(Photo illustration by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter)

The Vista in Columbia is a great place for a quick bite or a nice sit-down dinner.

But what about shopping? 

Clark Ellefson, owner of Lewis + Clark in the Vista and a member of the Vista Guild merchants association, retail experts have advised the city it needs a better balance of retail and restaurants in the Vista.

“We’ve talked about it in the ’80s when the Vista Guild was formed,” Ellefson said.

Ellefson’s Lewis + Clark, on Huger Street, is a studio, workshop and gallery for his handmade lamps and art. He also owns several retail storefronts he rents out on Lady Street and is a co-owner of the Art Bar on Park Street.

Retailers seem to be struggling in the Vista, Ellefson said. There isn’t enough foot traffic in the area and not enough people living there. 

“Five Points, Devine Street – all these little places that have these successful shops and retail – they’re surrounded by neighborhoods,” Ellefson said.

Ellefson expects this dynamic to change in the next five to 10 years as more apartments are built and more people call the area home.

But money also factors into the push for retail.

Property owners make a higher rent from hospitality versus retail,” Ellefson said. “So it drives leases toward hospitality, as return is greater for owners and investors.”

It’s harder for local businesses, as opposed to national chains, to come in and lose money for a year or so, Ellefson said. 

“The local folks just don’t have that, those deep pockets,” Ellefson said.

Abby Anderson, executive director of the Vista Guild, said the Vista has become an entertainment district, not a retail district. 

“Having (the) Colonial Life (Arena) right down the street is a great (reason) for people to just come and have dinner or lunch before going to an event,” Anderson said. 

The same thing applies to people using the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, she said.

There is always improvement to be made to create more diversity of offerings, Anderson said. But she thinks that the area is doing pretty well right now. 

“We don’t have as much retail, but we do have some,” Anderson said. 

Commercial real estate is seeing a trend in what visitors want to see in entertainment and dining options, Colliers International brokerage associate John Gressett said. 

“People are looking for an experience, and they want more than just a plain vanilla box to go eat,” Gressett said. “Thankfully, we’ve got some really creative and entrepreneurial people in the city of Columbia.”

Ellefson said even though it has been a struggle, he has stuck with his push for the need for more retail in the Vista.

“You want to see people walk around, shops open and stuff,” Ellefson said. “You don’t want just nightlife.”

A Vista sidewalk promotional sign (Photo by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter)


Advertising a vacant space (Photo by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter)

A nighttime crowd gathers near the Blue Marlin restaurant (File photograph/Carolina News and Reporter)