It’s clear that Aiken’s downtown has a unique vision – interweaving a bit of the old with the new. Those aesthetics have allowed us to carve out our own identity and charm, while not subduing economic growth.
Too many downtown areas in our state are now littered with empty store fronts, crippled by the sour economy of the past several years. While we’ve had our struggles, that’s not the case in Aiken.
However, reactions to the opening of Mellow Mushroom offer cause for concern.
The restaurant is expected to open in the former location of Westside Bowery early next year, but a dispute with the City of Aiken’s Design Review Board has thrown a curve ball into that process.
Mellow Mushroom owner Shawn Ledford has expressed a desire to paint the outside of his restaurant white – an idea unanimously rejected by the design board. The main concern among board members is the proposed look would not match the natural brick style visible throughout the Alley.
A desire for new growth downtown obviously shouldn’t open the doors for businesses to go willy nilly with design. In the long run, that can be a hindrance to growth and tear apart what truly makes Aiken one of a kind.
Ledford’s request does fall out of line with the historic color palette adopted by the City, according to the design board. However, the Aiken Downtown Development Association – a group organized to improve the city’s economic vitality – has no qualms with the paint scheme. The association’s executive director, Carla Cloud, indicated Mellow Mushroom would attract both an older and younger crowd, one of the key goals of the organization, and an objective that will need to be fulfilled for economic stability downtown.
We hope the board’s opposition to the paint scheme is only a small hurdle in the process and not an ongoing mentality that will make businesses leery of locating downtown in the future.
We understand the board’s concerns, and a business owner shouldn’t let a paint scheme be the dominant factor in determining whether they come or go, but the board’s decision shouldn’t be left unnoticed by those promoting local growth.
If regulations become too rigid, business owners may decide it’s too much of a hassle to try to conform to certain restrictions.
We obviously expect high standards for our downtown businesses, and for decades, the Bowery meet those standards. With the backing of our community, Mellow Mushroom can to.