A revolution is taking place in the very town settled by veterans of the Revolutionary War. After decades of decline, Woodruff is experiencing growth. Like many rural mill villages, the end of the last millennium was as rough as a burlap sack, when the local textile industry unraveled, moving overseas. Woodruff’s population dipped to numbers not seen since the 1960s.
But an upward trend is now underway. “We have two developments with a total of 200 homes that have broken ground,” says Alyson Smith, community and economic development director. “Another 400 have shown interest and will be either within city limits, or within a three-to-five-mile drive.”
City records show investors have pumped $5.5 million into this bedroom community just east of Greenville and south of Spartanburg, between 2018-19.
“The majority of the vacant buildings within our downtown have recently been purchased, and are undergoing renovation, or will begin renovation within the next six months or so,” Smith says. “The investment has all been private investment from residential developers, current property owners, new property owners and new businesses, who have upfit downtown buildings that were previously in poor condition.”
Among those bringing flair to the Main Street make-over is a group of women working to restore Woodruff’s small-town charm and luster.
Debbie Davis, owner, The Yellow Butterfly
104 N. Main St.
Debbie Davis unlocks the front door to her gift shop on Main Street. As she scans the three-block-long stretch of century-old buildings, she recalls the days of her youth. “When I grew up here, Main Street was full of people. Cars were everywhere,” the retailer reminisces. “I see pictures of my parents growing up in the ’50s and ’60s. There was a movie theater; it was a thriving little town.”
After spending the better part of her adult life in Greenville, Davis says she’s excited to return to her roots and fertilize the business landscape. She and her husband purchased a ramshackle, two-story structure in 2017, and opened The Yellow Butterfly last fall. “It’s a 120-year-old building,” she says. “It started out as a furniture store, and when I was growing up here in the ’60s and ’70s, I remember it being a florist. When I bought it, it was a tanning-bed place.”
Davis cut her teeth in retail at Palmetto Home & Garden on Laurens Road for 13 years. She’s still learning the ebb and flow of Woodruff’s clientele, but says business has been good, especially since the summer vacation season ended. Bailey, the cream-colored shop dog, accompanies her every day and stands post near the register. American-made paintings, candles, jewelry and more fill the 2,400-square-foot space, with another 2,400 square feet upstairs for expansion.
While stocking her shop, the businesswoman simultaneously brainstorms ways to increase downtown engagement. “We’ve got to have more restaurants,” she declares. “Food, drink, and music are going to bring more people in. Change is coming. It’s going to be a new era for a lot of people.”
And she’s grateful to be taking flight on the front end of business growth with The Yellow Butterfly. “They say you have to be first, best, or different. I want to be all three!”
Angela Self/Angels Three Development, LLC
206 S. Main St.
“I’m living my dream now! I’m living my passion!”
It’s a new season for Angela Self, and everyone around her can feel her energy. In the not-so-distant past, she left a 17-year health-care career and hit a milestone birthday which she’d rather not mention. It was time for something new.
“I went back to school to get my builders license,” she says with a smile. “I have a certification in building biology, which addresses healthy interior spaces. I started off in residential, but my business has evolved into business properties. Specifically, older buildings.”
With the same zeal she brought passion back to her life, she’s injecting life into downtown Woodruff. “My business partner and I wanted the biggest challenge, to create the biggest transformation,” she says of why they purchased the property at 206 S. Main St. “When we bought it, during due diligence, the inspector said to tear it down. But we knew it held more than that. It could be amazing.”
A walkthrough shows the 7,500-square-foot structure has good bones. The brick and wood hold incredible character, with a history to match. “The right side of the space was a bank, and has a vault,” the owner says. “It’s cool, because the office in back was for the bank president and has a fireplace. We’re restoring that and the vault to the original.”
Self and Michael Watts plan to complete renovations by November, and lease the space to a restaurateur. “I really love a transformation. It’s an amazing feeling, almost indescribable. You don’t want to tear down something beautiful that can still be used,” the builder says. “People can’t see Woodruff at this point. It’s hard to visualize what it can be. But if someone can go in now, they will be on the front end of this ball game.”
Yana Allen/Rotties 221 Biergarten
228 S. Main St.
With their love of travel through Germany, Denmark and the Adriatic Coast, it should come as no surprise that Yana Allen and her husband John stumbled upon Woodruff during a walkabout. While exploring Main Street, the multitude of “for sale” signs caught their attention. “I fell in love with this red brick building,” Yana recalls. “It had an open space, café feel, and when we walked down the driveway, we both thought biergarten!”
The owner happened to be on-site, and the Allens quickly gained possession of two 118-year-old buildings with boarded-up windows, no electricity, and grass growing from the dirt floors. “We had a little picnic here with our friends to celebrate,” Yana says with a laugh. “It was a shell of a building. They all shook their heads and joked about the ‘Money Pit’ movie and asked, ‘are you sure?’”
But the Allens, who are of Scottish and Bavarian descent, went to work building their international biergarten, which opened in late September to a packed house. “We have 24 beers on tap and we’re working with different food vendors while we get the kitchen set up,” Yana says. “We have a passion for traveling to different breweries and love to entertain. We hope to turn the building next door into a brewery.”
The fresh smell of varnish and lumber waifs through Rotties, as Yana looks out the big front window, spying construction crews working across the street. “I love Greenville, but I just don’t want to deal with the traffic anymore,” she says. “We live in Greer, and this is only 15 minutes away. I see it expanding in a good way, while still keeping that small-town feel, and adding a variety of things for the community to do. I can’t say enough about the city of Woodruff.”
Woodruff fast facts:
Surrounding area population: 15,000
Old Woodruff High School was built in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1978, the city acquired the building and adapted it for use as City Hall and Police Headquarters.
Located just inside Spartanburg County.
Main Street Mileage
24.7 miles to Greenville
18.6 miles to Spartanburg
Storytellers from across the U.S. come to Woodruff every April for the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival.