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Archive for April, 2008

Tricentennial Songs, Columbia & Everywhere in South Carolina: 1970   164 comments

Posted at 11:50 pm in events,historic,products

How can I convey just how much of a *BIG*DEAL* the Tricentennial was for us in 1970? Well, let's just say that it was a much bigger event in our lives than the Bicentennial was in 1976. (And if you don't know what the Bicentennial was, you're a whippersnapper, and there's no helping you). If you were in Third Grade in 1970, as I was, along with the rest of my classmates at Satchel Ford Elementary in Mrs. Anderson's homeroom, the Tricentennial was a good part of your year.

Not only did we learn South Carolina history tidbits in school all year, but there were constant references on TV, and futuristic geodesic dome museums built downtown (Senate Street?) with all kind of historic artifacts. It was such a big deal that we were all mad when the Weekly Reader did a story on California's Bicentennial and didn't mention our Tricentennial at all.

But the biggest thing about the Tricentennial at school and even at family gatherings with cousins was the Tricentennial songs. We knew all of them by heart, and sang them constantly that year.

The songs were all composed by music teacher Nelle McMaster Sprott (with some lyrics borrowed with permission from the State's Poet Laureate, Archibald Rutledge) and seem to have been discovered by the Tricentennial Commission almost by accident. If it was an accident, it was a happy one, and an album of the songs was pressed by the Tricentennial Commission and sent to all the state's public schools (and was available for home purchase, along with sheet music for all the songs). I can hardly overstate how ubiquitous and well-loved this album was in 1970. You can quibble about a few lyric choices like "come and feel the pain" in Carolina Sunshine (though the intent is clear), but I think the album still stands up very well today.

For some reason though, the album and songs were orphaned after the Tricentennial. I suppose the Tricentennial Commission disbanded, and that might be the reason, but for whatever cause, the album was never re-issued even on LP much less as remastered for CD. That means what I am able to present here was recorded from a 39 year old LP in all its scratchy glory, but when you set the Way-Bac Machine to 1970 and put yourselves in the shoes of those third graders again, can you honestly say you don't agree with:

We are good Sandlappers,
Yes we're good Sandlappers.
And we're mighty proud to say --
That we live,
Yes we live,
In the very finest state of the USA

I know I can't.

[NOTE: I have replaced the full versions of the songs above with 30 second clips. I have heard from Mrs. Sprott's granddaughter that she is working on a web-site dedicated to her grandmother. When it's up, I will link it here!]

UPDATE 9 November 2012: Here's some interesting information on the Charleston, Columbia & Greenville Tricentennial buildings.

Written by ted on April 30th, 2008

Market Pointe Centre, Bush River Road & I-20: 1980s etc   5 comments

Posted at 11:37 pm in historic,stores

I don't remember what name this mall had when it first opened, but I'm pretty sure it was not Market Pointe Centre. I think it was something that emphasized the initial theme of the place like Outlet Point Mall.

At a certain time in the 70s, it seemed that everything was going to "outlets", and outlet malls sprung up everywhere. The largest and most famous of these in South Carolina (the way I recall it anyway) was Waccamaw Pottery in Myrtle Beach, but there were many others. Market Pointe or Outlet Point or whatever it was, was Columbia's attempt to cash in on the trend. Frankly it was never a place I was really interested in because as far as I could tell, "Outlet" essentially meant "little clothes store", and I wasn't interested in clothes stores, big or little. I suppose there were non-clothes stores there, but what really interested me were bookstores, electronics stores or hardware stores, and I don't think there were any of those. Still, I would always end up there when my cousins made one of their whirlwind shopping trips to Columbia, and the place always seemed busy to me. Apart from the outlet stores, I remember they had Columbia's only "Orange Julius" kiosk, though I never got to try one.

Sometime in the 80s, I think, the "Outlet Mall" concept ran into hard times. I don't know why exactly, any more than I know why it came into vogue in the first place. Waccamaw Pottery went under, with the mostly empty buildings still sitting there in front of Hard Rock Park today. A mall very similar to Market Pointe went through several unsuccessful incarnations while I was living in Fayetteville, and Market Pointe itself started to struggle.

I never seemed to get back there to check it out (apparently few people did..), but my understanding is that they soldiered on as a mall for a good while with lots of empty storefronts, but the writing was on the wall. Even the success of locating Hamrick's there didn't help the rest of the mall, and parts of it have now gone to state government offices and parts of it are for sale.

Outlet malls still seem to be viable on I-95; I can think of one in Santee, a couple in Georgia and one up in either NC or VA. I'm not sure why I-95 works and I-20 didn't, but I'll speculate that I-95 gets a lot of vacation traffic, with people more in the mood to spend money while the east-west traffic on I-20 is less festive and free spending.

Or maybe people just don't want to shop at a place that manages to mispell two of the three words in its name.

Written by ted on April 29th, 2008

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The Palace Restaurant, 1404 Gervais Street: 1990s   24 comments

Posted at 12:01 am in historic,restaurants

Here's another place that was always on my "hmm, maybe I'll try that someday" list, but which in the event, I never got around to.

There are probably several reasons for that. For one thing, downtown Gervais Street is a location I only very rarely find myself at during lunch time. For another, the two left and right outrider words beside "Restaurant" (hard to read here, I think the closing-cam lens needs cleaning) are "Billiards" & "Saloon", which made me think that the place might be a bit on the rough side, and probably smoky. I guess I'll never know now.

UPDATE 5 Dec 2010: Added full street address given by commenter Andy S.

Written by ted on April 25th, 2008

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(The Original) WIS Radio, Bull St & WIS Lane: 1980s   59 comments

Posted at 5:30 pm in historic,personalities,stores

What to say about the original WIS Radio? Well, I think it's hard to describe to a modern audience, but for me growing up, it was a constant and welcome presence in my life.

WIS started broadcasting on 10 July 1930 with call letters that stood for Wonderful Iodine State (to celebrate the natural abundance of the goiter preventing element in South Carolina, a big deal in the days before iodized salt). I'm not absolutely sure if it signed on with its historic frequency, but for all the time I knew it, it was AM 560 (560 kilocycles or as it is now called, 560 kilohertz). Or if you were in your car, once you set the station, it was was just known, as the drivetime show put it, as WIS:Pushbutton One

In those days (from the 30s to the 60s) AM radio was the norm, and FM radio was a bit exotic. Most radios sold were AM only, and AM radio was the medium for all kinds of music from rock & pop all the way to classical and opera. Most importantly, the clock radio sitting on top of our refrigerator was AM only, and too high for a kid to retune easily, and it was set to WIS.

That meant that all through grammar school and into high school, I mostly started my mornings with toast, orange juice, milk & cereal ... and Gene McKay. McKay was the morning host at WIS, and he ran a very low key show with gentle humor and good helpings of music interspersed with the events and news of the day. He had a number of running jokes, with two of the most popular being first the reports of new doings at the worlds most inept college, Crodney Tech, whose teams, under the aegis of head coach Arms Akimbo had apparently never won a game of any sort, and second, anything involving Irmo. McKay apparently was at first just fascinated with the way the word sounded, and used it as a tag for jokes, but later he started making up "history" bits about the doings of the Ancient Irmese and eventually, in a manner on which I'm not entirely clear, ended up either inspiring or founding the annual Irmo Okra Strut, which endures to this day.

The other personality I remember from the classic era (ie: when I was growing up :-) is Bill Benton. Benton had a talk show, perhaps called something as simple as Time to Talk though I'm not sure that's right and conducted many interesting interviews with local personalities and people passing through town on publicity tours. In general though, I heard few of those because I would be in school during the day, and frankly as a kid wasn't that interested in the abstract, though they did catch my ear sometimes when I was home sick. What I did listen specifically for was Ghost Story Thursday. That means exactly what it looks like. It's hard to imagine now, and even at the time it was a bit retro, but every Thursday night, Benton would bring out a book of ghost stories and read out-loud as many as his time slot allowed. That was some scary stuff! Of course, the only one I can actually remember right now was not scary so much as it was funny, though I'm sure Benton was not amused at the time. Whether a crew member was having a bit of fun by setting him up, or if Benton just pulled a likely book from his stash without having time to pre-read, he ended up one night with a book of "modern" ghost stories and started reading something (think Ann RIce or Lauren K. Hamilton) that was heading in a direction he clearly could not allow it to go on the radio. I was old enough then to kind of appreciate what was happening, and after a couple of references to "thighs" and Benton reading slower and slower, trying to edit in real-time, he finally just had to stop, apologize for not being able to finish and move on to something else. (Yes, I know this is similar to a Garrison Keillor bit, but it really happened).

WIS was the station for USC athletics and though I was never really into sports, I can remember many times hearing Bob Fulton ("The Voice of the Gamecocks") calling games on the radio. It was also for many years the local affiliate for the Atlanta Braves, and I was listening one night grilling burgers in the back yard (perhaps the last time I did that, come to think of it) when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record. WIS was also the dominant radio news station, and had the first, and still perhaps the only, helicopter radio traffic reports. These were given added authority by the fact that instead of them being done by station personnel, through some sort of arrangement with the Highway Patrol, Sgt. Frank Ravetta flew in the traffic chopper and did the reports live himself. In fact WIS was where most people automatically turned for the news up into the late 70s. I remember when I was in high school around 1977 when Columbia had a terrible ice storm which left people without power for days (we were without for two weeks), one of the girls in my carpool commented that she had heard the station save someone's life by talking him out of running a charcoal grill inside.

Not that WIS was all talk, news & sports. Music was a big part of the format, and they tried to walk a narrow line with pretty good success. WIS wasn't a rock station, nor was it country, jazz or classical (though they did have the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays for many years before it moved to public radio). The format, I think, was not rigidly thought out as today's are, but was designed to appeal to adults, who had been adult when the rock revolution started. That meant that they played a lot of Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones and the like. It wasn't oldies, these were artists still releasing new songs -- it was sort of what pop radio might have been had Elvis and The Beatles not come along. Today the closest tag would be "Adult Contemporary", but that doesn't exactly fit. At any rate, because my parents listened to WIS (they weren't against rock the way some people were, they just didn't like it much), I mostly missed the rock era. On the whole, I'm very happy about that. I got to hear and enjoy a lot of music that was foreign to my peers, and still had rock to discover later (for instance, when I finally discovered Van Morrison, there were about 30 Van Morrison albums to listen to!). Gradually this started to change as the years went by. Personally I think "The Carpenters" were the death of the people trying to carry on the Sinatra traditon. "Such nice kids! So melodic!", but if you listened to the guitars on "Superstar", it was rock, and the dam was broken. The last WIS personality I really remember was Mike Collins, and he epitomized the new style, playing standards or non-edgy rock as the mood took him.

In 1977, the classic era ended. FM and stereo were obviously the coming things for music, and personalities Gene McKay, Bill Benton & Dave Wright jumped ship, buying local station WSCQ (FM 100) as an outlet for their efforts. By this time, we had a stereo with FM in the dining room, and I remember tuning in Gene McKay for what I think was his first morning broadcast on WSCQ. He played Abba's "Dancing Queen", and I remember thinking that I had never heard anything as glorious as that coming out in stereo from the two speakers.

After that, WIS moved more in a news direction with less and less music and finally the station was sold around the early 1980s. The new owners tagged it WVOC (Voice of Columbia) and it remains at AM 560 to this day. Somewhat later, the WIS TV organization decided getting out of radio had been a mistake and started a new WIS radio, but it is a new entity with no real ties to the original.

The pictures at the top of this post are of WIS TV on Bull Street. Growing up, the building housed both stations and had signage indicating that. Sometime in the 70s, I think, despite being the elder entity, WIS radio moved out. I visited the radio studio three times that I can recall. Once to pick up some tickets I had won in a contest, once to take Mike Collins a Beach Boys record, and once for the station's 50th anniversary celebration (which featured Snuffy Jenkins & The Hired Hands -- the same band that had played on-air when the station opened in 1930 if I recall correctly). Despite that, I can not today remember exactly where the studio was. I think it was somewhere off of Broad River Road on a flood plain (the station was set on pilings like a beach house), but I can't for the life of me recall just where. I know the location was always given as "1 WIS Lane", but mapquest doesn't know anything about it, so I'm guessing it was renamed after the station was sold.

I wouldn't go back to the way things were -- I like being able to find any song from anyone on itunes and being able to check the news at any time, but just because I wouldn't create WIS today doesn't mean it wasn't great then.

We'll be right back after tonight's top story.

Update 30 May 2008:

Well, thanks to commenter Jonathan, I was able to find the old WIS studio and towers.

I had thought it was somewhere off of Broad River Road, actually it is on (or off of) Garden Valley Lane, which is off of Bush River Road.

You go down Garden Valley Lane until you hit the Saluda Hydro Project recreation area, a place which seems very nice, and which I had no idea existed. I believe this is the point where WIS Lane used to start, but apparently it is all just Garden Valley Lane now. The studio and towers are about a quarter mile down the road from there on the Saluda River flood-plain.

It appears that, as I recalled, everything at the old station is now owned by WVOC. There are three transmitter towers.

This is one:

This is another:

Here is the old studio. It appears that WVOC does not use the building on an ongoing basis (which makes sense as the phonebook lists their studio as being on Greystone Blvd):

Notice the old broadcast TV antenna. Apparently they never got cable at the studio!

Of course the whole place is posted, so I didn't go up the stairs and take a look inside:

I seem to recall that the last time I was there, the studio did not have the red wood grille work covering the pilings that keep it off the flood-plain:

I'm guessing this antenna mast may connect the current Greystone studio back to the towers here, but I have no real idea:

UPDATE 11 October 2009

WIS Time to Talk ad from November 1970 Sandlapper Magazine:

UPDATE 26 October 2009: Ad from Jan 1972 Sandlapper Magazine:

Written by ted on April 22nd, 2008

The Olive Garden, 2547 Decker Boulevard: April 2005   11 comments

Posted at 8:18 pm in historic,restaurants

Yep, it's another Decker posting!

The Olive Garden can't get no respect, and I'm not entirely sure why. Yes, compared to your favorite little hole-in-the-wall that you discovered in Little Italy, it's not that great. Compared to the chains? I'm not sure exactly where it rates with Macaroni Grill (MG's bread is definitely better), and it's definitely not as good as Carabbas. BUT: it's not bad. Certainly not as bad as all the insults comics have thrown its way for years. I'd go so far as to say that the "Soup, salad & breadstick" lunch is very nice, and the Capelini Pomodoro is quite good.

This location is another place where my father, sister and I used to eat Sunday lunch from time to time. I can understand why the chain would want to put a new location out on Two Notch near Sandhills -- there's a lot of growth there, and a lot of people to feed. What I don't understand is why opening that new store required closing this one. It seemed to do a good business, and the people in the Forest Acres area haven't gone anywhere. We still eat! In fact, I would probably eat lunch there at least once a week whereas the new location is just too far to go for lunch hour.

UPDATE 19 Feb 2010: Added full street address to post title.

UPDATE 15 Feb 2011: Updated closing date in post title to April 2005 based on commenter Andrew's research.

Written by ted on April 19th, 2008

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Cucos Mexican Cafe, Capitol Centre: 1996   4 comments

Posted at 10:48 pm in historic,restaurants

In the mid-90s, Cucos Mexican Cafe was in the Capitol Centre strip-mall, adjoining Columbia Mall, the same place which was at the time home to Circuit City and Capitol Centre Theaters.

Cucos was a casual Tex-Mex eatery with what I still consider to be unusually good salsa. (It wasn't particullarly hot, but had some unusual ingredients, including carrot chunks to give it a very good flavor). The vegetarian burrito was good as well, and my sister, father & I enjoyed eating there on the weekends when I was back in town.

In the winter of 1995, I made the mistake of answering a technical question on an internal e-mail list just at the time they needed someone else to fill out a work party upgrading computers in Seoul Korea. Having raised my visibility, and being between projects, I was chosen and flew out of Augusta GA to Atlanta, through Portland OR and to Seoul to join the team from the west-coast office.

When I got there, everyone from California was sick and I was fine. Seoul in the winter is the coldest place I have ever been, and I have been in Kansas in Janurary. We were working mainly after hours so as not to disturb the computer users during the day, and I remember one night in particular when we had to leave a warm building (with no key to get back in) and wait 40 minutes in the snow and wind for a cab. Anyway, the point is, as I borded the plane back for the US, everyone else was feeling pretty good and I was starting to feel rocky. The trip from Seoul to Chicago (which was the route back) was the longest trip I can ever recall. When we hit Chicago, I put my watch from Seoul time to Central, meaning that when I got to Atlanta, I was off by an hour and missed my flight back to Augusta. By this point, I was ready to just lay myself down on a bench of Hartsfield seats and expire, but Delta got me on the next flight to Augusta, and somehow I made the drive back to Aiken. I had about enough energy to crawl into bed, and I didn't leave it for two weeks except for the bathroom and forcing down the occasional soda-cracker. I don't know the technical name for what I had, but I called it the Korean Death Flu. After two weeks flat on my back, I was finally able to start making it back into work for partial days, but I was still as weak as a kitten when the annual holiday break rolled around. What does this have to do with anything? Perhaps not much, but I vividly remember that the first day I felt really well again, it was close to Christmas, and I was sitting in Cucos having lunch, just marveling that I had an appitite and didn't ache anywhere. The realization of well-being came over me, and I just sort of sat back and enjoyed it, being in no hurry at all to finish and leave, and as it happened that day, my waitress was a very pretty Southern-Belle of Korean descent.

So what happened to Cucos? As far as I could tell, they did a very good business in that location, but that doesn't matter much if the whole chain gets into trouble. Googling around a bit, I find that in their SEC filing for 1995, Cucos said that casinos in the New Orleans area (their home base) were starting to cut into their earnings (frankly that sounds like a pretty flimsy excuse for doing poorly..) though they were taking measures to counter it. I'm guessing they started to retrench then, and not long after that, the Columbia location closed. Apparently they soldiered on until going into bankruptcy in 2002. I think there are still some Cucos left, but my impression is that they were succesful franchises bought out by the franchisees.

After the local Cucos folded, the corner spot it had occupied became a sports bar which lasted a few years, but is now vacant.

As for myself? -- I make sure to get a flu-shot every year now.

Written by ted on April 16th, 2008

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The Italian Oven, 2732 Decker Boulevard: 1997   9 comments

Posted at 5:34 pm in historic,restaurants

At one time, "The Italian Oven" was an up-and-coming casual Italian chain. I visited locations in Kansas City, Aiken, and of course, Columbia. The stores had a welcoming ambience that was a bit less formal than something like The Olive Garden, but still classier than something like Pizza Hut.

They had, in my opinion, a very good pizza, not too thin and not too thick and made better by having very large diameter pepperonis and bottles of olive oil at the tables for drizzling on it. I don't recall having anything other than pizza, but my father and sister seemed satisfied with the other Italian dishes on their menu. They also had a "gimmick" to distinguish them, and endear them to kids: Their drinking straws were actually long pasta noodles. This worked better than you might expect as cold beverages didn't seem to soften them to any appreciable extent, and it was fun to crunch them when you were finished.

They also had their problems. This was a chain that was founded on the idea of rapid growth, and as often happens, it got out of hand, and staffing suffered as (in my opinion) franchisees and staff were insufficiently vetted. When I was living in Aiken, I used to enjoy going to the Aiken Mall location because it was open until 10:30 on weeknights, and fit my preferred dining hours better than most places. I was in there one night happily reading a book and waiting for pizza when the manager came over and tried to proselytize me. This didn't sit at all well with me, and I never went back. (I remember reading somewhere about restaurants: "Americans don't complain, they just don't come back"). The place closed not long after that, though I doubt my boycott made the difference.

The one in Columbia lasted a bit longer, long enough to provide one of the oddest restaurant experiences I've ever had. My father, sister and I were eating lunch there one day, probably a Saturday. I wasn't paying any particular attention, but service seemed kind of slow. Finally a well dressed man with a notepad came to the table and asked for our order. My sister seemed rather hesitant though my father, like me, had noticed nothing. We made our orders, and he asked if we wanted bread. I said that, it was hard to choose there because sometimes they brought out bread as an appetizer and sometimes they didn't (I still have a peeve about places like that). He said that he would make sure we got the complementary bread this time and walked off.

After he left, my sister pointed to a table of young, business-looking guys, and said, "That guy was with that table -- he's a customer". And indeed, this table of "can-do" customers had gotten so disgusted with the slow table staff that they had taken over waiter-ing for the whole store. They carried our, and their, orders in to the kitchen, made sure the cooks understood, and later brought our food!

Not long after that, the whole chain folded in bankruptcy and acrimony. Some individual restaurants survive, their owners having negotiated rights keep the name, and the original owner is apparently now trying to refound the national chain, but as a Fazoli's style no-table-service concept.

After the Decker location closed, no successful retail operation ever went into its spot, marking the start of the decline of that particular strip mall. Goodwill finally put a thrift shop there, but I prefer pizza.

UPDATE 12 April 2010: Added full street address to post title.

UPDATE 8 June 2012: Changed post title to spell out "Boulevard" in full. Also added tags.

Written by ted on April 15th, 2008

Tagged with , , ,

Gaining Visibility, Unfortunately   no comments

Posted at 11:06 pm in commentary

Well today for the first time, the blog has started getting spam comments. I suppose that says something. So far the filters are catching them, but don't be surprised if some get through before I have a chance to cancel them.

Written by ted on April 13th, 2008

The General Store, Hammock Shops Pawleys Island: Jan 2008 (moved)   4 comments

Posted at 7:44 pm in grand-strand,landmark,stores

I suppose it dilutes the concept and Columbia-anity of this blog a bit to do Grand Strand posts, but I said I would way back in the Mission Statement, and I've always considered the Grand Strand as a disjoint suburb of Columbia anyway.

The Hammock Shop (now "Shops") has been a Pawleys Island landmark since forever, and for most of that time (or for most of my life anyway), it has been anchored by two unchanging shops, The Original Hammock Shop (which sells the famous Pawleys Island rope hammocks) and the General Store.

The product mix at the General store has changed over the years, (it doesn't have the "horehound" candy canes we used to get there as kids) but it's always been identifiably the same place, with the same feel. In fact, the local paper, The Coastal Observer printed a story last year that pointed out the historicity of the place:

While doing renovations at their business, David and Alicia Norris made a discovery.

They knocked down a wall in the back of the General Store at the Hammock Shops to make way for a coffee bar and found a wallet they suspect has been hidden there for about 36 years. Based on the contents, it appears to have belonged to a child.

The wallet is made of brown, embossed leather with stitching around the edges and contains four photographs and $2.65 in change, two silver dollars, a 50-cent piece, a dime and five pennies.

The photos are of a young boy and girl, who David believes are the wallet's owner and his older sister. The boy looks to be about 5 and judging from the style of clothing in the photos and the dates on the coins, David said he thinks the wallet was lost sometime around 1971.

The section of wall that was torn down had built-in waist-high cabinets with a few inches of empty space both behind and underneath the cabinets, David said. He suspects someone either set the wallet on top of the cabinet and it fell behind it, or it was dropped on the floor and got kicked underneath.

There was a followup story later about finding the (now middle aged) man who lost the wallet and returning it to him.

That's a rather roundabout way of saying I was shocked in January when I stopped by the Hammock Shops, and the General Store building was empty.

A sign on the door pointed me South down US-17 a few blocks (and on the other side of the road) to the new location. As it turned out, I was able to talk to the owners for a little bit about what prompted the move, and I see how it made a lot of sense from their point of view, but it's still very odd to see a new tenant in that particular spot. Actually it seems to be two tenants. The Candy Cottage has been in the Hammock Shops for a number of years now, off to the right of the General Store building. I like it a good bit, and have gotten a number of presents for my neice there. I think Pawleys Island Mercantile is a new operation, and seems to be trying to fill the same general niche the General Store filled. I wish both operations well, but am still sad to see the General Store move.

UPDATE 17 Nov 08: Well, that didn't last long. The General Store didn't even make it through the Summer in its new location. I guess that moving an established store with 40+ years of history and strong associations with its original site was always going to be fraught, and the new location was not very eye-catching, but I had hoped for better. Oh well.

Written by ted on April 13th, 2008

Serendipity Florist, 6830 Two Notch Road: 2008   3 comments

Posted at 11:49 pm in stores

As I was taking one of the pictures for the Circuit City post, I found myself standing in front of a little store called Serendipity that I had never noticed before. I had no idea what it was, but looking in the windows (which works better in person than with my camera..) quickly established that it had been a florist shop and probably a rather interesting one. It just goes to show how even a medium sized place like Columbia has much more stuff than I can keep track of. Apparently a fair sized parcel goes with the shop, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the land.

UPDATE 21 May 2009: Looks like it's open again as a florist Forget-Me-Not:

Written by ted on April 11th, 2008

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