The next time you shop or eat downtown, you could find yourself on Nowell’s Way.
The Columbia City Council has taken the first steps to name five public alleys downtown. This is a part of a larger effort to clean up the alleys for public and commercial use.
“The idea is that we have these alleys, and they’re used for more than just services, so let’s give them names,” said Carrie Gartner, Special Business District director. “We wanted to clean them up so people could use them as pedestrian walkways and give businesses and apartments a back door.”
Once the alleys have names, she said, rear-building entrances to businesses and apartments can be given addresses to facilitate deliveries. Some alley entrances may even be used as storefronts.
Alley naming will also aid emergency services, said Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department.
“The most important thing for emergency responders is an address,” he said. “We cannot currently provide an address to an unnamed street or alley.”
The process began in 2004, when the Special Business District Board of Directors approached the Historic Preservation Commission to generate names for the alleyways.
“Part of choosing names was that we didn’t want any names that had a negative connotation in terms of history,” said Brian Pape, the chairman of the preservation commission. “We wanted names that reflected positive things.”
Sharp End Way became the tentative name for the alley between Walnut Stret and Broadway because the area was formerly home to a successful African-American business community called Sharp End, Pape said. Nowell’s Way and McQuitty Way were also chosen to commemorate stores and business owners significant in the history of those areas.
Some downtown business owners, such as Cool Stuff owner Arnie Fagan, are pleased with the naming proposal because of what it will do for businesses.
Fagan said that Cool Stuff’s staff members currently don’t use the alleyway often, but they want to make improvements so they can.
“The first key thing is to name the alleys,” he said. “One of the keys for business success is being easily identifiable.”
Gartner also stressed how naming the alleyways would help businesses. The alley behind Cool Stuff hosts the wheelchair entrance for basement properties such as the Peace Nook and Uprise Bakery, as well as apartment entrances. Giving it a name would make identification easier for them all, she said.
John Ott, a downtown building owner, is counting on alley names to help the development of new businesses.
"My buildings along Broadway are relatively deep, and the best way to utilize their potential is to put storefronts along the alley," Ott said. "Some retailers can't use the whole depth of a building or afford all the space along the street, so this could allow new retailers to have space downtown."
Still, downtown stakeholders say the alleys need more than names to become wholly functional. The city has replaced some trash bins downtown with trash compactors, making alleys cleaner and more accessible for cars. More trash bins are to be replaced soon, Gartner said.
Fagan said he likes the compactors, but the one behind his building is frequently overflowing and reeking.
"It should be really easy to throw out your trash," he said. "It shouldn't be that disgusting. It's a health issue."
Gartner said that she only gets occasional complaints from business owners about compactors. Gerry Worley, environmental health manager of the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said part of the compactor problem is that restaurant employees are not using the compactors correctly, for instance, by failing to compact the trash.
Ott said he would also like to see the alleys repaved and the electrical wires over them buried. Fagan echoed that sentiment.
"Naming them is great, but if we don't take care of the graffiti, if we don't take care of trash compactors and utilities ... you won't be able to have business back there," Fagan said.