in Geezer, Musings

Oh Columbia, you haven’t aged well

2400 Bee Ridge Road, July 2016.

As an IBM Brat I moved around a lot as a kid (the inside joke is that IBM stands for “I’ve Been Moved”). This made it tough for me to think of home those times I was homesick while in the Navy but it also sort of locked in a time with a place in my memories. In my head, the places I’ve lived will always have a strong association with the brief time I’ve lived there.

Such is the case with Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia was my home for my 3rd grade to 7th grade school years, or 1979 to 1983. There was an actual city with Columbia, different than coming from Spanish Fort, Alabama, though our neighborhood of Spring Valley in northeast Columbia was definitely suburban. Spring Valley is a relatively wealthy, gated community with a private security guard and country club. My brothers and I would walk together with no attending parents to elementary school at Lonnie B. Nelson and we would ride our bikes all over the sprawling neighborhood to visit friends. It was a great place to grow up and provided me with important opportunities that helped make me who I am today.

My Uncle Bill’s death last year provided me the opportunity to catch a new glimpse of my old neighborhood as my brothers and I drove through on our way to his funeral. We lingered long enough to take photos of our old home and our school before continuing on, driving out Two Notch Road to continue our journey on I-20.

During my time there Two Notch Road was the big commercial road, leading from Spring Valley to the new (in 1979) Columbia Mall. Even then it was dotted with the ubiquitous flashing-light-arrow advertising signs, fast-food joints, and the like. These business would sprout up like weeds – wherever they could and seemingly with no thought to how they all fit together.

One of the benefits of the Internet (and Facebook) is the ability to connect with like-minded folks. When I joined Facebook I joined a group called “You Know You Grew Up In Dentsville when …” where people who grew up in that part Columbia can reminiscence. It’s been sad to read how the area has really gone downhill over the years. Dentsville is not far from Columbia Mall and its shopping centers that once beckoned with shiny new goods are now run down and crime-ridden, it seems.

I was in the E.L. Wright Middle School Chorus in the early 1980s and one night after a performance we met in Dentsville at what was then one of the newest, fanciest restaurants in Columbia called Applegate’s Landing on Decker Boulevard. Just for background, in best-restaurant polls Columbia residents often give Red Lobster the top marks so fancy restaurants there are relatively rare. Applegate’s Landing couldn’t compete with Red Lobster, apparently, and after a while the restaurant folded. While I was there, though, it was high class.

It was depressing to see how untamed Two Notch Road still is, decades after I lived there. I can’t help but think the lack of strong zoning rules kept it from reaching its potential. If developers don’t focus on anything but their own little patch of land they may trade their short-term gain for a long term decline of the area as a whole. What results is a run-down area like Two Notch Road that long ago lost its shine.

At least my Spring Valley home and the subdivision still looked good (and the home looks much better than it did when we lived there).

Bonus link: Check out the Columbia Closings blog for more depressing walks down memory lane.