Bamberg celebrates opening of revamped downtown
October 28, 2007
BAMBERG - Mayor Alton McCollum, blissful at the large turnout for the "Bamberg Ole Daze" celebration, greeted passersby, shook hands and proudly boasted: "This is the jumpstart we needed. Things are going to happen down here, and this is only the beginning."
The past seven months have proved a trial by fire for many of the downtown businesses. Portions of U.S. 301 - specifically the stretch of road traversing the old main street - have been entirely closed off, the only access to downtown being a side street connecting to the back lots of the various shops that remained open for business.
"It has been really tough," noted Diane Wewer, co-owner of The Girl's Furniture Shop, which was one of the boutiques that survived the almost year-long traffic drought.
"Closing down the street out here cut business by 75 to 80 percent. We are just a lonely furniture store, and we were able to stay open, but there were times that we were just holding on by a string," Wewer explained as people filtered through the various displays in the store.
Wewer and her partner, Nina Siegel, sustained their boutique through the months of construction, relying mostly upon local customers who made a special effort to shop with them.
'Hang in there'
The expansion of U.S. 301 closed road access to the downtown district to ensure the safety of the construction crews working on the project, but also caused a less positive side effect in the diminished walk-in traffic in the local shops.
"Clients came back to see if we were still open, and just told us to 'hang in there,'" Wewer noted as two parade-goers eyed one of her sofas on display. "I really think that the parade and all the activities (Saturday) went very well, and hopefully things are going to be like (they were) before the road was closed."
The celebration of the reopening of Main Street began Saturday morning with a ribbon cutting to signify that the downtown district is again open for business.
The large red ribbon stretched the width of the newly expanded road in front of what the townspeople call "the old bank building," which was recently purchased by Tobul Accumulator Company - "one of the largest manufacturers in town," Mayor McCollum stated proudly.
A new era in Bamberg
Shortly after 10 a.m., with the parade units gathering down the street, city council members, downtown business owners and the emcee of the parade, James Burch, lined up in front of the ribbon, beaming as the mayor sliced through the ribbon symbolizing both the beginning of the parade and the beginning of a new era in Bamberg.
The Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School Junior ROTC and Color Guard marched through the sliced ribbon, sounding off with their squad leader, and marching perfectly in time with the American, South Carolina, and Bamberg-Ehrhardt flags whipping in the wind as they passed.
Burch waved to everyone in the crowd as he cruised down the bea.jpgul new portion of U.S. 301, passing straight through the heart of Bamberg.
Brilliant red fire engines blared their horns as floats from local organization such as the Bamberg Job Corps, Boy Scout Troops 24 of Bamberg and Troop 77 of Denmark.
Dancers from Mary Jane's Dance Academy shimmied down Main to "Dancin' in the Street," as Gertie the Clown greeted the crowd.
With several floats, motorcycles, horses and flying candy, the city of Bamberg celebrated the reopening of the downtown district which will hopefully draw visitors back to the town and businesses back to the area.
Baddog 95.7 FM conducted a remote broadcast to commemorate the festivities, as tiny Batmen and pint-sized Count Draculas competed in the children's costume contest. Scarlett's Little Theater was teeming with visitors throughout the afternoon, all anxious to see Otis Brown, who performed Saturday evening.
"This is just wonderful," noted Nancy Zorn, owner of New to You Thrift Shop on Main. "The past few months have been difficult - my store lost 65 percent of business when the construction began - but I think that this will help downtown businesses stay alive."
15 years and counting
"The work done here is a big improvement," said the mayor, who was a feature of the parade in his cream colored antique car.
"This revitalization really began 15 years ago, and this work here is just one step in the right direction. We at the city are hoping that this will make something happen and get some new business down here."
Bamberg's main drag has had a significant facelift over the seven months of construction. The original two-lane road was expanded on either side, with a third turning lane added down the center. Three of the unsalvageable structures on the lower end of town were demolished to make room for a new parking lot that will hopefully draw more traffic to the area.
Decorative wrought iron fencing was placed along the sidewalks, three new crosswalks were erected, and bea.jpgul street lights were strategically placed along the street, evoking to many passersby an impression of the historic avenues in Charleston.
"The next step is to work on the front of the stores," McCollum stated.
Crossing his arms, the mayor looked sadly upon the former City Hall, the roof of which has collapsed into the second story.
"The Historic Society now owns the old City Hall and there has been talk of making it a museum, but that will have to be done through a grant," he said.
"This work here is just an invitation. Before we did anything, we had to fix downtown," he said. "We had to fix it up, get it going and save it."
The downtown portion of U.S. 301 will officially open for regular traffic on Monday.
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