By Mark A. Leon
All decisions in life come with a level of risk. Most often the biggest decisions take on the most risk. The best way to minimize the risk is to gather as much information as you can. Some of the biggest changes one can make is to move, get married, start a family or a new career. All have a common variable and that is culture. Culture is all around us and so difficult to define. You can’t find culture in a job description or housing spec sheet. It is something that takes time and experience to understand.
Culture can also be shared. As some of you make that major life decision to move away from home and settle into a new life in the Charleston area, it is important to know as much as you can about our culture.
Here are a few cultural traits you should know before you make your final decision
- If you are looking for a quiet historic city located on the harbor, you missed us by four years. If you move here, you will expect major construction and development for the next five plus years in most parts of historic Charleston, including the lot across from Joe Riley Stadium, Upper King Street, Lower King Street, Upper Meeting Street, Battery home renovations, Colonial Lake and MUSC: Though there are pockets of quiet beauty. Colonial Lake went through a multi-million-dollar rejuvenation project and it is beautiful, but Sgt. Jasper right next door may be torn down for a new community which will involve massive construction. Be prepared for cones, cranes, potholes, road closures and an evolving skyline that will resemble the Holy City less and less.
- We are a drinking community. A few facts: There is a brewery in the Lowcountry for approximately every 2700 citizens. Yes, one brewery for every 2700 people. Next, The Recovery Room is the #1 seller of PBR in the United States. Finally, the state of South Carolina brought in 3.2 billion dollars in beer revenue in 2016. I think those facts tell a convincing story.
- Driving and insurance rates are real issues. We are ranked as the 47th worst driving state in the United States. As a result, insurance rates across the board have increased 10% or more in the last year.
- We are a festival / event driven community. If you come from a small town with five or ten major festivals each summer or year, you will feel overwhelmed. On a given week, there are 40 – 80 festivals, events, concerts, fund-raisers, pop-up sales or farmers markets. Events are not isolated to weekends.
- We have lots of live music. Now we are an easy going coastal community, so much of it is cover bands, flip flops and tee-shirts, but we do get quality national acts that come through the Charleston Music Hall, Charleston Music Farm, The Charleston Pour House and The Royal American to name a few.
- We have one winery. If you are coming to the Southeast to experience a beautiful winery experience, you are four hours away from the western Carolina, Georgia area where most reside. We have one (Deep Water Winery). It is a nice place, but more rustic than Napa.
- No Carnivals. In the north, there is a love for carnivals. They are a community tradition. Not here. The Annual Ladson State Fair is the closest you will come.
- Our unemployment is low, but the quality jobs are limited. If you go to Facebook jobs for Charleston, you will see that 85% are culinary, hospitality and maintenance positions. We have had a surge in small start-up technology jobs and growth from Volvo, Boeing, Blackbaud and BenefitFocus, but overall, we suggest locking a career opportunity before you move here. This area can burn you out if you are not prepared.
- Beach life is amazing. There is no question. Within 45 minutes in any direction you can get to Edisto, Kiawah, Folly, Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms. We embrace our beach communities with restaurants, shopping and dining. Let us not forget the events. Lunar beach festivals, movies by the ocean, shag dancing, jazz festival and so much more.
- Cookie cutter apartment and condos are being built daily throughout the Lowcountry. Do your research. You may choose West Ashley, James Island, North Charleston, Hanahan, Summerville or Mount Pleasant, but each has its own economic standing, culture and personality. Do your research.
- Though the Charleston area has one of the best educational systems in the state, the Southeast is still falling far behind on quality education. The student to teacher ratios are high, some schools are building shed extensions for additional classroom space and graduations rates are lower than the US standard. If you have children, be very careful where you move.
- If you have comfortable store and restaurants you are used to, make sure we have them too. There are some places you will not find here including: Macy’s, Fuddruckers, Tiffany & Co, Sprouts, Lidl and The Cheesecake Factory to name some. We do have one Trader Joe’s.
- Great church life. Whatever your denomination, you will have options and our church communities are very welcoming. There are also two large facets of Jewish membership in the area as well.
- Ethnic food – If you plant yourself in Charleston County, you will need to go to North Charleston to find ethnic food. There are small pockets on James Island, Folly Beach, West Ashley and Mount Pleasant, but very small.
- Diversity – Charleston County is not diverse. It is evolving, but currently our diversity breakdown is: 64% White / 27% African American / .002% Native American / .013% Asian / .00032% Pacific Islander / .017% Two or more races / .048 Hispanic (2015 Census Data)
- Incredible Patriotic Pride. There are 48,000 plus veterans, a well-managed VA Hospital and a community that embraces pride in our soldiers and veterans.
- We try, but as you would expect, Christmas is not celebrated in the traditional way. One year, it was 80 degrees for our holiday parade downtown. To our credit, we do try hard, but, by Christmas, historic downtown Charleston is a desert as the College of out for the season and many downtown residents go back to their original homes for the holidays.
- Travel – The Charleston International Airport is a 15 – 25-minute drive from almost anywhere. With the additional of JetBlue and Southwest Airlines and a massive renovation, the ability to travel is exceptional here with a beautiful airport and competitive fares. There are some cities including Washington, D.C., New York, Newark, Atlanta and Miami where you can fly for just over $200 round trip with advanced purchase.
- The cost of living in South Carolina is 80% of the national average. Charleston is 131% of the national average. Though the cost of living in the Southeast is lower in most areas than most urban sectors in other parts of the United States, Charleston is becoming a very expensive city to not only visit, but to live in.
- Small and individually owned businesses are a huge part of our culture. There are thousands of small business owners with 10 or less employees that rely on the locals, tourists, farmer’s markets and customer loyalty to stay in business. We urge support of buying local, but competition is high and we do see many local businesses fall to the pressure. Be prepared to be asked to help support your own.
- We have a traditional art scene. We have a few very influential liberal and post-modern artists, but our art scene is built around traditional coastal, nature and scenic art.
- History is all around. If you are a history buff, you can pick a new place every day for a decade and still discover something new about our history.
- Average commute time to work is 24 minutes. Do your research on traffic patterns. There are areas (Bee’s Ferry, Ashley Phosphate, Savannah Highway, Maybank Highway, Folly Road, Highway 17, Highway 526) that have repetitive patterns of clustered traffic patterns.
- A popular statistic that has been twisted is the ratio of females to males. I have heard 7:1, 6:1, even 8:1. The truth is the area population is 52% female / 48% male
- 14.7% of our population is under the poverty level
- We love dogs. I cannot emphasize that enough. We love dogs. We have dog parks and even dog friendly bars and beach areas. We love dogs.
- Road Trips: We have our share of attainable day trips or weekend getaways. Some great trips you can take with a short car ride include: Savannah (1 HR 45 Minutes), Asheville (4 Hours), Myrtle Beach (2 Hours), Beaufort (1 Hour 25 Minutes – Including a Drive-In and only Lighthouse you can walk to the top in the state), Atlanta (5 Hours), Charlotte, NC (3 HR 25 Minutes), Augusta, GA (2 Hours 45 Minutes), Columbia, SC (1 HR 30 Minutes – Great Zoo) and Walterboro, SC (45 Minutes – Annual Rodeo).
- Biking and Hiking – We have a thriving community of bikers and runners, but face challenges to widen roads and offer safe biking paths. Also, we are called the Lowcountry for a reason. If you want good mountainous hiking, you will be traveling 4 plus hours to the Appalachian or Blue Ridge Mountain Ranges.
This is a good start. We hope this helps paint a clearer picture of the Lowcountry. We expect to share more cultural insight with future articles.
Please leave any comments or questions below.