RENAISSANCE IN ELLOREE
When Danny and Beckie Cumbee look out their window, they marvel at how Elloree's Cleveland Street has changed. Nowhere is the town's comeback more evident than on this wide main avenue.
When the Cumbees first came here nine years ago, downton Elloree consisted of little more than the town hall and a dozen dilapidated buildings. Once virtually empty of both people and businesses, those vintage buildings now house busy shops, restaurants, and contemporary residences.
Leading the Way
Elloree was a hub of commerce in the early 1900s, but the 20th century saw a steady decline. That is, until Danny and Beckie launched the renewal of a downtrodden downtown.
We had been in Charleston to explore opening a gallery there , and we stopped in Elloree to stretch our legs, says Danny. We found this huge abandoned 1908 building and quickly decided we could thrive on both professional and personal fronts here. The wide street, the old buildings, and lots of potenial are what lured us to Elloree.
The professional part--a shop called South by Southwest--now occupies the ground floor of that building. The store features Southern and Southwestern art and American Indian jewelry, as well as custom framing.
The Cumbees live on the building's second floor. Their two-bedroom, two-bath flat of 1,600 square feet boasts original woodwork, exposed brick, and a Charleston-style back garden.
New Business in Antiques
The Cumbees may have ignited Elloree's downtown renewal, but it took devoted locals to make Cleveland Street more than a one-shop stop. Among them are six antiques shops and several others that include antiques as part of thier stock.
When I opened five years ago, there were three antiques shops on this block and little else, says Faye Bookhart, owner of Burkhardt, Ltd. Antiques. Thanks to the opening of more shops and our spring and fall fairs, many people come for the antiques and then stay for a meal, a visit to our great museum, and maybe an extra night or two.
The Elloree Heritage Museum & Culture Center opened in 2002, thanks to the fund raising and volunteer work of the townspeople. The museum documents area history with displays of vintage farm equipment (including an original cotton gin), the actual log cabin of Ellorees founder, a smokehouse, and more.
Here to Stay
Those who explore the museum or shop til they drop can take a break at Amporns Thai Cuisine, another Cleveland Street success story. Locals delight in Amporn Appleby's dishes. I include Southern ingredients in recipes adapted from my homeland, she says. That means catfish may be topped with a spicy Thai sauce, or collard greens may be incorporated into authentic Thai fare.
Amporn grows her herbs in a large garden next to the restaurant. Here is typical of the alley gardens that sprout between buildings along Cleveland Street. Another of those greenspaces is known as Prayer Alley. Maintained by shop owners, this narrow garden provides a place of quiet contemplation for tired visitors or shopkeepers.
It's hard to describe the physical and philosophical changes in downtown Elloree," says town administrator John Singh. "People here are proud of what has happened on this block, and we're excited to be expanding improvements farther down Cleveland Street." These plans include additional landscaping as well as recently completed median and sidewalk enhancements.
The Cumbees often contemplate how a rest stop on a long drive led to a new home for them and a new life for the town. They're here to stay, and so is this success story.