Nearly seven years after the former Waccamaw Pottery was purchased by an investment company with roots in China, the commercial complex is filling its exterior spaces and showing signs of a renaissance.
If it continues, it will be an international revival.
A Chinese swimsuit and lingerie fashion show on July 17 marks the arrival of another Asian business to the center.
Executives with 3W LLC, the Waccamaw Center’s owner and operator, hope to have a multicultural marketplace with businesses from China, other parts of Asia and the U.S., including local companies. It currently has 25 tenants under lease agreements.
“The leasing of the space is not our goal,” said Ran "Allen" Zhang, 3W LLC’s project manager. “The main reason we bought this mall is to build a bridge to connect the Chinese companies and the U.S. market.”
Zhang said 3W LLC’s affiliate in China, the U.S.-China International Entrepreneurial Community, is an incubator for start-up companies and has bureaus in five Chinese cities and approximately 200 fledgling companies under its umbrella.
He said it wants to bring a number of those companies and their products to the Waccamaw Center, and promote them online in the U.S. “If the product is good enough we will provide funds for them,” Zhang said.
3W LLC also wants to open the Chinese and Asian markets to U.S. companies and individuals interested in tapping into them.
David Lee, a 3W LLC owner and its director, said he has partnering companies or consultants in several Asian countries including Japan, Korea, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“We just want to be the center for the bridge to connect America and Asia,” Lee said. “Not only Chinese business, but American business to China also.”
Last year the Waccamaw Center held a cultural art show and jewelry show, each featuring companies and products from Asia, and there were three similar shows in 2016. 3W LLC also hosted a conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to promote tourism to Myrtle Beach.
During its heyday, which is essentially prior to the opening of Tanger Outlet on U.S. 501, the shopping complex was a bustling destination for tourists along the Grand Strand. It was known as Waccamaw Pottery, then Waccamaw Factory Shoppes.
The previous owners, who were also investors in the failed Hard Rock Park, abandoned plans to tear down the mall buildings to make way for a mixed-use development dubbed “Paradise City” tied into the nearby theme park, which existed less than two years. The investors abandoned their plans to redevelop the mall property once the park shut down in 2008.
3W LLC, a company registered in Delaware licensed in South Carolina, bought the 52-acre Waccamaw Center from General Electric Credit Equities in December 2011 for $7.5 million, according to Horry County property records, and renovated the property. It has approximately 600,000 square feet of space for potential tenants.
“We are trying to see this for the long term,” Lee said. “We know it’s not in the short term, we’re in it for the long term.”
The storefronts that line the front and east side of the malls facing U.S. 501 and Fantasy Harbour Blvd. are completely full, including two new tenants that are readying their spaces for openings.
“This year and last year we have been very busy. We’ve rented out all the front units and we’re gradually opening [two buildings],” Zhang said. “Especially this year we have a lot of calls for the spaces.”
Tenants include the Asher Theatre, which features the James Stephens III show “The Man of A Thousand Voices,” and the Five Star Venue featuring a hypnosis show and online show “The Late Night Webshow Live.”
Other tenants include Rockstar Cheer and Dance, Integrated Systems & Designs and Commercial Audio, AAR Stone Boutique kitchen and bathroom remodeling, and NewSpring Church.
Chinese businesses in the Waccamaw Center sell souvenirs, landscaping statues and stones, jewelry including pearls from a Chinese pearl farm, art, and linens, towels and bedding products. Lee said the latter business provides products to more than 200 hotels along the coast from Pawleys Island to North Myrtle Beach, as well as in Charleston, Florence and Wilmington, N.C.
3W LLC is now trying to fill the inside of the buildings and has had discussions with possible tenants. “One party is interested in renting the whole Mall 2,” Zhang said.
Zhang said 3W LLC is hoping to arrange opportunities for Coastal Carolina University and exchange students majoring in marketing to work with companies at the center and in Asia for hands-on experience, and has provided free space to the Grand Strand Technology Council to train local students and businesses.
“We hope to be more connected to do something for the local community,” Lee said.
Waccamaw Center’s tenants (with lease start date)
Atlantic Custom (3/1/12)
NewSpring Church (6/20/14)
Myrtle Beach Auction (4/1/15
Chinaberry Tree Gift Shop (3/1/16)
Design Concepts (4/25/16)
Serra Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (5/1/16)
Home Brands (11/4/16)
Beach Boy Customz (2/1/17)
Ranking Distribution/Kirby Vacuum Service Center (3/1/17)
Salon Eclipse (5/1/17)
Relivable/Five Star Venue (7/1/17)
Prestige Art/Art & Frame (9/1/17)
Asher Theatre (10/1/17)
All American/AAR Stone (11/1/17)
SM Painting (11/9/17)
Integrated Systems (1/1/18)
Dublin Worldwide (1/15/18)
Hospitality Direct (2/1/18)
Mechanical Systems (2/1/18)
RockStar Cheer & Dance (3/1/18)
Spirit Halloween (8/1/18)
Gaveltime Auction (recently added)
Neptune Barber & Hair (recently added)
_ * List according to 3W LLC