When the weather is nice, whenever I can, I like to walk along East Main Street in downtown of Rock Hill. I have lived and worked in Rock Hill for years. I’ve enjoyed lunch at a few places downtown but never gave this pretty street the time to get to know it. I decided it was time to really see what Old Town has to offer.
I have always been intrigued by the Arts Council of York County’s Center for the Arts. When I would walk by on my lunch break, I would always pause to peak in the window to see what was new and different.
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On this day, I went in to enjoy the cool air condition and the excitement of the current exhibit. Debra Heintz, executive director, said there are three galleries in this building: Dalton, the main gallery currently hosting the 21st annual Juried Competition Exhibition; Perimeter Gallery, showcasing part of the permanent collection of Hospice and Community Care; and downstairs is Lewandowski Classroom Gallery, where on this day, mixed-media art from council members was on display.
The recently juried show was of mix media. I paused by each piece of art to take in the subject, as well as appreciate the craftwork. I saw the familiar names of Lucy Warlick and Terry Rouche, but the show highlights artists from across the region.
Every six to eight weeks, the exhibit changes and an opening gala is held. At Christmastime, the center traditionally exhibits the whimsical work of native son Vernon Grant.
I could have stayed longer to enjoy the artistic company, but my time was limited. I walked back out into the late morning heat and immediately turned right into Song’s.
Since 1987, Song and Richard McCluskey’s store has showcased art of a different kind: wearable art in the way of fine church-going outfits and special occasion gowns. There was a colorful selection of rhinestone and beaded jewelry to complete an outfit. But what really caught my eye were the hats. Song said few places carry the haute couture selection, many handmade here. Patrons from all over the South and as far away as Alaska come here to find a one-of-a-kind hats to top off a special outfit, or for a special occasion like Derby days, where big picture hats are de rigueur.
When I left, I strolled west taking in the many eating establishments along the way: Old Town Bistro offering an all-day, full menu in a site that still has the (now historic) civil rights sit-in counter. Across the street is McHale’s on Main. Kin to the Irish pub McHale’s in Tega Cay, here I am told, the view from the second floor windows is quite interesting.
A few store fronts farther up from Old Town Bistro, behind the rental space sign in what used to be a bank, is deliciously Southern Citizens Corner. Across the street is the Getty Building, the former post office and local courtroom.
Rock Hill has done a nice job of repositioning its buildings to accommodate different uses. I walked up the marble steps of the Getty Building, through the brass doors into the old lobby of the post office with post boxes and frosted-glass windows. Now, home to the Rock Hill Pottery Center and other artists, there was a photographer using the old elevator for a bridal shoot. I wandered through the studios and sales rooms of Robert Hasselle, Jo Maddox, Liz Lee and Christine White. I was taken by the craft and simple beauty of each displayed piece.
I met potter Liz Lee, who used to have space in the McCelvey Center in York but came to Getty after the building was renovated. She said it’s a wonderful space to work in with its tall windows and history just oozing from the walls.
I was most taken with the whimsical bird houses. There’s a lot of unique pieces for sale. Liz showed me the artists’ storage closet, which used to be the post office safe. It still has the USPS emblem on the door.
Upstairs is GalleryUP. Along the hall leading to the shop, the exhibit Reverie was composed of paintings by local artist Harriet Marshall Goode and Finnish artist Merja Isomaa-James.
GalleryUp had interesting art for sale, such as ink blots, hand-painted scarves, note cards and even earrings made from old bottle caps. I met Stephanie, a Winthrop graduate, who said her framing services run from simple to conservative.
The view out the window near a former holding cell gave me a new perspective. On my walks through downtown, I always looked up admiring the styles of architecture, while up here, I was able to look down for a totally new view.
The courtroom also is located on this floor, and walking in, it was a “wow” moment for me. Now used as an event room, I wondered what it was like to sit in that room during its day surrounded by the warm, rich paneling, looking at the lone, heavily cushioned chair behind the bench on the dais. I looked up beyond the chandeliers to the intricate design of the ceiling. This building was not just made, it was crafted.
After leaving Getty, I strolled across the street to Overhead Station. Betsy, the effervescent owner, chatted with me between shoppers. Known for its extensive selection of invitations and stationary, Overhead also offers unique all-occasion cards, great for those of us who work downtown. The other side of the store is eclectic with its handbags, ceramics, fragrant candles, cocktail party whimsy, jewelry, and Betsy’s own hand-built pottery. Betsy has been in business for 33 years and in downtown since 2001. She said many out-of-towners come to her shop, “first thing people want to do is go to a downtown.”
After pulling myself out of there, I glanced up the street at the unusual faces set just outside the Community Performance Center where Rock Hill Community Theater performs. Debra Heintz said we can expect some exciting international entertainment during this year’s Performance Series.
Thi’s Vietnamese Restaurant, one of my favorite lunch stops, is next door to Overhead Station. Just down the block is Hampton Street Café, another favorite. Just before I crossed back over East Main Street, I glanced at the informational kiosk. The map shows more of what’s available in Rock Hill; maybe another day. Behind the kiosk on Elk Avenue is a downtown mainstay, Kinch’s. Next door is the newly opened Erin’s, which offers some of the freshest offerings for dinner.
As with most of my jaunts, I never know what to expect. Here in downtown Rock Hill, I was happy with the unexpected.
Susan Doyle of Rock Hill is a freelance writer. Her day trip column, Let’s Go, publishes monthly in the Lake Wylie Pilot. She can be reached at email@example.com.