Breathing Life Back Into Downtown: Soda City Market

Columbia, South Carolina once faced a problem many communities attempting downtown revitalization have had to overcome. That problem was overcoming the challenge of turning a 9-to-5 weekday environment into one that also is alive at nights and on weekends. Now, through the help of programming, Columbia's downtown has become place where retail stores, coffee shops and restaurants maintain consistent night and weekend operating hours.

Looking south down Main Street at the intersection of Main and Blanding Streets in 2008.

Despite what some may think, Main Street doesn’t owe its rebirth to a glut of massive development projects needing millions of dollars in public subsidies. Instead, its quick turn around is largely a result of Clustering, Complementing uses within a Compact setting (CCC). CCC is a subliminal key to successful urban revitalization that works by locating people, activities (like special events or outdoor dining), and uses (like restaurant or bars) together in close pedestrian scale proximity, allowing them to feed off one another, which in turn stimulates more market rate growth, activity and economic opportunity.

  • Soda City Market occupies three blocks of Main Street every Saturday year round, rain or shine.*

In Columbia’s case, the regular programming of Soda City Market has funneled life back to a corridor where office workers once deserted after the workday was over. Founded by Emile DeFelice, Soda City is a year-round market featuring over 100 vendors serving as a microcosm of the city’s diversity that is held every Saturday, rain or shine, on three core blocks of the central business district’s Main Street. Drawing its name from “Cola”, the abbreviated U.S. Postal Service terminology for Columbia, Soda City Market was originally established in November 2005 as the All Local Farmers Market or ALFM with six vendors and 225 customers.

Initially held in a different neighborhood, Soda City was relocated to Main Street in 2012 as a result of a suggestion made by Mayor Steve Benjamin, the first African-American mayor in the city’s history. Here, the market could serve as a chance to help small local business owners and assist in the revitalization of Main Street by drawing people into the city’s core outside of weekday office hours.

Main Street retailers have benefited from Soda City Market’s weekend presence along the corridor.

Today, the Soda City Market has grown to feature 150 weekly vendors and 12 food trucks, attracting 7,000 visitors to Main Street on regular Saturdays and over 10,000 on special event weekends, generating more than six million in city-tax gross sales annually. It has also become a “place-maker” for the Main Street district, drawing thousands of consumers to the front door of brick and mortar businesses occupying adjacent storefronts. With the consistent foot traffic stimulated by Soda City, an environment for additional market rate commercial investment has been created.

Soda City puts a good face on Main Street, said the Nick’s Gadsden. And its popularity helps sell everything else that’s happening there.

“It advertises Main Street,” Gadsden said. “It brings people down here. They see what’s happening. They park all over the place, so they’re walking by everything, seeing what’s going on. It’s a huge part of letting people know what’s going on and showing people how cool Main Street is.”


Soda City Market visitors have helped created a market for restaurants that can maintain evening and weekend operating hours.

In addition, Over 20 restaurants have opened on Main Street over the last seven years, keeping people on the street well beyond the typical workday. Now it is possible to visit Main for a Saturday morning cup of coffee, retail shopping, lunch or dinner at a continuous line of occupied ground level storefronts that are able to maintain consistent operating hours.

For those looking to bring life back to their urban retail scenes, consistently programming complementing events into these compact pedestrian scale settings can stimulate market rate economic activity in a short period of time. Look no further than Columbia’s Main Street and the Soda City Market for all the proof required.

Next Page: Photo Tour Of Soda City Market and Main Street