King Street: We need it. It needs you.
By Jay Williams, Jr.
The merriest season is here, but this year it’s up to you to help bring in the merry.
The very best place to get into that holiday spirit is King Street, the beating heart of beautiful Charleston, that U.S. News has named one of the Top 10 Shopping Streets in America.
The merchants may be fewer, but they are ready for you with personalized service, individual shopping hours and lots of great deals on everything you could possibly want.
Yes, Covid-19 is still plaguing us, but if you are young and healthy and willing to wear a mask, every store is kept sanitized and they’re keeping all shoppers at a safe physical distance.
If you’d rather not shop in-person, most local stores have websites where you can order almost everything online and they will deliver it to you in a day or two. Or if you prefer, simply call your favorite stores and they will do personal shopping for you and deliver items to you or send your presents directly to friends and loved ones.
This Christmas, the King Street merchants want to make your shopping fun, easy and worry-free. Yes, you can order from Amazon and send your money to Jeff Bezos, but if you shop King Street, even from the national chains, you can see what you’re buying, enjoy great savings and help all of the employees who live and work right here.
In 2000, the city embarked on a major $20 million King Street beautification program, burying power lines and installing bluestone sidewalks and granite curbs. The street, lined with picturesque 19th and early 20th century buildings, was the equal of the finest shopping streets in the world. Then came Covid-19 and the riots.
“Covid and the decline in tourism has been a brutal blow to that corridor,” said City Councilmember Mike Seekings. “But even before that, we as a city probably turned our attention and resources away from that corridor more than we should have.”
“The city dropped the ball on King Street before Covid,” one local merchant told me. “Before, the livability officers were out, the street was clean and you felt someone was watching out. But this past year,” the merchant said, “the livability enforcement isn’t there, trash cans are left out …”
“King Street is the billion-dollar corridor that is the economic center of our city and this region,” Seekings says. “We need to refocus our efforts on King Street … on economic development, public safety, cleanliness. King Street is the artery of who we are and absent King Street we have got some issues with economic development in the city of Charleston and the whole region.”
Covid-19 and the riots have shuttered over 45 stores and rents for many of the now-vacant spaces remain unrealistically high to attract new shops. Landlords must reckon with reality.
Added to that is most irritating menace on King Street — the “beauty hustlers.” These peddlers, among others, reach out in front of pedestrians on narrow King Street sidewalks to offer “free” items to lure them into their store.
City Council recently passed the first reading of an ordinance to outlaw hawking free samples as the practice intimidates passersby, but at least one councilmember has plans to water it down. City council must pass the tougher ordinance promptly before more stores near these hawkers are forced to close because their regular customers often cross the street to avoid the hassle.
Let’s put that aside and, for this joyful season — you need King Street and King Street needs you.
Our local merchant assures us, “All of these stores are open, offering a high level of service. Give us a chance … we can deliver anything right to your door. And we have plenty of free parking.”
Be merry, buy local and support your Charleston neighbors at the same time!
Jay Williams, Jr. arrived in Charleston in 2001 to escape the cold and relax in the warmth of a better culture and climate. This all worked well until May of 2011 when he attended a cruise terminal discussion at Physicians Hall.