Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



A hidden treasure trove on Main Street

Posted 7/28/2012 9:15:00 AM

Sometimes, if you walk slowly enough, you can find some special arts treasures that the eye might miss. This is certainly the case on Main Street in Columbia. When I was in high school during the 1990s there was talk of a secret place underneath Main Street that used to house shops, restaurants and bars. The talk was always shrouded in whispers, as if this place might not actually exist and if it did, it was something foreign and fabulous.

The truth of the matter is, this place does exist. Columbia’s first indoor shopping center was built in 1912 at 1332 Main St., with another entrance at 1216 Washington St. The Equitable Arcade building was built in the style of the Renaissance Revival and was later enclosed. It was a beautiful spot to take a turn and be seen in the early days, but its popularity began to wane during the 1960s. To address the drop in popularity, the building’s owners developed “Columbia Down Under.” This is where the teenage whispering sets in. For the after-hours enjoyment of local residents, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues were established in the building’s basement. This opened in 1972, but suburbanization was taking its toll on downtown areas across the country at this point and it shut down in 1974.

While the public cannot currently access Columbia Down Under, the above-ground arcade has been enjoying a revival over the past couple of years. The beautiful arcade has been taken over by some of the city’s talented artists, such as Whitney LeJeune, Eileen Blyth, Bonnie Goldberg and photographer Bryce Dixon. Stroll through and see artists doing their best in small individual studios that are often open to visitors. Be sure to continue to stop by each time you are visiting the Capitol City, as more stores and studios are planned for the spot. Longtime men’s clothier Granger Owings is planning to open a more contemporary offshoot of their store in the building and more is sure to come.