Group sees empty buildings as potential for downtown Conway

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Historic downtown Conway is known for its mom and pop shops, but there are some empty storefronts lining the Rivertown's streets.

Business owners in the area, however, say there's a lot of potential in Conway.

"We have put up some posters in our vacant storefronts that say this building isn't empty, it's an opportunity," said Hillary Howard, executive director of Conway Downtown Alive.

That's one technique Conway Downtown Alive is using to lure new and developing businesses to the area. Howard said the city has quite a few properties for sale or ready for renovation.

"With our downtown vacancy rentals, we really only have about four or five viable properties. We have another four to six properties that are for sale that are ready for renovation," Howard said. "So it really depends what kind of number you are looking for, because the ones that are for sale are not for rent and the ones for rent are not for sale."

She said now, with the slower holiday season over, downtown Conway is starting to see businesses opening. City leaders and Conway Downtown Alive are offering incentives to improve marketing and storefronts.

Conway Downtown Alive is offering façade incentive grants that are business improvements to a building, according to Howard. She added they also have a marketing grant, and are working to get rental assistance.

"Also, the city of Conway has some incentives available for spaces that have been vacant for a couple months or more," Howard said. "It's a rebate program for their business license fees and building permit fee. So, there's quite a bit of incentives available but the key is to take advantage of those before you begin work, because often when you begin work that negates the incentive program."

Howard said there are exciting things coming to the downtown area and they also have other ideas on businesses they think would do well in the area.

"Things like a smaller market or food co-op, something along the lines as coffee, chocolate, candy. We always joke that we always appeal to people's vices and that's what we see is successful downtown," she said. "We're your coffee, your shopping, the smaller stores. Also, something that's really growing in this area would be some sort of bike, skate, surf shop as well."

Wacammaw Outfitters opened for business in downtown Conway in 2014. They are a rental business, from kayak to hunting rentals.

The business is also in the process of developing into a full-service marina. Wacammaw Outfitters is now settled into their fourth location in downtown Conway.

Matt Varnadore, owner of Wacammaw Outfitters, said they kept outgrowing their business location over the years.

"We started inside a friend of ours' store called The Trophy Place on Third Avenue. As we have grown, we moved. (We) kind of played musical stores a bit to find our best position and I think we've found our home."

Varnadore hopes to keep the historic downtown alive and busy.

"I hope to see every store full. I hope to see people constantly walking our streets and visiting us before they go to the big box stores, before they go to Myrtle Beach," he said. "Give us a shot first; you will never know what you will find when you walk our streets."

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