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A Grand sign: Unveiling inspiration for a downtown block

Hospitality and Tourism
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Finding the sign changed the game.

During renovations of the circa 1866 Robinson Building at 1621 Main St. in downtown Columbia, workers unearthed a remnant of the structure’s stint as a vaudeville and silent theater from 1909-1914. The sign’s historical significance, with its hints of old-time grandeur, changed the thinking of developers who were originally focused solely on building a bowling alley in the space.

“This was going to be called Lanes on Main,” building owner and developer Scott Middleton said. “We didn’t quite know what we were going to become. When we found the sign, it just made it. This had to be The Grand. It was The Grand, and it was going to be a grand place.”

The restored sign that sparked the imagination of developers of The Grand on Main. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)The boutique bowling alley exists at what became The Grand on Main, with seven state-of-the art Brunswick lanes at the back of a fine dining restaurant complete with a full-service bar and above a tap room featuring a pool table and arcade games. After being dug up from the basement, the sign that transformed the building’s design was painstakingly restored and unveiled during The Grand’s one-year anniversary celebration on Jan. 17.  

“We’re a fun space to come and play that happens to have a bowling alley back there,” Middleton said. “This year has really given us an idea of what this whole block should be about. We want you to come down and eat and certainly drink, but the main thing is, we want you to have some fun.”

The block, steps from downtown revitalization pioneer Mast General Store at 1600 Main St., also includes the recently opened Topgolf Swing Suite, an indoor golf and gaming experience behind Michael’s Café at 1624 Main. Adjacent to that is The Venue, which Middleton said will feature different musical performers each weekend.   

The Grand’s new sign took a year to restore and cost $12,000, Middleton said. He said it also intimidated a few companies before Irmo-based Carolina Conservation took on the task.

“People were scared of it. It was 110 years old and had been buried it the dirt,” Middleton said.

Carolina Conservation conservator Max Bernasconi said the years buried in the soil and insects had combined to destroy the bottom of the sign’s original wood.

“We had to prepare a new structure for holding the weight of the sign,” Bernasconi said. “It could be complicated sometimes, because between the fragility of the material, most of the wood was almost like a sponge. That was a tricky part.”

Carolina Conservation lead conservator Jennifer Bullock said the restoration combined what was left of the original material with research to keep any new touches looking authentic.

“They wanted it to be stabilized and clean and also to kind of give it the feel like you could tell that it was old but it was coming back to life,” Bullock said. “Something that’s so tied up in the history of this place is pretty exciting.”

Bernasconi and Bullock joined a few dozen people mingling at The Grand on Main and getting a glimpse of the sign that sparked imaginations.

“This is the block,” Middleton said. “If you need a date night or you just want to come and have fun, you’re going to show up down here, and it’s going to be grand. It all started, really, because of this sign.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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