Here at the confluence of Highways 301, 601 and 78 is the Town of Bamberg, South Carolina, founded 1897. It is yet another small town which lost its downtown businesses to the national brands which clustered in shopping malls over thirty years ago. An entire generation never knew the proud and friendly local stores run by their neighbors on these few streets. No one under fifty knows the term "dry goods" or has a notion about Notions.
As local merchants began closing up downtown an increasingly lower trade was moving in. Frequently, the opening of a wig shop, that harbinger buzzard, signals the closing of viable business for that block. It was a slow and painful process with an obvious outcome. This unhappy commercial decline was as well marked and traceable as the downward tumble of a human's health. You might have found a Western Auto Associate store on Main Street, but J.C. Penny wasn't moving in next door.
Bamberg's commercial downtown descendeth into hell, but is rising again to sit on the right hand of urban renewal. We eased up to Bamberg recently to collect pictures of the decayed infrastructure. We were surprised to find not just piecemeal renovation, but a concerted effort at rebuilding an entire business district. This is what we had hoped for: the remnants of the last gasps of desperate, bawdy, funky enterprises with the rebuilders close behind. It is exactly what's happening in Bamberg.
In our photos the old Main Street has been dug up, regraded and repaved in part. Many old signs and decorated plate glass windows mark the last round up of failed efforts which seem to be giving way to promising new ones. We shot photos at both ends of the street to show the breadth of the undertaking. There is a strong sense of positive redirection in the air there.
This renewal is happening because Bamberg's the political center of gravity in the county and because of an infusion of funds from a mixture of sources. You just don't have a block full of boutiques moving into Skid Row for fun. It takes a lot of money, political power and a concessus within the business community to reanimate our small towns' downtowns. We are in great need of that combination in the other 45 counties.