Work trucks roll through a tight stretch of Fay Street on an early November morning. The bustle is reminiscent of a historic district’s golden era. Years of effort from local entrepreneurs and property owners are culminating in a new dawn for Columbia’s old industrial quarter.
Its potential, they say, is not only for shopping and dining, but also as a space for both budding ventures and existing local businesses. They hope it can rival the success of downtown.
The district roughly comprises the stretch of Fay Street between Roger Street and just past Wilkes Boulevard. Logboat Brewing Company, which broke ground in 2013, draws crowds to a once-vacant warehouse at the district’s southern end. Steps away, the Ozark Mountain Biscuit food truck sits outside its new brick-and-mortar spot. Other businesses such as tech-accessories brand Printiva and advertising firm Woodruff hint at the sector’s startup potential.
One of the area’s developers, Bobby Campbell, calls it the Arcade District in an ode to past meanings of the word “arcade” — arched architecture, shopping centers and technological innovation.
Game is its name
One of the new venues in the district is an actual arcade. On Oct. 30, Campbell opened the Witches and Wizards Arcade, which is located near College Avenue.
“It’s a geek cave,” Campbell says. “It’s for people who grew up with arcades, love sci-fi, want a place they can go to and have a good time and their kids can enjoy.”
This niche gamer den serves alcohol and features a large projector screen for throwback shows and new premieres. Street Fighter grunts and Star Wars fighter jet sounds reverberate through the space. Many of the machines, Campbell says, are genuine ’80s arcade cabinets.
Centuries of spirits
North across the tracks from the arcade is Six-Mile Ordinary, a distillery that holds the history of seven generations.
Owner Maury Allen’s ancestor, Isham Allen, owned the original Six-Mile in Virginia, which sheltered colonists rebelling against the British during the Revolutionary War.
In 2018, Allen opened the current distillery in the industrial building on Fay Street as a tribute to his family legacy. Allen says Six-Mile adds to the craft characteristic already present in the district.
Empty bottles awaiting spirits, including vodka, gin and tequila slowly roll along a conveyor belt. Six-Mile serves these drinks while its specialty bourbon needs to age for five more years before serving. A tasting room is also under construction within the classic sheet-metal structure.
“When people come here, they’re going to learn how everything works,” Allen says. “They’re going to hear things that they wouldn’t hear in other places.”
Teaming up through tech
Farther north, around the corner from music brand Bluecentric and its record store, former Columbia School Board member Jonathan Sessions has found a new home for Gravity, the Apple repair and service provider he first opened downtown in 2015.
Sessions has a history in the area. After its initial run out of his nearby home, his first business, Sessions Consulting, found a space on Fay Street and Wilkes Boulevard. Gravity is set up in the warehouse next door.
Gravity employs several university students, reflecting the district’s goal of a space that retains graduates of Columbia’s institutions. The firm also hosts K-12 students in its garage for hands-on learning.
“One of the great things about this environment: You’re getting the kids out of the classroom and getting them into an environment that’s showing them how an actual business is operating,” Sessions says. “We provide training at our core.”
Gravity handles tech services for the nearby Woodruff, Logboat and Ozark Mountain Biscuit and Bar. These symbiotic relationships might be yet another symbol of what’s to come for this classic district.
“There’s so much opportunity here,” Sessions says. And the people of the Arcade District are hoping to level up growth for local startups.