From ‘weird spot’ to ‘up-and-coming’ block: The evolution of 12th Street in Uptown

When Clare Koppang moved her Columbus boutique clothing store, Council Wardrobe Studio, into the space at 1141 1st Avenue in May of 2018, the business scene in the area was somewhat stagnant.

“When I moved to this spot, The UP! Factory was not next door, Blu Crabs had just closed and then there was (Shooters Valhalla) gun shop. So it was kind of weird spot,” Koppang said. “When people asked where I was, I would have to describe the post office and the two churches and the Synovus parking garage.”

Restaurants like Plucked Up Chicken & Biscuits on 1st Avenue and Bare Roots Farmacy and The Black Cow on 12th Street drew a steady crowd to the area.

But the stretch of 12th Street between Broadway and 2nd Avenue wasn’t attracting the kind of foot traffic that could be found further south on Broadway.

A year and some months later, Koppang says that’s changing. When she first opened, people who were in the area were there for a specific purpose, to shop at one store or eat at one restaurant.

“But now a lot more people walk by,” Koppang said. “Especially Market Days on Saturday, a lot of people will park here. They’ll have their strollers and their dogs and everything, and some will come in before or after so that’s cool.”

The block does seem to have hit its stride, with two new businesses opening side by side in the Empire Building this summer: Bodega 1205, a Latin fusion restaurant, and The Well, a CBD boutique, which carries products infused with CBD or cannabidiol.

Debbie Spear, owner of The Well, said she considered storefronts on Broadway before choosing the 12th Street location.

“I’ve always loved this block, and this building in particular,” she said. “Even when it was a Subway I used to come in here to eat, just because I loved it so much. It’s such a beautiful space.”

When Shooters Valhalla relocated to Veterans Parkway, she jumped on the space.

Witnessing a gun shop transform into a store for health and wellness is a good example of what is happening on 12th Street, according to Ross Horner, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., which promotes the area and works with investors interested in locating there.

“The best thing about it and why we see success is because it’s happening organically and it’s happening out of demand,” Horner said. “You’re seeing people that are really clamoring for something like a Bodega or something like Bare Roots, and you see success right away. The more that gets programmed in, it just kind of helps your neighbor.”

Horner said that in the uptown business world, what your neighbor is doing is just as important as what you’re doing.

“A lot of what uptown is about is that you come for one thing and you have that second and third experience that keeps you down here,” he said. “Up on 12th, in that area, you’re seeing things like that. You’re going for one thing and you just don’t want to leave.”

The 12th Street area has seen a lot of turnover in the past, with several restaurants opening and closing in the space Bodega 1205 now occupies, as well as on the opposite corner where CJ’s Wings & Things is now.

But it’s also held some occupants for years and years, like 12th Street Deli, which closed in December after three decades of operation.

Horner said the deli’s closing isn’t necessarily a bad thing either; downtown business owners Denise Stickney and Stephanie Woodham have taken over the space and will be opening Vertigo Fusion Kitchen.

“Chris Losonsky (who owned 12th Street Deli) sold it because that was part of his retirement, that was his plan all along,” Horner said. “And then what comes out of it — a fusion restaurant. You go from 12th Street Deli, a very traditional deli with soups and sandwiches, and now you’ve got Korean tacos and that kind of stuff. It’s part of the evolution.”

While businesses may come and go, the spaces don’t stay empty for long.

“Three or four years ago we had an issue with empty storefronts and now you don’t see that,” Horner said. “The timing hasn’t been right or other little issues, but when the demand has been there and the timing has been right, these businesses flourish down there.”

And as the 1200 block of Broadway fills out, it will have a direct impact on the rest of 12th Street, Horner anticipates.

“We’ve added a dozen businesses there in the last three years, and with two hotels to come you’re starting to see a lot more activity,” Horner said.

An 88-room Hampton Inn is being built at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street, and a 106-room AC Hotel by Mariott is underway in the former Raymond Rowe building at 1235 Broadway.

Businesses in the 1200 block have been flourishing despite not being located in what some consider the “heart” of uptown, the 1000 block, Horner said. They’re part of an expansion of the uptown footprint.

Horner said the Broadway location of The Simple Greek is consistently the No. 1 location in the country, signaling to him an interest and a need for more fast-casual dining spots for those who live and work downtown.

Local restaurateur Mark Jones, who owns Plucked Up Chicken & Biscuits along with other uptown restaurants, said the last year has been tremendous for growth in the area around his popular breakfast spot, and he doesn’t see any signs of it slowing down.

“There are a lot of things that we need that are coming down there such as the hotels and the new restaurants, it just gives people more choices, gives them more reason to come to the uptown area,” he said. “People are going to start walking a little bit further and seeing what’s here and I think that’s good for all businesses and I think that will be good for hopefully retail coming in as well.”

Koppang is encouraged by the growth as well.

“I have seen big growth in just a year, there is so many people interested and invested in downtown,” Koppang said. “I’m glad its up and coming, I just wish there were more store fronts so (1st Avenue) could be a walking street too.”

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Allie Dean is the Columbus city government and accountability reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer, and also writes about new restaurants, developments and issues important to readers in the Chattahoochee Valley. She’s a graduate of the University of Georgia.