Main Street Manning hosts vendor showcase

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Main Street Manning sponsored another in its series of evolving events on the third Tuesday of each September, an event that featured a variety of local businesses with something in common.

Last year, it was Bands and Barbecue on Brooks Street; on Tuesday, it was local businesses that have anything to do with hosting a special event, and there was a bustling crowd enjoying the music, the wide variety of food and the verdant setting on the grounds of the Drayton House at the end of South Brooks Street.

"This is pretty normal," said Main Street Manning Director Carrie Trebil, referring to the good attendance. Trebil said the event has grown each year, reflecting changes for the better to Manning's downtown area.

"We do a different theme each year," Trebil said. "This is actually our eighth year doing it, and the first couple of years we did it the same - we invited all the businesses. We were a lot smaller then, only nine blocks downtown, and we let them all set up and show off. Then we said, 'This is getting old; let's do something different, and it's taken a different spin, each year something different."

A large tent and numerous smaller tents housed a wide variety of vendors, from traditional caterers to aerial drone photography. That is thanks, in part, to opening the event to vendors outside the downtown area, unlike previous years' events. "We had Drayton House come open, and we've got Marion House, and other locations which are available to rent for events, and you really don't have to go somewhere else," Trebil said. "We wanted to emphasize that we have all this right here in Clarendon County. Main Street Manning's focus is generally Manning, but we felt that everybody could benefit from this. So we have some Summerton businesses and some outside-the-city-limits businesses set up today."

Besides the networking and revelry, Main Street Manning used Tuesday's events to present its annual awards to some of its members.

Winners of Most Hospitable were Kevin, Craig and Barbara Levy, owners of Gullah Gullah Fish, a downtown restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands from Charleston to Savannah. Best Window Display went to Sam Levy Photography, and the Best Building Renovation award went to Manning Finance.

"Most of my family is from Charleston - James Island, John's Island and places around there - and we just took the recipes and decided to open a restaurant," said Kevin Levy, who was serving gullah shrimp, crab legs and rice at the Gullah Gullah Fish tent. "We do a gullah rice that has kale in it and chicken and shrimp, and sometimes we put conch in it. That's one of our traditional gullah items," Levy said. "It's different from Cajun food, and a lot of people get it confused."

Levy said Gullah Gullah Fish, which also does catering events, has been open since October, and he still meets local people that didn't know it is open. He said he participated in Tuesday's event to help get the word out.

Trebil said the variety of vendors is expanding beyond the traditional few.

"We've generally had a couple of caterers, but we've got numerous florists now, print shops and photographers," she said. "We've seen great improvements in our downtown and outside the city."

Trebil explained that her organization is part of a larger national one that encourages its members to think about creative ways to think about transforming and revitalizing their communities.

"National Main Street has taken a different approach," she said. "They have a product base and a customer base. So this was kind of our idea for the customer base. If you're looking to throw a party, a shower, wedding, reunion, prom or anything, we feel like you can do that all right here. So we focused on the people you might go to do those things."

The Drayton House, a mid-19th century mansion owned by Sumter's Charles Hodge, has been transformed into an event venue similar to The O'Donnell House on Liberty Street in Sumter. Bubba and Cathy Rabon, owners of Sumter's Bubba's Diner, are partnering with Hodge to open the venue to special events. Tuesday's Main Street Manning event was as much about the vendors networking with each other as with the general public.

"Since this is a new venue, they get to meet the Rabons," Trebil said. "The Rabons are from Sumter, and so they're getting to meet some Clarendon County contacts. It's a great networking event."

Trebil said she is excited about the potential still available in Manning.

"We've got some new businesses opening and some spaces still available downtown, but it might be different this time next year," she said when asked if it's time to get on board the Manning train. "It's past time, so they better hurry up. We really do not have very many vacant buildings downtown, and property owners are working hard to make sure they get good people into those spaces."