I love seeing old buildings renovated, transformed and given new life. Living in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough Neighborhood is the perfect locale for my renovation fixation. Everywhere you look there are century-old buildings being rehabilitated and saved. One of my favorite rehabs was the recent transformation of the structure at 252 Coming St. Most know the space now as Chubby Fish, a popular new restaurant serving up oysters on the half shell (amazing chili garlic shrimp too.) Others may just know it as a swank-looking joint with the blue velvet curtains that you race by on your daily commute up Coming Street. What you might not know is that this beautiful building was once a run of the mill college rental and before that a laundry. In 2017 and 2018, owners Frank Iwanicki and Caroline von Asten embarked on a significant renovation of the building. The most notable exterior improvement was the opening of the corner entryway and the addition of that spectacular mahogany facade. The building has quickly become a neighborhood gem — I live nearby too — and a shining example of the power of these historic corner store buildings.
This story is not unique. These corner store reincarnations are happening all over the peninsula. Some of my other favorites include Renzo, Daps, Harold’s Cabin, Purlieu, Melfi’s, and Stella’s. The “Corner Store Renaissance” is real, folks! Or at least that is what I declared on my Instagram feed (@buildingsarecool, by the way.) I should clarify that I am using the term corner store to describe the building’s original typology rather than its actual current use. Additionally, the corner stores you see here are historic buildings that were previously underutilized and in need of some T.L.C.
And as you probably noticed, all of these were transformed into restaurants.
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Here we find another trend: the emergence of the neighborhood restaurant. All of these adapted corner stores happen to be restaurants that nuzzled right into Charleston neighborhoods. This is a great thing. In addition to continuing the use of the structures — and serving tasty grub — these compact eateries bring energy to the neighborhood. They also create what urban designers think of as “eyes on the street.” Eyes on the street make a place safe and comfortable for residents and visitors alike, a place people want to move around. When I walk my dog in the evenings I almost always walk in the direction of the neighborhood businesses; they’re well lit and bustling with activity.
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We are at an interesting time in Charleston’s urban history. We are witnessing great change and evolution, a constant within any vibrant city. The focus on new development around town can overshadow great stories like Chubby Fish.
Ramos is an architect in Charleston and lives in Cannonborough-Elliottborough. Follow him at instagram.com/buildingsarecool.
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