Woodruff Economic Development Director Alyson Smith remembers looking down Main Street and noticing empty storefronts beginning to fill up with new businesses. It had been a long time since the area had been so vibrant.
The growth started with the opening of a coffee shop and more followed.
“Humble Grounds opened about four years ago and that was one of the first ones to really invest a lot in the building. They put a lot of work into the building, completely renovated it. And then we started having (businesses) one at a time gradually move in,” Smith said.
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One of the businesses that followed was The Yellow Butterfly, a gift shop that opened in downtown Woodruff in December 2018.
“Whenever we first (opened), there was nobody really around. It kind of felt abandoned,” said Meghan Richards, an employee at The Yellow Butterfly.
The shop has plenty of company now. Since 2019, about 10 new attractions have come to the downtown’s Main Street, including venues, restaurants and salons, half of those businesses opened in the last year.
“We’re starting to see a lot more businesses opening and more things to do,” Smith said.
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Boom from business
Woodruff businessman Ben Harrison, owner of Tap Three in downtown Woodruff as well as local businesses specializing in landscaping and graphic design, has a major stake in downtown development. Harrison owns 10 buildings downtown, and all but one, currently under renovation, is rented.
“I was born and raised here. I’ve been here for about 40 years, and in my early 20s, it was affordable to invest in Woodruff,” Harrison said. “Just as a need to keep my landscaping employees busy, I started renovating buildings without any foresight that it was going to grow.”
It turned out to be a good investment.
“Just in the last three or four years, there’s been a lot of interest in downtown Woodruff, and thanks to good city officials and administrators, they’ve helped encourage growth as well as good timing,” Harrison said.
This business boom is taking place as the city is also anticipating a population increase. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city’s population was 4,246 in 2019. Woodruff is set to see a dramatic increase in housing by 2023.
“2,000 new homes will be built over the next two years,” Smith said. “We currently have roughly 300 completed or in progress, but that does not include land that is being prepared for many more homes.”
Woodruff is becoming a hot spot for new subdivisions. The Ellington, located off Main Street, and Pearson Park, located across from McKinney Park, have created more than 200 new homes just within city limits.
“I think a lot of the growth surrounding us definitely had an impact. We have growth coming our way from the Greenville and Spartanburg areas, all the industries on (Highway) 290. I think that benefitted us a lot because there’s so many industries coming up in this close driving distance,” Smith said.
The growth also brought in new business.
“We’ve heard a lot from employees or spouses of employees in those industries who are looking to open businesses here,” Smith said.
Small town feel
City leaders hope to encourage more growth from small and independent businesses downtown, fostering growth without Main Street losing its uniqueness.
“We want to keep the downtown with a small-town charm. A nice, walkable downtown,” Smith said. “We want to see more small, family-owned unique businesses coming in to give variety for residents and visitors to shop and dine in town.”
Two of these family-owned businesses are Main Street Sweets and Wolverine Axe Throwing & Arcade, owned by Dee Harper Dimsdale and her son Drew Harper Craig, respectively.
Both Woodruff natives, Dimsdale and Craig wanted to bring something unique to downtown — Dimsdale with a classic candy shop and Craig with an entertainment spot, something city officials see as really needed in downtown to appeal to students from the surrounding colleges.
“Woodruff’s growing so we wanted to try to grow with it,” Craig said. “We’ve lived here our whole life and we’ve seen the ups and downs and we want to be a part of the up.”
Additionally, the city is looking for ways to make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly through traffic studies and other completed infrastructure projects. For instance, the Main Street Connector, a landscaped walkway leading from McKinney Park on one side of Main Street to the other, and city’s free public parking lots are all meant to encourage residents and visitors to park their cars and explore the city on foot.
The city also converted one of its empty storefronts into Block 224, an outdoor community event venue.
“In March, we started doing music every Thursday there, and it’s kind of an outdoor eating space where people can just hang out. There’s a nice courtyard, fire pit, and stage, and it’s a nice little atmosphere,” Smith said.
Room to grow
Even with the quick growth the city has experienced over the last couple of years, there is still room for expansion. According to a recent downtown survey map, there are at least six vacant spaces for new retail establishments and restaurants to move into on Main Street and others under contract.
Their main focus when looking for new businesses is to find concepts that will keep residents in town, rather than losing their business to larger cities. Currently, they’d like to see more things for teens and college students to do downtown, Smith said.
“We take a look at demographics, like retail analyses, on what our residents are leaving town to find and then sometimes we’ll target those businesses and try to reach out to somebody who might want to expand to add a location here,” Smith said.
Samantha Swann covers Spartanburg County K-12 schools and colleges and the food scene in downtown and beyond. She is a University of South Carolina Upstate and Greenville Technical College alumna. Contact her at [email protected].