BY ELIZABETH COOPER
We are residents of Savage Street in downtown Charleston who reside on the same street as, most of us across the street from, Burbage’s Grocery. Our families have lived on Savage Street for a combined total of 166 years.
Savage Street is a quiet, one-way residential street with limited parking on one side.
We have lived in harmony with Burbage’s for years because it is a small grocery store at the corner of Broad and Savage Streets. Its customers make quick visits to pick up a few items. It is normally closed by 5:30 p.m. during the week and by 12 p.m. on Saturday. It is not open on Sunday.
Currently, Burbage’s has a staff of two (one of whom lives above the store), serves no food, serves no beer and wine and is serviced by regular weekly garbage collection and alternate week recycling collection.
It has a residential kitchen and fan for the preparation of some takeout foods.
It has within the past year set out two tables where sandwiches prepared for off-site may be consumed.
A potential new operator has applied to the Board of Zoning Appeals to double the space allowed for patron use, create seating for 25, increase the hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on all seven days of the week, allow the service of food, beer and wine on premises, and also include a stand-up bar for five or six.
We along with 30 other neighbors have objected to the application because of the negative impact that the proposed expanded operation would have on the peaceful enjoyment of our residences, availability of parking and property values.
This proposal has some community support out of a sense of misplaced nostalgia for the traditional corner grocery store.
The applicant has skillfully emphasized that he will carry some grocery items and use “Burbage” in the name. It appears that he really plans a restaurant with beer and wine service and a limited grocery selection, which he or a new owner would be free to discontinue at any time. It would be Burbage’s in name only.
Some who support the proposal think it will provide them a convenience. But that support should erode when its impacts on nearby residents are understood and grocery store items are in modest supply.
Longer hours of operation, more customers arriving by car and looking for parking, and service of food, beer and wine are the most obvious impacts. Few would want such an operation next to their residence, or even on their block.
Other impacts can be anticipated from the operation of Bull Street Gourmet near the corner of Broad and King, a wonderful restaurant that, like the proposed new Burbage’s, has seating for 25, serves food, beer and wine, has a limited grocery section, and does take-out and catering.
But Bull Street Gourmet is in a commercial district. Most customers arrive by foot from surrounding business, shopping and tourist areas.
Bull Street Gourmet also requires a staff of about 17, daily 7 a.m. collection from six garbage bins, twice weekly collection from six recycling bins and commercial kitchen fans. It has a back alley for deliveries, daily garbage collection, and ventilation by commercial fans.
We and other nearby residents will be adversely impacted by the proposed new Burbage’s “restaurant” for more days and longer hours by the loss of parking to staff and patrons, noise from patrons, noisy ventilation, daily garbage collection and deliveries, and danger from patrons driving on a residential street after consuming alcohol.
Fortunately, our zoning laws protect against efforts to profit from changing an existing non-conforming grandfathered use as a grocery store to a different use as a restaurant, particularly where neighbors will be adversely impacted.
We are grateful that the Preservation Society and Charlestowne Neighborhood Association have opposed the application and have recognized the interest of Charlestonians in maintaining the South of Broad area as residential.
There is no historic precedent for restaurants in that historic residential neighborhood, and there already are scores of restaurants in nearby commercial areas.
Burbage’s should either continue as a true corner grocery store or be turned into a residence in its handsome, 1871 building.
Elizabeth Cooper lives at 151 Broad St. Betsy and Heyward Harvey, Barbara and Ned Simmons, and Susan and Rich Lewis, who all live on Savage Street, also signed this column.