I have granted myself a limited pardon from my home-boundedness. It was that or order me up a strait jacket to protect the rest of the world from the insanity that a solid month of confinement will bring.
My beloved mother, Madison Avenue’s favorite television pawn, sees all these new food items on the squawk box and must have it. Now. Because I try to deny her nothing, I ventured out on Saturday for some “Good Mood Food.”
What I encountered was something I either have forgotten about (possibly) or has just begun its peak in our fair county (probably).
Visitors. Lots of them.
When I pulled into the Good Mood Food store at the late-ish lunch hour of 1:30, the parking lot was packed. I mean, like people-waiting-for-parking-spots packed. Was the new ad campaign going over like wildfire? Had I been trapped in the house so long I forgot how popular this restaurant was?
After I got over laughing because every single vehicle on the west side of the building was a mini-van, SUV or pickup truck, I took notice of the license tags.
And a few South Carolinas thrown in for good measure. These were not locals. Well most of them weren’t.
After a momentary lapse into, “What are all these darn folks doing in my town,” I began to think, “My goodness, what are these people contributing to our county?”
As I returned home, down “The Strip,” (aka Hwy. 261), I took note of the other restaurants and their parking lot.
From Good Mood Food, all the way to Finger Lickin’ Good, business was booming. Our Big Box was enjoying heavy traffic. The economy was busting out all over!
This summer, I will gleefully celebrate 20 years since I crossed over the Lake Marion Bridge while silently vowing never to return from whence I came. I have been true to that vow, by the way. No loss, from my point of view.
When I moved here, there were just a handful of fast food restaurants. If you wanted to get your fingers lick worthy, you had to drive out to Ram Bay. Today, that number has doubled. Each new arrival is dreaded by current business owners and celebrated by diners. After a while, it all evens out and we seem to enjoy the variety so much that everybody is happy – I hope.
But what really drives many of the businesses on The Strip is our access to I-95. I expect every business owner along the Hwy. 261 corridor owes a debt of gratitude to the late Jerry Bradshaw, for without his vision, Exit 119 would very much look like the other Clarendon exits along the “I.”
Here’s the big point: the restaurants along Hwy. 261 – and elsewhere in our county – are the welcome wagon for our county. They are our face. And they make a lot of money move in this county.
They provide jobs. Perhaps not the best jobs in the world, but in tough economic times, a job is a job is a job.
They pump major dollars into our economy. Folks get off the Interstate for something to eat. Maybe they fill up their vehicles. Perhaps they stop at the Big Box to replenish their car snacks, buy some diapers or get something to entertain the kidlets. Best of all, maybe they wander into downtown and see how cool we are on the inside too!
Conservative figures are that 60,000 cars pass through our county each day on the Interstate. I think they all got off here on Saturday.
Chamber of Commerce President Pat Goodwin has been trying to create a plan to “brand” our county, to give it a unique and memorable identity. We know of Columbia as the Capital City. Charleston is the Holy City. With its rich heritage, doesn’t Clarendon deserve a special brand?
That process is going to take a lot of input and a hefty dose of financial support from community members from Turbeville to North Santee. This identity will enable us to promote our charm and bring dollars to our county.
What will create return visitors (and dollars) will be the hospitality we show these visitors when they are with us. Let’s remember that especially during these summer months that we are a stopping off spot for travelers in all directions. We need to have our Sunday best on, even on a Wednesday. We need to keep our streets and byways clear of trash. We need to treat these economic engines we call travelers like family come to town, not like interlopers.
Let’s show them our good ol’ southern hospitality.
As they leave their money here, let us leave them with a feeling as sweet as our tea!