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Where Have All Our Icons Gone?

Downtown FlorenceI noticed a familiar old photo of downtown Florence in a recent issue of the News Journal. Iíve seen that and similar photos in every historical book about Florence Iíve ever seen. It shows the 100 block of West Evans Street looking east. Down at the far eastern end of the block sat a building where Evans takes a short jog to the right before continuing on towards the railroad track. A Florence icon, at one time it featured Lakeís Drug Store. In my childhood it was home to McCown-Smithís Department Store.

Whatever shops it housed, that was one of the oldest continuously occupied commercial buildings in the city, until one day the bulldozers moved in. Now? An empty lot.

If you drove down West Palmetto toward Five Points in the 1960ís and 70ís, your car seemed to automatically turn into the Sky View Drive-In, drawn in by the thought of delicious fried chicken, shrimp baskets, burgers and fries, not to mention meeting a bunch of your friends there. Now? An empty lot.

In the 200 block of South Dargan Street, stately old homes used to line the street. My grandmother and several aunts and uncles occupied one of those houses. One by one the buildings were deserted, demolished or converted into office space, until in recent months only one house was left. Soon? Another empty lot.

Even US Highway 301 is gone! Coming from the north, it ran west through town and turned south at Irby Street, until the bypass around Florence was completed. Recently the 301 Drive-In Restaurant moved into a bigger and better building next door to its old one, and when it did the ď301Ē disappeared from its name. Iím very glad the restaurant is still here, but it makes you wonder if US 52 might move away next.

I know Florence is not really an old town, not old enough to be considered truly historic. But to those of us born and raised here some things certainly seemed historic, like that building on West Evans, the Sky View on West Palmetto, and Highway US 301. Their loss makes me a little sad and a little nostalgic. Well, we still have the majestic Poynor School building and the classic old Library. I spent many hours in both of those over the years. I hope theyíll remain with us a few more decades.

Change happens. Growth is a good thing. The new downtown Little Theater, Performing Arts Center, Judicial Center, perhaps a new Museum downtown too, all will be good things for Florence and one day they may become icons, too.

While weíre changing and growing, letís create a reason for Florence-Darlington Tech health students to stay downtown after class and for other folks to come down after work. Bring in an upscale restaurant, bar and grill, maybe a deli or two. Add a couple of convenience shops and over-the-shop apartments or condos. Alexandria, VA-style or Greenville, SC-style downtown designs would attract people to shop, eat, then stay to enjoy concerts and plays in our shiny new facilities. Who knows, another generation may soon have their own set of hometown, downtown Florence icons. I guess Iím ready.


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