According to some residents and business leaders, downtown Seneca is about more than Ram Cat Alley, the one-block section of downtown that’s home to a variety of boutique shops and restaurants, as well as various festivals and activities throughout the year.
According to legend, this section of downtown got its name because of the many cats that gathered around the meat and fish markets in the early 1900s. Locals used to say there were so many of them that “you couldn’t ram another cat into that alley,” according to Sciway.net, a website for all things South Carolina.
Consultant Carl Heltzel is a Seneca resident and is part of a nonquorum subcommittee that recently formed to gather information and study ways to get more businesses and activity in the rest of the downtown area.
“We’re really just a two-person committee, if you even want to call us that,” Heltzel said. “We are early in the process and just now starting to gather information. I do know there is a lot that can be done downtown. There are a lot of empty storefronts.”
Heltzel would like to see the activity that goes on at Ram Cat Alley expand to other parts of downtown, and in his opinion, “would like to see a downtown merchants association become active and, perhaps, the Chamber of Commerce move downtown.”
Activities at Ram Cat Alley include Jazz on the Alley and Downtown Go ‘Round.
Shelby Henderson is a strong supporter and promoter of Seneca. She is with the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum. She said there are lots of events throughout the year that incorporate the entire city.
“We just finished Memorial Day with SenecaFest. We have events for the Fourth of July and Christmas, which bring several thousand people to town,” she said. “We highlight Ram Cat Alley because it’s very concentrated, very boutique and very metro.”
Heltzel and Seneca City Planner Jason Streetman have consulted with Clemson University’s planning and architecture programs for a potential graduate student project to determine the development of the larger downtown area.
“It will be later in the summer or closer to the fall semester before we know if this will happen,” Streetman said.
Streetman also mentioned the city will do anything it can to help business owners in Seneca.
“The city is very pro-business, and we want them to be successful,” he said. However, he did say any lack of development downtown is in part due to the growth of Seneca.
“With the highways, and the Wal-Mart and the Lowe’s coming in, we experienced what many downtowns have experienced. Traffic is being routed away from downtown,” Streetman said. “We are an automobile-driven society. We are no different than a lot of downtowns.”
Streetman pointed out there are many good things going on downtown. “We have tons of parking, great landscaping and a strong infrastructure,” he said. “From the city’s standpoint, it’s all there.”
Henderson added, “We’ve got businesses downtown, they’re just more scattered and not as concentrated as Ram Cat Alley. We don’t talk about it as much as we should.”
Henderson also touted the city’s bus system. Seneca has the country’s first all-electric bus fleet.
“We’ve had visitors from all over the world come here to see what we’re doing and how we did it,” she said.
The Strickland Museum, where Henderson works, opened in February at 208 W. South 2nd St. in the historic section of Seneca near downtown. It shares property with the Lunney House Museum. Henderson calls it a cultural exhibit museum that focuses on local African-American history.
“The museum was named for Bertha Lee Strickland, who for 47 years was the maid and caregiver of Mrs. Lillian Lunney of the Lunney House,” she said.
The Lunney House Museum is an architectural museum and is one of only five of its type in the country, according to John Martin, director and chief curator for Seneca City Museums.