'Great Hall' will be no mall: Unique part of City Market renovation ongoing

The City Market's 'Great Hall,' seen in this rendering, will be home to a variety of shops and restaurants.

When the City Market restoration wraps up this spring, the historic operation will feel like anything but a T-shirt and trinket stand.

The men heading up the project revealed Tuesday that the 33,000-square-foot building that stretches from Meeting to Church streets, the final phase to undergo renovations, will house such prominent local retailers as clothier M. Dumas & Sons, toy merchant Wonder Works and even the Historic Charleston Foundation. They've dubbed the area "the Great Hall," and it will include outdoor seating where customers can enjoy barbecue from local caterer Jimmy Hagood or a panini from George Street gourmet market Caviar and Bananas.

Each store will feature an exterior window display and custom cabinets with a metal gate that locks up after business hours. Just don't dare liken the setup to a mall.

The City Market Preservation Trust -- a management company composed of hotelier Hank Holliday, real estate professional Steve Varn and businessman Lawrence Thompson -- embarked on the first phase of this $5.5 million project nearly a year ago.

Holliday said the project runs until April but already boasts a waiting list of 100 vendors.

"In this economy it's really remarkable to have a success story like this," Holliday said. "I doubt seriously that there's a retail operation in the United States with 300 vendors and 100 on a waiting list."

Established in 1804, the attraction is one of the nation's oldest public markets. Its buildings date to 1841.

Funding for the endeavor comes from a revenue bond supported by the rent that market vendors pay to the city. Work on the first three sheds, which stretch from East Bay to Church streets, was finished on time and under budget, according to members of the trust.

"The taxpayer should never have to pick up a nickel," Holliday added. "This should be a self-sustaining venture."

Workers from Hightower Construction blew dust into Tuesday's cool air as they worked on the Great Hall from behind a chain-link fence. The job includes brick restoration and roof demolition and replacement with a skylight that runs the length of the building.

Architect Glenn Keyes said that element creates natural light while remaining historically accurate. He also plans to replace the 1970s-style meandering walkway with a center aisle created from original bluestone.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley heralded the plan as a "repositioning of the historic City Market, not just with visitors but with residents." He said the renovation could blur the division between tourist shoppers and the rest of consumers.

"With the local shops and organizations that will be among the tenants, it just adds a wonderful new and defined component and further links the City Market with King Street," Riley said.

That's what lured David Dumas to rent a space. His family's M. Dumas & Sons carries a 93-year history on King Street.

Dumas said he plans to offer palmetto tree logo clothing but also high-end brands, such as Vineyard Vines and Southern Tide, in hopes of driving that traffic to the main store.

"My gut was telling me we'd kick ourselves if we weren't a part of this," Dumas said.

The Historic Charleston Foundation committed to the project first and, according to Executive Director Kitty Robinson, and will sell jewelry fashioned in the style of the late legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons, reproduction Mottahedeh porcelain, historical publications and tickets to two house tours.

"We think it reinforces preservation in Charleston," Robinson said.

As some longtime vendors wondered about the proposal, City Market General Manager Barry Newton said the foundation's buy-in became key.

"It validated the whole project," he said, "and fighting for quality of life downtown and quality of merchandise."

Coming soon

The City Market's Great Hall tenants:

--Historic Charleston Foundation

--M. Dumas & Sons

--The Charleston Shoe Co.

--Jimmy Hagood's Food for the Southern Soul

--Caviar and Bananas

--Wonder Works

--Gita's Gourmet

--Old Historic Views

--Charleston Christmas Collectibles

--The Charleston Hat Shop

--A Corner on the Market

--Joline

--Designs by Jane

--The Fishin' Duck

--Passing Fancy

--Southern Charm

--Paul Silva Gallery

--Old World Glasswork

--At Home Designs

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.