BISHOPVILLE, S.C. — One business closure in downtown Bishopville doesn’t mean a vacancy for long. The Swamp Log Artisan Gallery is a popular artisan gallery on Main Street that was brought to the city in an effort to revitalize the area. While it’s now closed, the space is soon-to-be occupied.
"It's dangerous it’s dark a lot of times its cold," Alex Blalock explained about underwater logging. "And it's absolutely filthy work. But it's one of the most fun things I've ever done."
Blalock and his crew use scuba gear to search swamps in South Carolina riverbeds.
"We recover the logs that were lost 100 to 200 years ago, when they were harvested by the old swamp loggers out of the original low growth forest," Blalock explained.
For six years, he’s been selling artisan creations from that wood at the Swamp Log in downtown Bishopville. It was part of the Greater Bishopville Committee's effort to revitalize downtown Bishopville, so it purchased the two buildings, renovated them and rented them to Blalock for five years.
Now, he’s decided to close that store and focus on spending time with family. But that doesn’t mean the buildings will be empty.
"The building will continue and I think it will continue in a way that will help downtown Bishopville," Blalock shared.
Lee County resident and former Swamp Log employee Luke Giddings has bought the two spaces.
"We have so many buildings and homes in town," Giddings shared. "They just need some work and I'm young and I got a little bit of energy so I figured I'd give it a shot."
One building is now being rented to a church for office space and the other will be used by a new retail store coming in the next couple months.
Resident Debbie Kirvin comes to downtown everyday. She’s excited to know that they won’t be empty
"I have children and grandchildren and I'd love for them to have something or some place to come to besides the grocery store or drugstore," Kirvin told me. "We have so many empty buildings in Lee County and in the town of Bishopville...and I'd just love to see more little mom and pop businesses come in."
"We’re at a turning point. I think we have two ways to go A or B, and I think a could be detrimental," Giddings added. "I think we could turn and go down…but we have seen a comeback in the last four or five years that has been slowly ticking. But I think we're at just such a turning point where we can either continue in the old ways and continue to fall back or we can start looking at fresh new ideas and move forward."
While Giddings is focused on helping the downtown area grow, Blalock tells me he’s not giving up on his logging.
"As long as I kick, I'm gonna kick in the water some," he smiled.
Blalock says although the store is closed, he will still be offering custom-made works including mantle pieces, tables and furniture
As for the future of Bishopville, Mayor Grady Brown says other exciting works are coming to the city, including a swimming pool. The money for the project has been allocated, according to Grady, with a ground-breaking scheduled for April.