Why Greenville, SC works: Reason #87
Occasionally I find something about my adopted hometown that I add to an ever growing list of reasons that make me happy I have chosen to raise my family here. I found another good reason last weekend.
My wife was trying to walk to the baby out of her uterus. She was eager to move the bump on her belly out into the South Carolina sunshine and had grown a little impatient. We’d eaten Mexican food at Cantinflas and the baby hadn’t stirred. Despite the fact she was moving like a dancer with a medicine ball in her tutu, the wife wanted to walk–and everywhere.
We’d already walked the length of Main Street between the Peace Center and the Hyatt and the wife had decided she wasn’t going to quit. By the time we’d made it back down to the Poinsett Hotel, it appeared she wasn’t going to give up until the baby was pushing its own stroller.
I’d grown a little tied and was happy to see a familiar face at the corner of Coffee and Main.
I met Ben Brown during the 2009 Mastodon Weekend. He owns the Reedy River Rickshaw company. He and his group of pedaling men drive a bunch of bicycle rickshaws all over downtown Greenville. They work for tips and are a good bunch of guys (plus they put up with my degenerate friends and me while we threw money at them and demanded they race us all over downtown).
Ben and I chatted for a moment about how his business was going and I got ready to resume the Main Street adventure.
“You guys ever go to the Blue Martini?” Ben asked.
We looked at him and waited. His eyes drifted down to my wife’s bulging belly.
“We used to,” I said and let the the recognition settle in. My wife hadn’t had a drink in nearly a year.
“Ah,” he said. “What about frozen yogurt?”
We’d been thinking about going for ice cream before the night was over. Ben reached in his pocket and pulled out a coupon for Blueberry Frog, the frozen yogurt joint in the West End.
“Need a ride?” Ben asked.
We thanked him, told of our mission to walk the baby out, and kept walking.
A while later, we wandered by Blueberry Frog and decided to go in. We used our coupon and the lady behind the counter asked who had given it to us. I told her Ben had steered us in her direction and had actually convinced us to get our sweet fix with her instead of somewhere else.
“Hold on a sec,” she said and dove for her cash register. Seconds later, she was handing us a coupon for a free appetizer at Pomegranate, the Persian restaurant a few doors down.
My wife eventually walked the baby out (for more on that, you can see my open letter to the new baby), so we haven’t had a chance to cash in the coupon yet. And really, when it comes down to it, I’m not getting all rowdy because I might save a couple of dollars. It’s because of how downtown Greenville is supporting itself.
I’ve not made much of a secret about how disenchanted I was with some of the heavy-handed tactics the city used to redevelop downtown and the West End. It was ugly, occasionally mean, and one of the worst cases of the end justifying the means I’ve ever seen. It never quite reached the criminal level, but it was close enough to be sticky. It wasn’t only that a lot of longtime Greenville business owners were treated really badly during the facelift. It was a fear that downtown would end up a homogenized strip of The Gap, TGI Fridays, and Starbucks.
While I still think there are some people who have some karmic retribution coming, downtown Greenville has turned out better than I expected. The Gap never showed up and I have yet to see a waiter wearing TGI Fridays bling. There is a Starbucks downtown, but it has some good competition with the Port City Java and Liquid Highway folks.
The one thing city leaders hoped for and achieved was a sense of community downtown. People live there, work there, and play there. The downtown businesses that might otherwise be in danger of collapsing under the troubled economy are working their symbiotic relationship to its full potential. Get a ride in a rickshaw, get sold on some frozen yogurt, end up eating some Persian food. There’s never a reason to walk into Starbucks and pay $5 for a cup of burned coffee when you can support the people making downtown a place where the smaller guy can survive.
I’ve been spending a lot of time downtown and continue to be impressed. It has become a real community. I can go for a beer and sushi at Murasaki and talk to the bartender about his funk band. I can sit out in Piazza Bergamo and see Fred the hemp bracelet maker working on one of the tables in the sunshine. I can help my wife walk the baby out and meet another handful of people who make downtown work. I can eat on the deck at Oysters and hear how the Piedmont Boys rocked the bar the night before.
It’s all just another reason I like Greenville and can’t find any reason to move somewhere else.
Starbucks sort of proves my point for me. We walked by the place during a downtown festival a week or so ago. While every other local downtown business was welcoming the crowds with open arms, Starbucks was proving how far it is from understanding the downtown vibe. Remember, Starbucks is made with 100% love (for money).