When We Need Each Other

A culture of community support is driving Uptown Greenwood’s recovery from the pandemic.

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Discover Greenwood
May 18, 2020

Uptown Greenwood, like countless communities across the nation, is facing the challenges of doing business in a world-changing pandemic. Greenwood, however, has a unique advantage—its strong sense of community. 

Uptown Development Corporation manager Lara Hudson hands off a BBQ award at the 2019 South Carolina Festival of Discovery's BBQ & Blues competition. The Uptown team is working on a tentative, modified schedule for the festival's 20th anniversary on July 9-11, 2020, pending further information from the state.

“The culture of our community is to have each other’s backs,” says Lara Hudson, Uptown Development Corporation manager. “When we need each other, the Greenwood community is going to support each other.“

A Greenwood native, Lara has worked for Uptown since 2016 after several years working in branding, marketing and public relations for the YMCA and a local bank. “I did a  lot of community engagement,” she says of her previous jobs, “and was always really involved in Uptown. It’s a great team to work with. I just love Uptown and everything it has going for it.”

A History of Renewal

“Very visionary leaders created the Uptown Development Corporation,” she says. “They knew we needed to make the area the heart of the community.” The widest Main Street in the world, a variety of businesses in beautifully renovated buildings, and a culture of connection make Uptown a vibrant place to shop and eat.

A standalone organization for several years, the Uptown 501c6 created a loan pool for brick and mortar businesses and potential businesses, then approached the city about a partnership to manage finance and budgeting processes and employment. Originally, they made a huge push for events, “everything we could do to bring people Uptown,” Lara says. Then the Arts Center began renovations, and the group kick-started shopping, restaurants, and improvements in streetscapes.

Today, the original city center master plan is being updated, looking for additional retail and residential possibilities for continued growth and improvement. “A lot is on hold now because of the virus.”

It’s All in the Details

Visitors to Greenwood are often struck by the attention to detail in Uptown buildings and the beautiful landscaping, the things both big and small that speak to the care with which renovations were completed.

Uptown's streets are a charming collection of boutiques, locally owned restaurants and galleries. Most are open for business with safety-related restrictions in place.

That doesn’t happen by accident. “The people who came before me and before them were very strategic,” Lara says, “going street by street, block by block with grants, planning and improvements. They bit it off in bite-sized pieces, did one section, then moved to the next.”

“The leadership that we have had is the biggest thing,” Lara says of the continuity of care. “From the guys who pick up the trash in the morning, to the guys who plant flowers, to the city officials—they all pay attention to the little things that matter.” 

And visitors are not the only ones who notice the details. “The majority of our residents love it and understand how lucky we are. I work with Main Street communities across the Southeast, and we hear horror stories,” she says. “It’s hard to explain how great we have it here.”

“We have an amazing public-private partnership for the dollars given and leveraged those to do some great things.”

The community benefits from its large signature events, like the Festival of Flowers and Festival of Discovery, as well as smaller events throughout the year. In turn, those events benefit from the participation of local businesses. “The local government can only do so much without private investment.”  The Boo Bash at Halloween and the holiday celebrations that bring families Uptown for shopping, parades and visits with Santa are just a few of the events that add to Uptown excitement. Twice weekly shopping for fresh produce, plants and baked goods at the Uptown Market has become a staple of Uptown life.

Overcoming COVID Challenges

Local merchants are holding their own for the most part during the shutdown, Lara says. “A lot of our boutiques are run by young women who are good with online shopping and social media. These businesses are killing it on social media and in online marketing. They are so engaged digitally that they haven’t struggled as much as many anticipated.” Many are now able to open for socially distanced shopping. 

For businesses that had to close completely or were unable to take advantage of federal dollars, Uptown hopes to fill in the gaps with marketing efforts and working behind the scenes to help. “They will need our support when we get to the other side.”  With a variety of chef-owned restaurants offering curbside pickup, delivery and outdoor dining, locals are still able to enjoy some of the best that Greenwood has to offer.

“The focus of our efforts was not only supporting them with resources and information on federal loans, tax credits, how to do curbside service, but also pushing their stuff out on social media as much as possible, updating constantly to keep people aware of changes.” 

Left: Ashby Stokes and his band, favorites in Greenwood's rich music scene, play at an Uptown event. Right: Shoppers love the variety of merchandise in Uptown's local stores and galleries, including the work of regional artists at Main and Maxwell.

For example, she cites the work of restaurant owners and others to help musicians and performers continue to make a living through nightly online performances on Facebook Live and the “Until Further Notice Project,” promoting Greenwood performers through a shared version of “American Pie.”

Planning for the Future

Uptown is currently working alongside the Chamber, Partnership Alliance, the city and county, looking at different segments of the economy to try to anticipate what the needs will be. “ We’re also looking at events and asking a lot of questions. How can you socially distance? What are options for appointment shopping? We’re trying to bring together ideas and share resources from the Main Street Association to provide information and ideas. We’re pushing the ‘Spend to Save, Shop Local’ concept to support local businesses safely. 

The Uptown group is considering how and what they can reschedule for later in the year, how to revamp their iconic festivals like the SC Festival of Flowers and the SC Festival of Discovery for safe celebration. “We know it will have to look different, but we need to figure out how to have it safely,” she says.

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen, many Uptown shops are open for in-store shopping (with care, distance and lots of hand sanitizer) as well as continuing to provide online ordering and curbside pickup for those who prefer.

“Greenwood is open,” she says. “We’re being smart and safe about how we do things. We have everybody’s best interest at heart. We’re going to do everything in our power to help people enjoy what we have here, but do it safely.”

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