September 5th, 2011

Much Ado About Main

One of the most interesting urban renewal efforts occurred in my hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina. As a young person, I remember visiting the Town Center Mall moreso than my peers because my mom’s office was in a 70′s shiny corporate-looking building on the end of the mall.

Town Center Mall was actually built on our Main Street. In the 1970′s Rock Hill leaders recognized the movement of shopping and merchants away from the downtown district and to Cherry Road, a commercial drag that stretches from the Interstate. As people began shopping in locations along Cherry Road, like Beatty Mall and Rock Hill Mall, activity followed.

To mitigate the problem of abandoning the downtown core, city officials came up with a plan to compete. They put a roof on several blocks on Main Street. The Town Center Mall was born quite literally at the town’s center.

I remember Town Center Mall was rather dark and often empty. There was a large gazebo and some enclosed spaces added to the center. A shiny paver type flooring was added. The original buildings lining this portion of Main Street could be accessed from their rear or from the inside of the mall. The central promenade could be accessed from either end of the mall or through the stores.

Girl Scout uniforms from the original Belks.  Shoes from Stride Rite.  Necco wafers from Woolworth’s or McCrory’s dime stores. Eventually, however, the mall became a conundrum. A large relatively empty space sitting at our very core.

In 1993, the roof was stripped off and the building facades were refinished. Lunch eateries, specialty shops, the arts center, offices, and even residential condos materialized. Main Street is beautiful again and though it certainly no longer is the the source for shoes, hardware, and other necessities, it is back to its former grandeur. Lucky for us, those buildings are too beautiful to be covered anyway, and we know now how important it is to maintain the urban fabric. At the time though, covering Main Street was probably an innovative solution to try.

Author: Tory Parish