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Remembering the Joyful Alternative 20 years after its closure

We reflect on the history of Joyful Alternative and share some of our readers’ favorite memories of this counter-culture staple from 1970 to 2003.

A black and white photo of a man standing outside the Joyful Alternative's Greene Street shop front.

Joyful Alternative was originally located at 2009 Greene St.

Courtesy of Richland Library.

The beginning of June marks the 20th anniversary of the Joyful Alternative’s closing. Opened in 1970 by eight friends — including owners Barbara Howell and Dale Bailes (credited for giving the store its name) — the gift shop offered everything from candles to Kerouac. It was known as the locus of all things counter-culture and is remembered for both the smell of incense + sense of community.

After 33 years, the shop closed in 2003. The store filled with customers one last time on Saturday, May 31 for music and poetry readings. The location at 747 Saluda Ave. was later taken over by the first Starbucks in Columbia which closed this year on Sunday, April 2.

Black and white photo of Barbara Howell in a patterned shirt, standing inside the Joyful Alternative shop.

Joyful Alternative owner Barbara Howell was also a member of the Trenholm Artists Guild

Photo courtesy of Richland Library.

We asked you to share the best part of the Joyful Alternative. You did not disappoint. Here are a few of our favorite reader memories:

  • “Just one? The variety. The staff. The vibe.” — @jaime_mostly
  • “Barbara always played a game with my husband who would come in looking for a gift. I had already been there and picked out what I liked and Barbara would suggest it to him. Saddest day in Columbia when it closed the doors for good.” — Sue B.
  • “As a gay man just coming out in the late 70s/early 80s, the Joyful was the only place I knew where you could find ‘The Advocate.’ I always found it to be a very affirming place for queer folks.” — Walter B.
  • “The smell, the music, the interior of the store, the people.” — @barbaralongsc
  • “EVERYTHING. I loved to listen to Dale Bailes tell stories and hear his laugh.” — Amy K.
  • “I still have my green velvet poet’s hat and an amazing blouse from there! Still in style today! This place was a gem and is missed always!!!!” — @cola_catie
  • “The beautiful selection of unique and quality jewelry, the atmosphere of fun, and the hilarious cards. Always seemed like the coolest place in town.” — Katie E.
  • “The occult books! And the way it smelled in there.” — @patrickmichaelkelly_
  • “Oh, so many memories, but they always had such cutting-edge clothing. I was always so proud to be wearing a new outfit from there.” — Karolyn S.
  • “You could always find ‘a treasure’ there! I still have a long handmade dress from there and a crocheted shawl with multi-colors! The staff was always fun and friendly. Forgot when The Joyful Alternative was opened but know we started going there in the early 70s (maybe even late 60s)! My daughter, Manda — now 45 loved going as well!” — Lynne W.
  • “I will always say that working here was the greatest job I’ve ever had. The whole experience.” — @ladyelaine13
  • “EVERYthing.” — @triplejsc

Since the space is now available, what should go in that location next? A Joyful Alternative revival? Or maybe a bar and music venue? Whatever occupies the space there next, it will have big shoes to fill.

Let us know what you think should take over the space.

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