What is the Upstate?

The Upstate has seen tremendous population growth in the past decade. About 70,000 new people have moved to Greenville, Anderson and Spartanburg counties in the past seven years alone. These are people who have come for work and to enjoy the lifestyle here. They have added to our culture, but what have we shown them? They are getting heaping helpings of great Clemson football teams, a foodie boom, highway construction and amazingly unique downtowns. But are they really learning what the Upstate is? Are they enjoying the things that many of us know, but take for granted? And we are not talking about things that are no longer here. We are talking about the things that make our little slice of the world so very genuine. With that in mind, we at Locally Epic (with the always-wonderful aid of social media) have come up with a Top 10 list of things that anyone in our region has to do at least once to say they really live here. These are the things only an insider would know about and attempt over time. This is not a weekend fun list. This is the Upstate.

  1. Snap a photo of the Peachoid (but not while you’re driving on the interstate): Located just off I-85 in Gaffney County, nothing says welcome to the Upstate like a giant peach on the horizon. Yes, it does look like a giant butt. Thousands drive past it every day, and it even made it into an episode of “House of Cards,” so you really can’t say you live here until you have a picture of it.
  2. Go to Victoria Valley Vineyard: This vineyard in northern Greenville County has become a destination for many romantic dates. Located just off Highway 11, Victoria Valley Vineyards is beautiful and scenic, and the wine is locally made and fantastic.
  3. Take in a race at Greenville Pickens Speedway: This SHOULD be higher on the list, but apparently a lot of people have not been to this racetrack off Highway 123 just past the Saluda River. But they SHOULD go there. There is nothing like watching actual stock cars race, and this place has it, and so much more. It oozes authentic history. While so many places try to be authentic, this place is it. You get 10 points cooler on the authenticity scale just by walking through the gate. Oh yeah, and while you can buy a fried-bologna sandwich at the concession stand, you can also BYO beer and food, which somehow makes it cooler.
  4. Climb Table Rock: Are their better places to hike in the Upstate? Yes. But for some reason, this is the place everyone hikes at least once. Why? We think it is the view of “the rock,” which can be seen from miles away. A person is drawn to it, and wants to conquer it.
  5. Walk around Furman’s Lake: This was another one that surprised us, but shouldn’t have. A picnic and walk around the lake is high on the list of romantic (and inexpensive) first dates. Everyone does it at least once. While there, check out the Thoreau Cabin.
  6. Shop at the Anderson Jockey Lot: We want to make a joke about underwear or people who ride horses, but the reality is that a person can likely find both in droves at the Jockey Lot, a giant flea market located in Anderson County on Highway 29. For generations, many Upstaters considered Sunday to be a day for going to church and prayer. The others went to the Jockey Lot early to get a jump on the best sales and things to purchase. Today, well, now everyone needs to go to the Jockey Lot at least once.
  7. Trek around Croft State Park: This is an Upstate jewel located just south of downtown Spartanburg. Whether you want to run, bike, hike, swim or fish, Croft State Park has it. A former World War II camp with more than 7,000, acres to explore, Croft is simply beautiful. And the best part is the location: If you get bored or it starts raining, you are about a 10-minute drive to downtown Spartanburg where you can find plenty to do.
  8. Boat on Lake Keowee: We chose Keowee, but we easily could have chosen Hartwell or Robinson or Bowen. You might live here, but you haven’t really lived until you have found yourself sipping a cold one on the back of a boat on an Upstate lake. What, you don’t drink alcohol? We said cold one, and that could mean a Coke. Or a Pepsi. Or a Cheerwine. (You haven’t had a Cheerwine? Then go drink one and start over on this list. You can’t say you live here until you have had a Cheerwine.)
  9. Eat at The Beacon Drive-In: There is nothing like the Beacon anywhere else in America. Located on the cusp of Spartanburg’s downtown (go here after Croft!), it would be easy to say that stepping into the Beacon is like stepping back in time. But it is more like stepping into a different reality that is void of healthy food, gravity and good manners. Only one of those is true and it isn’t gravity or manners. But it’s not the food that keeps people and presidential candidates coming back time after time. It is the place. We lack the words to describe why it is great. It just is great. And don’t forget the password: Chili Cheese A-Plenty.
  10. Experience a heartbreaking day at Clemson: This is sort of a trick one. The Tigers have been damn near dominant at home the past few years. So, a lot of bandwagon Clemson fans  have gotten used to tailgating, watching a big win and then heading to TigerTown tavern after the game. But you can’t really say you have lived in the Upstate until you have experienced the unearthly, tomblike silence of Death Valley after the Tigers have found some bizarre way to lose a game. Whether that is a botched handoff that led to a touchdown for the other team with no time left; a failed field goal returned for a touchdown in overtime; a 99-yard touchdown run by the opposition in double overtime; a 105-yard interception return for a touchdown in triple overtime; a lightning bolt hitting the game-winning touchdown pass and exploding the football before it reached Rod Gardner; a freak tsunami coming up from Lake Hartwell and causing the Tigers to fumble on the one-yard line; Strom Thurmond running onto the field and causing a delay of game that moved Clemson out of field goal range; a rip in the time-space continuum that caused the…OK…you get the idea…

Anyway, welcome to the Upstate. You have your homework. Get to it.

Thinking locally, buying locally

A lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions.  There’s a good chance you made one. Or many. There is a good chance you’ve already broken them.

But we at Locally Epic want you to consider one more resolution that if you keep, can change the face of the local economy.

We want you to buy local. Go to the homegrown store for hardware. Buy a painting from a local artist. Buy a shirt at the local store and not online. We are not asking you to spend more money. Just take what you are spending now online and go to a locally owned shop. If Upstate consumers pivot $20 a week away for a year from online or a big box store to a locally owned store that would in increase the local Upstate economy by $300 million.

How is that possible?

For every dollar you spend in a Greenville-based business, 75 cents stays right here in Greenville. Even if you’re shopping at a Woodruff Road big box (and we all do, right?), 35 cents of every buck you spend stays local. In either case, that’s cash that flows through local employees, managers and owners and into other local businesses such as grocery stores and gas stations.

Compare that scenario to this: For every dollar you spend with non-local online businesses, only one cent remains in the local economy. One penny, vs. the 99 that won’t stay here. So in the bigger picture, what’s your buck worth online vs. locally – what’s it worth to you?

But let’s take that resolution to spend local a little further. What if you chose one day a month to do nothing, but purchase locally. Imagine that. Imagine the change you could make. And that is our Locally Epic challenge to you.

Every fourth Saturday of the month, just go and buy local.  Now, you may be saying “that’s nice, but I getter deals online or at the big box store.”  That is where the Locally Epic app comes into play.  Every day, more than 35,000 users in Greenville are finding deals and promotions from local businesses. These are real savings done in real-time via Locally Epic.

We are calling it Locally Epic Saturday,  and you will be hearing a lot about it. The ideas it to take the concept of Small Business Saturday, which everyone does in December, and spread it throughout the year. We are creating value.

And value takes us back to those concepts of quality of life, being fortunate enough to live in the Greenville area, and that buck that I hope is still burning a hole in your pocket. It’s your buck, and it’s your choice, but before you spend it, I do hope you’ll consider that every dollar you spend represents your opportunity to have a positive economic impact on our region and the Greenville lifestyle we’ve come to enjoy and, yes — value.



How Epic is Greenville?

A few months back Livabilty ranked the best downtowns nationwide. Greenville came in third on the list, which created quite amount of local fanfare. People like it when downtown Greenville gets mentioned in these kinds of lists.

Livability was scientific in its approach.  Today, we are going to do a little exploring of the other cities in the top 10 to see what Greenville might learn from them.

No. 10 Evanston,Ill. A college town at heart, it shares a revitalization story similar to Greenville ( and most downtowns for that matter) as it went from dead to thriving in about 20 years. The story states that two decades ago, the only place that was open past 5 p.m. was a Burger King. My lone thought when I think of Evanston is when Northwestern students tore down the goalposts after another losing football game in the early 1980s and ran through downtown streets shouting “we’re the worst.” Today,  it is different. “Evanston has added mixed-use and residential buildings in the heart of the Sherman Avenue commercial district. These apartments and condos have created a place for Northwestern’s students and other young singles and couples to live beyond graduation.” Greenville’s Takeaway: They are getting young people to move downtown. Greenville’s YP core wants to be downtown as well, but their demand is more than the market has to offer right now.

No. 9, Colorado Springs, Col. I typically have trouble liking places such as Colorado Springs because to me they are suburb communities of a much larger city. They get to draft of the success of being in a big metro, but don’t have the clutter of the old big city. Colorado Springs is an exception. “Modern buildings blend with historic architecture throughout the city’s downtown area, where flower pots and trees line pedestrian-friendly streets and statues, carvings and paintings adorn shop windows, parks and even medians.”  This is a hip town. Greenville’s Takeaway: Mountains make a city, and we don’t have mountains to lure people. We do have a river. Always, remember we have a downtown river.

No. 8 Plano, Texas: I travel a lot and Texas has been a hot spot in the past few years. They have some sweet downtowns. I have wanted to get to Plano, but have not. I am apparently missing out. According to Livability, “During the 1980s, Downtown Plano’s business scene was sparse, with antiques stores and small clothing boutiques attracting shoppers. The addition of a light rail station connecting Plano to Dallas in 2002 helped get the downtown area back on track. Today, Historic Plano pulsates with a renewed energy that has brought in new offices, retail, restaurants and residents.” The pictures of downtown Plano also remind me of Greenville. Greenville’s Takeaway: We need a better transit system. I don’t mean anything stopgap. We need a system that really is thought out for future needs.

No. 7: Tempe, Ariz. “Finding things to do in Downtown Tempe is never difficult, thanks to the many entertainment venues and cultural centers. The Tempe Center for the Arts draws in art lovers with a series of live performance pieces that include symphony concerts, songwriters’ showcases, comedy shows and dances as well as a gallery with rotating exhibits,” according to the article. This is a very, very modern downtown based on the photos we have seen. It also is home to Arizona State University, which again gives it a very cool feel. However, despite the steel and glass, it has a natural allure with the Salt River flowing and the Tempe Buttes nearby. Greenville Takeaway: ASU dominates the landscape. Greenville will never be able to get that college town feel, but we can keep pushing for more satellite campuses of local colleges downtown.

No. 6 Boise, Idaho. Wait, Boise is on the list? If you are an average American, you likely think of potatoes, potatoes, potatoes when Boise, Idaho comes to mind. Don’t be fooled. This is one beautiful city that managed to stave off suburban sprawl. Downtown Boise rocks. “Two downtown farmers markets, the Capital City Public Market and the Boise Farmers Market, give residents broad choice for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, baked goods and crafts. Zoo Boise anchors a large area of riverside green space, which includes the Discovery Center of Idaho and the Idaho Black History Museum. Downtown Boise is also located next to Ann Morrison Park, a 153-acre green space with tennis courts, athletic fields, and gardens.” Greenville’s Takeaway:  This is a state capital so they have a ton more government workers than Greenville has, but government workers don’t always stick around after 5 p.m.

No. 5 Pittsburgh, Pa.  How bad was Pittsburgh in the 1980s? . The town was a wreck. And not just because the Pirates mascot was busted for dealing drugs But now, Pittsburgh has come back and better than ever.  Why? “Parks and riverfront trails make living downtown an even more appealing option for people who like to be where the action is. Many downtown residents frequently visit Point State Park, a 36-acre green space located at the tip of the Golden Triangle, where the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers converge. The rivers provide chances to kayak and canoe.” That is just part of the story. The Greenville Chamber sent a group of folks to Pittsburgh a few years back, so that city’s growth is definitely on our radar. Greenville’s Takeaway: Pittsburgh’s hometown musician of choice is Donnie Iris. We have Edwin McCain. We win this one.

No. 4 Bellevue, Wash. Located across Lake Washington from Seattle, Bellevue is another city on the list that seems to draft of the success of being in a big metro area. The reality is for all the hype that Seattle has gotten, it has problems downtown. Bellevue doesn’t. This is a big downtown, which city planners have done a great job of making it coherent. “Covering 400 acres of the city, Downtown Bellevue includes 4.5 million square feet of retail and entertainment space and more than 9 million square feet of office space. Vacant or new homes and offices don’t stay on the market for long, yet prices allow more than half of the population to own or rent a home for no more than 30 percent of their annual incomes, a sign that Bellevue offers affordability.” Greenville’s Takeaway: For years, we wondered when downtown Greenville would expand beyond Main Street. It is happening now, and happening quickly. Bellevue is a good example of how to create a large downtown, but one that doesn’t feel disconnected.

No 3.  Hey, it’s Greenville! And there is a picture of Reedy River Falls!

No. 2 Santa Monica, Cal. Obligatory mention that Santa Monica is/was the home of The Doors, but I don’t think even Morrison envisioned this SoCal town breaking on through as a great downtown. Wow, that was strained writing. “The city contains a large collection of arts-related businesses, parks and restaurants, and people living in Santa Monica spend more time out and about than those in other cities. Residents here tend to visit the downtown area and go out to eat nearly twice as often as the average U.S. citizen. A network of sidewalks, bike lanes and paths makes Santa Monica the most walkable city on this list. All 8 square miles of Santa Monica are easily navigated by foot, bike or skateboard. And surfboards 6 feet long or shorter are allowed on city buses.” Greenville’s Takeaway: This is one walkable downtown. We are close to that, but we can be better. Also, surfing on the Reedy needs to be a thing.

No 1. Alexandria, Va.  “Old Town offers the sophistication you’d expect in a much larger city while presenting cozy comforts, such as the water bowls for dogs, set out on the sidewalks by local shop owners. Among the top things to do in Alexandria are strolling along the Potomac River, admiring the pieces being made at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and touring museums on Market Square.” Greenville’s Takeaway: Alexandria has earned a reputation as a food destination. We are working on that.