Conway breathes life into historic downtown

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The downtown area used to be the nucleus of any city. It was where families went to shop, eat or see a show.

Then "suburban sprawl" happened. And a few years later the "mall" concept took off and before you knew it downtown stores were out of business.

But Conway is one community that is determined to bring life back to its historic downtown.

"Even as a teenager when I would ride the streets and I would see the vacancies I would be like 'one day, one day I'm gonna do that. I'm gonna be there," admits Nicole Moore, owner of the Gypsy Boutique.

Nicole Moore grew up in Conway and always dreamed of owning a women's fashion boutique downtown. Her imagination would run wild with ideas about which storefront she would occupy.

"Periodically when someone moved around, they would be vacant and I would be like 'Ok, one day I'll put one there' and when that would get filled up, I would look for the next option 'well maybe there'," Moore remembers.

Three years ago, that dream became reality when she opened Gypsy Boutique on Main Street. For Nicole Moore, it was never a question of where she wanted to be.

"I'm just a fan of the downtown, walking on the street, grab a bite to eat and go shopping," Moore sighs.

That sentiment appears to be catching on with many Americans.

"People are turning back to community. They want to know their neighbors. They want to walk! Which is something we haven't seen in a while and that's what downtown Conway offers," boosts Hillary Howard, Executive Director of Conway Downtown Alive.

Conway Downtown Alive is a non-profit designed to preserve the historic aspects and promote businesses in the downtown area. Howard insists that there's a new energy filling the streets.

"We're seeing a lot of new, younger business owners come into the area. They're coming to Conway for history, obviously because it's a beautiful place to do business, but also some of the incentives and promotions and they have a helping hand in our downtown," Howard mentions.

Sean Kobos is one of those owners. He graduated from Coastal Carolina University and opened The Crafty Rooster sports bar a few years ago using the business incentives program.

"I'd say the city is very business friendly and is trying to get more business downtown," offers Sean Kobos. "It's old, historic, people love it. Our building, we have all this old brick. It's over 100 years old, there's a lot of charm down here."

Rebates and grants for business owners help keep up the historic look of the downtown buildings. And it's evident that new businesses are bringing more people to downtown Conway.

"It's really about building a tradition of coming downtown, whether it's for farmer's market or Christmas shopping," Hillary Howard admits.

The tradition seems to be catching on as more and more people spend time and money in downtown Conway.

"It used to be just this Main Street that was full but now Third's full, Fourth's full, Laurel's full, so I can tell there's been a swing, a change in things over the years," marvels Nicole Moore.

Conway was one of the founding cities for Main Street South Carolina, which is a program focused on bringing economic activity back to downtown areas.

Hillary Howard tells WMBF News that Main Street programs take a 25 to 30 year cycle of organization, improvements and promotion. Conway is going into its 27th year so leaders are busy planning events and drawing people to the downtown area.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.