takeover by Service Merchandise to 1982. By that time, the Dutch Square area was already losing its luster, and Intersection Center was particularly badly hit. Apart from the vacuum cleaner store at its entrance and Service Merchandise, the anchor, I think every store there turned over or went empty. By that time, I was driving and had a little money, but Service Merchandise never really had anything to interest me. For a while they billed themselves as "America's Leading Jewler", but they were already in decline when they lost that title to Wal-Mart. The last time I went in, it was rather sad. Most of the store was empty except for the central part where they were running a retail operation no bigger than a typical drugstore. I was a little surprised, googling later, to find that they had lasted until 9/11 when the retail crash took them out for good.

Intersection Center never even came close to recovering. I believe about the only operation left there is an ethnic grocery of some sort, and currently the whole tract is up for sale.

UPDATE 5 March 2010: Finally remember to add Service Merchandise to the post title.

UPDATE 16 May 2010: Added full street address, tags.

UPDATE 30 Sep 2010 -- Well, with the ongoing work at Intersection Center someone has (possibly unintentionally) got the Service Merchandise sign illuminated for the first time in 8 years:

Written by ted on February 12th, 2008

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Quincy's Family Steakhouse / Stiletto's Strip Club, 7375 Two Notch Rd: 1990s, February 2008   22 comments

Posted at 5:16 pm in historic,restaurants

Well this was a bit unexpected. I had been planning for a while to do a closing on Quncy's, but when I went there today to take the picture, I found the successor business, Stiletto's strip club had just closed down as well.

Quincy's Family Steakhouse was part of the second or third wave of steakhouses to hit Columbia, and at its peak, the best of breed in my opinion. The first wave consisted of places like Ponderosa Steak Barn about which I mean to do a post someday, while the second wave (or late first, I haven't decided) was places like Western Steer & Western Sizzling.

Quincy's was a very appealing operation for family Sunday lunches, and we ate there almost exclusively on Sunday for a number of years. You would go in, get in line, pick out your silverware and make your order which would be brought out with reasonable promptness. I thought they had a very good burger (which fewer places do well than you would expect), and their salad bar was unquestionably the best in Columbia. The waitresses were all friendly, and came to know and greet "the regulars". The only fly in the ointment was that whatever mechanism they used to wash the silverware wasn't very efficient, and you always ended up having to go through several knives and forks before coming up with unspotted ones.

I liked Quincy's well enough that when my employer started sending me to various cities around the South East, I would take the little list of "Our Other Locations" that used to be in a stand by your way out, to have somewhere familiar to eat when I travelled. (In practice, it would usually work out that either I didn't get to pick where we ate, or we would end up working so late that it was Denny's or nowhere..). I started noticing too that all Quincy's were not alike. The one on Two Notch was definitely the best one in Columbia, much better than the one on Forest Drive, and a bit better than the one off I-26 & US-378. The one in Surfside Beach was very good, the one in Florence, not so much.

Naturally like any chain with a generally winning concept, they started to tinker with it. First, the salad bar started to decline. They took the large wedges of chedder and pepper-jack cheese off, and would start skipping very basic things, like onions, more and more often. Then they decided that the "honor system" had to go. The initial concept was you got your ticket and paid on your way out. The new system was that you had to pay at the end of the ordering line. I suppose it reduced shrinkage some, and obviated the need for another employee and register stand at the door, but it also slowed up the line, and made it seem that you weren't quite trusted to pay for your food. Real decline set in after this, and the chain obviously realized it with their somewhat desperate ad campaigns for The Big, Fat Yeast Roll. The rolls were actually pretty good, but you want to think several times before launching a restaurant ad campaign in which the words "big" and "fat" play prominent roles.

I think the Forest Drive location was the first in Columbia to go, with Two Notch being the last. I believe the chain is still in business and has a few stores left, but I haven't seen one in several years.

I forget what moved into the Two Notch building after Quincy's, but it didn't last too long, and I think the building sat vacant a while before becoming Stiletto's. That brief-lived operation had a sign with a very shapely set of legs, the feet adorned with the aforementioned footware. I'm pretty sure I saw the sign as recently as last week, but I can't say for certain. The sign also mentioned that, like Quincy's, they had steaks on the menu, but I suspect "the sizzle" was more their stock in trade.

UPDATE 9 May 2008: New construction is going on at the old Quincy's/Stiletto's

Looks like it will be a "Harbor Inn", which either means that there will be two Harbor Inns within a mile or so of each other on Two Notch, or that the one in front of Bi-Lo (in the old Ryan's building) will be moving here.

UPDATE 22 March 2010: Added full street address (and some tags)

Written by ted on February 11th, 2008

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A&P, Midlands Shopping Center (and everywhere..): 1970s   49 comments

Posted at 8:51 pm in stores

I recall that when I was around 6 or 7, Midlands Plaza ran a promotion to get shoppers out during the weekend. There was some sort of ride to entice the children, and the whole thing was promoted on WIS radio. Midlands wasn't where we normally shopped, but I bugged my mother until she took me out to experience the much ballyhooed kiddy-ride. I can't remember what it was now except that it was small, groundbased and freestanding (to make it easier to transport from promotion to promotion, I suppose). I have the impression that it was supposed to hop around the parking lot, but really it didn't matter, because they could not get it started. Apparently there was a gas motor in there somewhere, because they kept pulling on a lawn-mower-like starting cord, and occasionaly the thing would sputter a few strokes, but it would never fire up. And that is a metaphor for the history of Midlands Plaza.

I don't know if this is actually the case, but Midlands Plaza seems to have been conceived as a sister site to Trenholm Plaza (perhaps even the reverse was true?), with a Post Office and A&P anchoring a choice corner site with easy access from major roads, but for some reason the place exhibited a failure-to-thrive for most of the period I can remember. Certainly it was in bad shape by the 70s, bottomed out in the 80s, and has currently come to terms with a post-retail mode of operation.

It is rather appropriate that A&P was the anchor store for Midlands, since that chain itself underwent a similar experience during the same time period. It used to be the case that you could find A&P's distinctive, steeple capped, stores all around Columbia and other area cities. You can still often find the buildings, but the chain itself has withered away. I think part of it was the fact that while grocery stores were getting bigger and bigger, A&P was entrenched in small sites, and didn't make any effort to build bigger until they had finally been leap-frogged by newer chains. Of course for that to happen bespeaks a certain complacency at the management level, perhaps best exemplified by the last A&P advertising campaign that I can recall: A&P: Putting Price & Pride Together Again. It's always risky to run a "we were wrong" campain, and much more so to run a lame "we were wrong" campaign.

After the failure of that campaign, and the closure of the stores at Trenholm & Midlands Plazas, the only other A&P activity I saw in South Carolina was the attempt to establish a "Supercenter" in North Myrtle Beach, something that might have worked if they had done it before Kroger and other big stores moved in, but which in the event went under after no more than a few years. So, with over a hundred years in business, the legacy of A&P, at least in South Carolina, is the (confusing to youngsters, I'm sure) reference in the Waitresses classic "Christmas Wrapping":

A&P has pride in me with the world's smallest turkey..

The store at Trenholm Plaza was torn down and replaced with a Publix, the store at Midlands Plaza became, for a time, Giant Food World (invoking nightmare images of boxcar sized potatoes, and Sequoia-ish brocolli), then I think became a furniture store and finally became empty (but the steeple and wether-vane have withstood the ravages of the years..)

UPDATE: Added picture of old A&P on Sunset Drive.
UPDATE: Added picture of old (but re-roofed & de-steepled) A&P on the Charleston Highway

UPDATE 4 April 2013 -- Well, I wish I had made totally separate posts for all the old A&P buildings, but I was still kind of feeling my way along way back in 2008. That aside, the Midlands Shopping Center A&P building is now gone. Below are pictures from mid 2012 and then March 2013:

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Written by ted on February 10th, 2008

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Welcome Free Times Readers!   7 comments

Posted at 10:18 pm in commentary

I put an ad for columbiaclosings.com on the Free Times site today, and I see it's already brought a number of people in.

Welcome!

This is a blog about businesses (mostly in Columbia) which are no longer around. You can take a look at the Mission Statement or the Alphabetical List of Closings or just browse the archives.

Written by ted on February 8th, 2008

Hollywood Video, 3810 Two Notch Road: 2007   7 comments

Posted at 4:57 pm in stores

I was just reminded today that the Hollywood Video attached to the Food Lion plaza on Two Notch Road near Dick Dyer Toyota is gone. A quick google reveals that the whole chain is in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and is closing "underperforming" stores. It appears that they made a fatal mistake in trying to buy their nearest competitor and become a solid #2 to Blockbuster's #1. I think the handwriting is on the wall for most video rental places. If it's not Netflix, it will be Internet or cable-box downloads (legal or not..)

On the other hand, when Hollywood closes a store, it has a big "to the bare walls" sale, which is a nice touch.

UPDATE 23 October 2009: Added the street address (3810) to the post title

UPDATE 20 December 2011 -- Well, something has finally moved into this space, HomeSmart, which seems to be a household furniture and electronics rental operation:

Written by ted on February 8th, 2008

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Rising High, Harden Street: 2006   6 comments

Posted at 6:19 pm in restaurants

In principle, I should like Rising High, since it is sort of a local version of The Atlanta Bread Company or Panera Bread, and I like both of those operations (in general, but see my post about ABC at Sandhills..). In practice I never really found the sandwich or other food item that could make this place a regular stop for me. The sandwich which came closest, The Sundrenched was a bit too artichokey. The deck was a nice idea in principle, but I found that when it wasn't too hot, or too cold to use it, I tended to get panhandled by passers-by.

I'm unsure if the building was built for Rising High. I remember The Villa being in about that location before it closed. At any rate, I think a combination of things did in this location. First and foremost was the interminable Harden Street revamping which also cost us The Parthenon. I believe that, combined with the fact that the chain was at the same time trying to establish a new location on Beltline Blvd (where Shane's Ribs now is) just put too much stress on the operation.

The building now hosts The Congaree Grill, an operation I have yet to visit.

Written by ted on February 4th, 2008

Pizza Hut, 1929 Broad River Road: January 2008   19 comments

Posted at 6:12 pm in restaurants

The Pizza Hut on Broad River Road found itself in a less than ideal location after the implosion of Service Merchandise and the downscaling of Dutch Square. Still they hung on until they had a chance to move to the new Wal-Mart location on Bush River Road, which they have now done.

I can only remember eating there a few times over the years. It's interesting to me how during the time I've been buying my own meals, Pizza Hut has gone from being a "nice" place to eat to a sub-par fast-food experience. They have always had a problem over the years with the customer being able to figure out whether to pay the server or pay at the register, but they used to have a fairly good food and reasonable service.

It seemed to me that the food started going down-hill in the 90s, and the service, including the kitchen staff followed quickly. For me the final straw was when a lot of locations started serving "fountain" ice tea instead of fresh brewed. I recall being at a location in Lauringburg NC, and sending my tea back as I could taste that there was "something wrong with it". The waiter commented "yeah, a lot of people say that since we switched." I was kind of flabbergasted that the store had an obvious problem which people were giving them feedback on, but about which they apparently did not care. The most recent time I stopped at a Pizza Hut was in Walterboro when I could find nothing else reasonable looking off of I-95 that was still open. The tables hadn't been wiped, I sat for 20 minutes without a drink or my order being taken, the ice tea was fountain, and the cook hadn't been taught how to cook the garlic bread orders (apparently there is an opening half-way through the oven where you are supposed to insert a garlic bread tray, but he ran it all the way through).

So, that's a bit of venting about Pizza Hut in general. It's not fair to put it on the Broad River one, but I don't think I'll be visiting the new location.

UPDATE 23 May 2011 -- Here's a picture of this Pizza Hut's new location in the Wal-Mart plaza on Bush River Road:

UPDATE 15 September 2012 -- The old Broad River Road building is now a title loan operation:

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Written by ted on February 4th, 2008

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