I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of broken dreams
When the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone
Green Day – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
The joy you find here, you borrow,
You cannot keep it long, it seems.
But gigolo and gigolette
Still sing a song and dance along
The boulevard of broken dreams.
Nat King Cole – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
Two shadows in the moonlight
Dance silently along the boulevard
Dada – “Boulevard of Dreams”
A boulevard isn’t just any old street. According to Wikipedia, it is a “wide, multi-lane arterial thoroughfare…often with an above-average quality of landscaping and scenery.” Naming a road a “boulevard” means that it should be something special, something to evoke poetry and song as noted above. Some cities are known by their more famous boulevards – the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es in Paris, the Sunset Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, for example. Greenville has Wade Hampton Boulevard.
Wade Hampton Boulevard was named for Wade Hampton III, a Confederate cavalry officer and politician from South Carolina. When constructed, it served as the major route between Greenville and Spartanburg, and in a time before interstate highways gained the alternate name “super highway” by locals. As part of US Highway 29, it also served as the main route connecting Atlanta and Charlotte prior to the construction of Interstate 85.
My friend Brad Willis recently wrote very eloquently about Highway 29 on the other side of town, describing oddities such as the Anderson Jockey Lot and other denizens of the highway between Anderson and Greenville. Wade Hampton Boulevard continues US 29 from Greenville through Taylors, Greer, Lyman, and Wellford, finally relinquishing its name as it becomes another boulevard, W. O. Ezell Boulevard, in Spartanburg.
My attention was drawn a bit closer to home, though. While out and about I had noticed the large number of empty businesses or second-tier businesses that occupy the five mile section from Church Street/Stone Avenue to Taylors. While there do seem to be an inordinate number of defunct businesses, others are trying to gain a toe-hold, most often taking advantage of former locations. The other evening I headed out to document some of these.
First, there are the big empties and has-beens. Not far from downtown is the former Wade Hampton Mall. Before the enclosed malls took over, Wade Hampton was the place to shop. I remember there being a great music store there, as well as Wilderness Outfitters, precursor to Sunrift Adventures now in Travelers Rest. I loved the multi-tiered, open air setting. The mall was anchored by a Winn Dixie and a large Walgreen’s, and also had a twin-screen theater behind it.
The site is now occupied by Bob Jones Academy and the BJU Press. While I’m happy that Bob Jones is making use of the property and that it’s not sitting empty, still, it doesn’t have the same public draw as the former retail center did.
Further up the road are two more locations that haven’t fared as well, both supermarkets. First, there is the former Ingles location…
At least it has found a new occupant with Sav-Mor. These stores are similar to Big Lots. They tend to take over closed locations as second-tier occupants. As such, they may not be as attractive to some seeking big name brands, but at least the space is being utilized.
Not so lucky is the former Winn Dixie location right across the street.
When Winn Dixie vacated the Upstate it left lots of large holes, and most of them have not been filled. In this case it caused no small amount of concern for the K-Mart located next door. Through-traffic was diminished, and its sales fell off, too. We were wondering how long it would survive, but it seems to be OK for the time being.
One other large vacancy isn’t as noticeable because there is nothing there now.
The Bijoux Theater used to occupy this spot between Wade Hampton and Pine Knoll Drive. It was the first multi-screen cinema in town. In its heyday it was THE place to go for movies. I saw the first Star Wars as well as many other movies there. Toward the end if its life it had become very run-down and somewhat scary. The new Wade Hampton High Penitentiary overlooks the empty lot. While the entrance to the high school on Pine Knoll is lovely, the part that everyone sees from the main road is terribly uninviting.
In the same Wade Hampton – Pine Knoll – Rushmore Drive area several other business sit empty, besides the big Winn Dixie. There is an old gas station and former music store next door…
…two former fast food joints – a dead Burger King and a dead Arby’s…
Closer in to town is one more big empty, with a bit of sordid history to go along with it…
The former Colonial Inn used to be a nice place to stay. Towards the end of its life it had become a Travel Inn, and according to law enforcement, played host to all sorts of illicit activities. As such, it was forced to close by the city a couple of years ago, and now stands empty.
But all is not negative on the Boulevard. There are some great new restaurants moving into former locations. Many of these have added a wonderful multicultural flavor to Greenville’s cuisine, such as the Acropolis (former Swensen’s), Belgian Delights (former Schlotsky’s), Cafe Paulista (former Waffle House), and Fix Coffee (former hair stylist, record store).
Pizza Hut has left its mark on the Boulevard, albeit in a rather unusual fashion. Several former Hut locations have now become nightclubs and a payday loan operation.
And finally, there are some businesses that have survived on Wade Hampton for years, and have thrived in their locations. These include Cateran Lodge, The Cotton Bottom, the IHOP, and Cameras Unlimited, among many more.
Greenville has done a great job revitalizing its downtown area. Unfortunately, these intermediate areas such as this Wade Hampton corridor are often neglected or left to fend for themselves without much redevelopment help. Laurens Road and Poinsett Highway have similar stories to tell. Retail development has a tendency to follow suburban sprawl, leaving a wake of empty big boxes stretching back to the city. Some of these areas can and should be rebuilt and redeveloped before more farmland is churned under pavement. I would love to see more attention focused back to these areas.