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Columbia convenience store proposal draws resistance, Lowes buying 2 area Bi-Los

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Proposed Murphy Express

Several parcels along Elmwood Avenue near the corner with Bull Street would be brought together for the location of a new Murphy Express convenience store and gas station. Mike Fitts/Staff

This column is expanding to cover not only retail projects but also noteworthy commercial and residential development in the Midlands. Send tips and releases to Mike Fitts at

COLUMBIA — A proposal to build a Murphy Express convenience store in downtown Columbia near the BullStreet District has drawn opposition from nearby neighbors, who worry that the business would add to concerns over alcohol sales and loitering.

The Murphy Express chain has proposed to build a 10-pump gas station and store on Elmwood Avenue at the northern edge of the central business district and less than a block from a main entrance to BullStreet.

The project would remove several smaller buildings to create a larger parcel that is connected to both Marion and Bull streets. If approved, construction would start next spring.

Nearby neighborhood groups object to the plan, arguing against a required zoning change presented to the city's Board of Zoning Appeals at an online meeting Sept. 3.

Neighborhoods nearby already have problems with loitering, and residents say they would have to deal with more nuisances, such as litter, if the new convenience store is approved. The store wants to sell wine and beer. 

"We believe that the Murphy Oil proposal at Marion and Elmwood would serve to lure the vulnerable population in our area into activities that would perpetuate their plight rather than adding to or enhancing the overall quality of life for our residents and entrepreneurs," Cottontown Neighborhood Association President Will Thrift wrote. 

The management of Transitions homeless center, just down Elmwood Avenue, also objects to the project, worried about yet another seller of beer and wine so close to its population. 

Addiction already is an increasing problem during the coronavirus pandemic, and any new service station near the center should not be allowed to sell alcohol, Transition CEO Craig Currey wrote.

In its rezoning filing, Murphy pledges to work with neighborhood groups on solutions to concerns. Customers will not be encouraged to stay on the premises, and there will be no outside tables. 

The faster customers go in and out of the store site, the better for business, Murphy representatives told neighborhood leaders, according to a meeting report submitted by the company as part of its application.

The section of Elmwood Avenue already has at least four convenience stores on it, Murphy points out in its application.

If the project is approved, the revamped space would not include the adjacent El Cheapo gas station on the corner of Bull and Elmwood. In their initial submission, the developers said they could not reach a deal with the owners of the El Cheapo but would be open to redeveloping the site in the future.

Two going from Bi-Lo to Lowes, one to IGA

Two Columbia-area grocery stores are among the five that N.C.-based Lowes Foods is acquiring from Southeastern Grocers, parent company of Bi-Lo.

The Bi-Lo locations in Chapin and in the Village at Sandhill will be purchased by Lowes, the grocer announced Tuesday. The stores will stay open as Bi-Lo locations until switching to the Lowes Foods banner this fall, the company said. 

Lowes Foods currently has three Midlands locations: two in Lexington and one in Forest Acres.

A Bi-Lo location at 249 W. Columbia Ave. in Batesburg-Leesville will become a KJ's Market IGA store, the third in the Midlands.

Bi-Lo has been selling other locations, including 38 across South Carolina that were sold in June to rival Food Lion. At the time, the parent company said it was phasing out the Bi-Lo brand and looking to sell other locations.

The Biergarten is open

A new sports bar, Republic Biergarten and Kitchen, opened last weekend in the longtime location of the Flying Saucer in the Vista at 931 Senate St.

The developers love the Vista location, close to such attractions as the Tin Roof and Colonial Life Arena, said Johnathan Lemond, regional manager for Prestige Dining Group. Also, Lemond said, parking has become a major advantage for downtown bars and restaurants that have it, and this location shares a large lot.

Republic will have more than 40 beers on tap and a better than usual bar menu, Lemond said. The Republic's chef, Evan Johnson, previously served as a chef at a Ruth's Chris Steak House location in Atlanta. 

"It's going to be an upscale sports bar with amazing food," Lemond said.

The large bar space has been reconfigured, including two new pool tables. It continues to have about 10 tables for outside seating on a covered patio.

Uptown returns to Main Street

Uptown Gifts on Main Street near the Statehouse is reopening this month under new ownership.

The gift shop closed this summer after more than a decade at 1204 Main St. The coronavirus shutdown and continuing challenges prompted owner Martha Studstill to look for a buyer.

The shop will hold a soft reopening in the first half of September, said new owner Michelle Cormier.

Uptown will feature many of the same high-end clothing and gifts under its new ownership, Cormier said. It will have more items that should make good baby shower gifts and more women’s jewelry and accessories, she said.

Cormier operated a similar gift shop in Oxford, Mass., for 14 years, and she says that taking over Uptown felt like the perfect fit, especially with the foot traffic potential of the Main and Gervais corner.

“It’s what I have wanted to do for a long time,” Cormier said.

Building in Forest Acres

Columbia real estate developer The Cason Group has launched a mixed-use project on Forest Drive in Forest Acres

The project will feature two commercial buildings of up to 15,000 square feet, suitable for retail and office use, and 11 townhomes. It will be built on a site that formerly held older multi-family housing at the corner of Forest and Brentwood drives, according to Cason.

The townhomes will be priced at about $400,000. The homes will offer between 1,500 to 2,500 square feet of space, with an intended audience of young professionals or empty nesters, according to Cason.

Meanwhile, Cason's project on Rosewood Drive, which will take several parcels of land including the longtime location of Rosewood Church and create a multi-use project with residences and businesses, goes before Columbia's Board of Zoning Appeals. 

Cason Group is seeking two variances, including one for a drive-thru lane for a business. 

Do you know of a business project in the Midlands that is being launched? Reach Mike Fitts at

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