Improving the Poinsett Highway corridor, also known as the Poinsett District, has been a focal point for Greenville County since initiatives to revitalize the area began a decade ago.
Ten years and nearly $4 million later, new and improved Greenville staples are popping up on the highway in addition to successful existing businesses. That means new streetscape, sidewalks, lighting, paving, parking and marketing for the district.
Bob Mihalic, Greenville County communications and governmental affairs coordinator, said the Poinsett District is an area that has received much attention and resources from the county.
“We also have a Façade Improvement Program to make business signage and frontage more attractive,” said Mihalic. “We worked with the federal government to make areas of the Poinsett District an opportunity zone, and thus eligible for investment incentives. The goal was and remains to improve the location directly on the highway but also have a circular impact of reaching out into the communities.”
Tommy’s Ham House closed last year after nearly four decades of being an iconic Greenville restaurant located off Poinsett Highway. Lewis Barbecue Greenville Owner and pitmaster John Lewis seized the opportunity to expand from Charleston and open a restaurant where Tommy’s once stood.
“It was the kind of spot where everyone knew everybody,” said Lewis. “It was a place where presidents and presidential candidates came to join the locals, a community gathering place. We hope to keep that tradition going with homestyle-cooked food and Texas-style barbecue. There are a lot of positive changes on the highway with more new businesses opening.”
Lewis Barbecue Greenville officially opened on Sept. 14, six years after opening their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Charleston. Although it is within the in Greenville city limits, the restaurant signals the beginning of the corridor.
“Customers have told me they would take the trip from Greenville to Charleston just to eat here and now we are here for them and other residents,” Lewis said.
And for good reason.
Lewis started the business by welding his own custom-designed smokers and waking up at the crack of dawn to tend to the fire. Long lines are no stranger to Lewis Barbecue, which offers Texas-style smoked pork spareribs, beef ribs, “Texas hot guts” sausage, oxtail and Lewis’ signature beef brisket.
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Lewis moved to Austin at the age of 18 to start his culinary career. Around that time, his parents gave him a New Braunfels smoker for his birthday, and he started dabbling in Austin’s longstanding tradition of the backyard barbecue, getting creative with both his smokers and his meats, taking liberties with the design and construction to try and yield a better result.
In March 2015, Lewis packed up his smokers and moved to Charleston to introduce the Lowcountry to his special Texas barbecue. He opened the original Lewis Barbecue in Charleston in June 2016, and since then, has been named as one of the best barbecue spots in the country by Southern Living, Condé Nast Traveler, Garden & Gun, and more for its brisket, honky-tonk music, and laid-back vibes.
“I don’t know of anyone else in Greenville that does it quite like we do, which is a contributing factor to opening up a restaurant here,” Lewis said. “It works and it’s what people like.”
The county’s initial investment and continued support have helped lead to dramatic positive changes in the Poinsett District, Mihalic said. GreenCo Beverage Company relocated their operations to the heart of the District, Spinx Co. made a major investment and Crescent Startup Community announced major plans, he added, as well as the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority.
The owner of a recently added butcher market, Block and Barley Market, David Carter also said he chose his location to open in April because he believed in the potential of the Poinsett District.
“We want to create the mindshare that the Poinsett corridor is a destination,” he said.
Carter added that it’s been a slow growth but they have had a number of regulars that have thanked him for seeing the area as a “worthy investment.”
“I think that’s what this area lacks,” Carter said. “There are a lot of generational businesses, and I hope to see more growth and others will see it as a more investable area. We are glad to have the support of the Greenville community.”
Travelers Taproom, which opened its doors in April, has also become a Poinsett District neighborhood staple after rebranding a previous bar that had plans to close during the pandemic.
Jerry Davis, co-owner of Travelers Taproom, said he and his business partner were regulars at Red’s Beer and Wine when they caught wind the Red’s owners were going to close last year.
“We didn’t want to see a neighborhood bar die, and we wanted to keep this part of the community here, so we bought it and rebranded it,” he said.
Davis said the bar didn’t have road appeal before, so they revamped the outside with a Leonardo DiCaprio mural on the exterior wall and added an outside patio area. They also spent a large part of their rebranding budget on art inside of the bar and redesigning the entire feel of the interior to be more welcoming and comfortable for bar patrons and their families.
Davis and his partner see a lot of potential for the Poinsett District and have already received positive feedback from customers on the changes they have made to the location.
“We wanted to do something different,” Davis said. “We have a spot for families and their dogs, kids can play games while parents hang out, dogs are allowed inside, and we just want people to be able to unwind and have a good time. The main thing we try to get across to every person — no matter what walk of life — is this is a place for everyone and anyone.”
Mihalic said the county will continue to maintain the infrastructure of the Poinsett District and to assist partners whenever and wherever they can to provide continuity of growth of the now-thriving commercial corridor that serves the surrounding Greenville communities.
“And that is key to us, the ‘communities’,” he added.
The county is also working on the expansion of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail by connecting Poinsett District communities (via the orange line) to the trail. They have already secured an agreement with Norfolk Southern and are working with other parties to connect Poe Mill, New Washing Heights, North Main and Brutontown to the green line.
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