Art Deco Department Store Finds a New Purpose in a New Century

We have toured many historic homes and even an aircraft carrier here on We Call It Junkin, so I thought it was about time for a fabulous commercial building.  I immediately thought of Tapp’s Department Store, in the heart of South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia.  Most every Columbia resident knows this beautiful facet of the Main Street skyline, and the oft repeated phrase:  “Meet me at Tapp’s.”




Making arrangements to meet at Tapps’ lunch counter was just one reason this spot became so well known in Columbia.  In addition to the restaurant’s famous vegetable soup and cornbread, it was the only air conditioned department store east of the Mississippi at one time.



This building was opened as a three story department store in 1940, and then two additional stories were added in 1952.  As happened across America, the growth of suburbia led to the shopping mall and the decline of downtown department stores like this one.  Tapp’s downtown store remained open until 1995, then sat unused for about 10 years.



Many great department stores have been torn down, but fortunately, Tapp’s has been saved by having been reinvented!  The upper floors have been turned into wonderful apartments, and the ground and basement levels have been turned into art studios and art display space!  Additionally, there are large rooms for rental as meeting rooms.



Let’s go in and have a look at the art studios and a meeting room.

This is the lobby area, turning back around to look at the front door.



Turning slightly to the left, this staircase takes you down to the basement level.  We’ll get a look at the great art deco detail at the bottom of the stairs later.  Notice the display case across the stairway that would have displayed the store’s latest fashion.



Now, looking fully into what was the main floor retail space, this has been turned into art studios that artists can rent and work in.  I love it that the original light fixtures have been left intact.  When I visited, an art show of local school children’s art was on display on the gallery walls.



Looking into one of the studios.



These niches are also available for artists to rent to display their work that’s for sale.  Tapp’s Art Center, as it’s now known, has a public art show night once per month, where folks can come in and see the monthly rotating exhibit and purchase art, too.  Notice the curtain, above the niches, that I believe is from the Tapp’s Dept. Store days.



This is the Tapp’s lunch counter area, which is now available for meeting rental space.



Let’s go down to the basement and have a look. There are many more studios for artists down there, too.



Here’s the bottom of the stairwell we saw leading down from the lobby – great details!



We’ll go back outside now and I’ll show you the other side of the building, then the rear facade.  The sides have plenty of windows, which is great for the apartment dwellers.



At the bottom of the next photo, you can see an awning and the sign “Mainstreet Lofts”.  This is the entrance the apartment residents use.  I can’t help but think this would be a really cool place to live!



Painted at the top of the rear facade is a phrase that is as much a part of this building’s historical significance as its art deco architecture:  Meet Me At Tapp’s



I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of this wonderful 20th century department store, and seeing how it’s been repurposed and preserved for the 21st century.  If you’re ever in Columbia, SC, do plan to drop in and stroll through the art gallery, as there’s always something new to see.

Welcome to those of you joining from any of these fine link-ups! I hope you’ll stick around a while.

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13 thoughts on “Art Deco Department Store Finds a New Purpose in a New Century

  1. Great building, great history and great re-use of space! I love Art Deco styling, so this one speaks to me! Now we’re seeing the shopping malls that replaced some of this great, old architecture decline, and even close in some cities – what a shame!

  2. I love downtown shopping and rarely ever go to a mall. It really bothers me when I hear of one of the great old buildings being torn down. What a wonderful way to save this beautiful art deco building. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What an interesting post! It’s so good to see that that this city saw the benefit of saving an outstanding historical structure like this and gave it new life. Thanks for sharing. Rosie

  4. As usual another wonderful tour. I love old buildings and it’s always sad when they close down. It’s always nice when someone with vision buys them and keeps as much of the original look as possible. It’s nice to see a building get a second chance at life. It’s to bad we don’t have that many developers out there with that vision.

  5. What a great tour… Thanks, Dawn. I would love to visit Columbia and as much of the South and as I could get in in one trip!! I always learn something from your posts and this was no exception!! Have a great week!

  6. I have been meeting at Tapp’s for about fifty-five years! We were there back in April to look around. Main street is such a great place to wander now – with the Art Museum, Tapp’s, small shops, and restaurants. I remember walling from Capstone, my college dorm, to Tapp’s to get a dress for a special occasion. Wish I could afford to live there!

  7. Wonderful that these places have been saved and repurposed for a variety of need, love the art galleries on the bottom leve.

  8. Too bad colored people could not eat at that tasty lunch counter. Did store close before Civil Right Act of 1964?

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