Fort Mill’s downtown gets creative with business growth

Main Street is buzzing with creativity and officials say it’s good for business.

When Olive’s Mud Puddle opens next month, it will be the fourth arts-oriented business doing businesses on Main Street, where just about every storefront will be filled. The opening dovetails with a reset Art On Main Festival that will be held Saturday, Oct. 5.

Although the accumulation of art studios appears coincidental, officials welcome it. In addition to filling empty retail space, they should attract more foot traffic for other business on Main Street, which boasts an array of shops, including a restaurant – and maybe another soon – a bowtie shop, a gun shop, professional services and a craft hot sauce maker. Having more than one art-oriented business should benefit all of them, said Assistant Fort Mill Town Manager Joe Cronin, the town’s planning director.

“I think it’s good for the businesses,” he said.

“They probably will share a similar type customer, but when you have a few of those type businesses in proximity to each other, they sort of feed off each other. If you have a business that brings one person down, but they have a collection of businesses to go into and look around, it makes it more of a destination and that’s even better.”

In any case, said Cronin, “It is out hope they all do well and succeed.”

Cronin, who also mentioned the four-story, 64-unit upscale apartment building that’s going to be built at the top of Main Street as a likely boon to nearby businesses, said it’s well known in planning circles that having “clusters” of similar businesses is a component of a winning model for retail and commercial growth.

“You hear about clusters of businesses that feed off each other,” he said. “You build up a cluster of similar, but not identical businesses, but it’s a process.”

However, “I don’t know of any coordinated effort to actively recruit those types of businesses” to Fort Mill, he said.

“There’s not any one thing that contributes to a vibrant downtown; There’s not one magic bullet that’ll fix everything.”

The apartment hi-rise, which Cronin previously referred to as “a game-changer” for Fort Mill, should “bring a lot of energy” to the downtown area, he said.

The town has laid the foundation, Cronin said, by investing in parking and “streetscaping” such as the Millstone and Veterans parks at the bottom of Main Street.

“Now you’re starting to see more private development,” he said.

Olive’s Mud Puddle and the other art-oriented shops – United Artisans, the Painted Parrot and Art, Funk & Junk – should also get a boost from the Art On Main festival, Cronin said.

“It will bring customers right up to their door,” he said.

There’s one restaurant, Local Dish, on Main Street right now, but Cronin said there might soon be another option.

“A few have come through kicking the tires,” he said. “If everything comes into place, we’ll have some exciting projects to announce in the coming months.”

Carol Dixon, an Art On Main committee member, said she senses the beginning of a new chapter for Fort Mill.

“Having the artists downtown in Fort Mill and with bringing back Art On Main, this could be the catalyst for the historic district also being an arts district and with the [new] apartments and with a new restaurant I hear is coming, all of it together, it could be a really good thing for Fort Mill,” Dixon said.

Art On Main is being presented by the Fort Mill History Museum that opened in downtown this year.

Dixon also credited Amber Joy Eifler, owner of United Artisans and an AOM committee member with “being so good and doing whatever it is that has to be done.”

Eifler said she’s enthused to see another art-related shop open nearby and that the AOM is working with the businesses owners to be par of AOM.

“I was so excited when I saw the Mud Puddle was opening,” she said.

“I really believe in the power behind creativity and being artistic. It’s something that changes people for the better. And with Art on Main, there’s going to be a lot of demonstrations at the festival and [the committee] is encouraging business owners to be open and have something going on.”

At least one, the Painted Parrot, will have a hands-on activity.

“[Owner] Karen [Norman] is totally on-board. she’s going to have chalk outside so kids can draw,” Eifler said.

Fort Mill Economic Council Chair David Ward said it was just a co-incidence that so many arts related businesses were attracted to Main Street, but he said he welcomes it. The rented storefronts, as well as the new Saturday farmers market downtown, can only mean on thing, he said.

“There’s a lot of buzz, a lot of activity,” Ward said. “It’s nice when you see positive tings happening. I think we’re on the cusp of some great opportunities.”

Debra Heintz, executive director of the Arts Council of York County, wrote in an email to the Fort Mill Times that data from studies she’s seen have shown that the arts are a proven economic generator for the City of Rock Hill.

“The arts contribute to general education and are a tool to help students learn language, match, science and history,” Heintz wrote.

“They enhance critical problem solving skills that are one of the main results that businesses today seek. A vibrant scene fosters an atmosphere of creativity – brings new ideas into the workplace and classroom, stimulates the economy and prepares youth for tomorrow’s challenges. In addition to generating economic activity, the arts are a source of employment and tax revenues. The arts are good for business!”

By Michael Harrison, staff reporter with the Fort Mill Times