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Tourists come, but locals are a harder sell

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It can be a challenge for Downtown Georgetown merchants to lure locals from Waccamaw Neck across the river.

“A lot, for whatever reason, don’t want to cross that bridge,” said Foy Ford, theater manager for the Strand Theater on Front Street and a Hagley resident.

Many of the business owners with regular customers who live across the Waccamaw River say most come from DeBordieu.

“Once you pass DeBordieu, it is far enough to say, ‘let me drive down 20 minutes to get sandwiches or whatever,’ ” said Michele Giarratano of River Club. She and her husband own Front Street Deli.

Carolyn Camlin, owner of The Bath and Etc. Shoppe, moved her business to downtown three years ago after operating in the Pawleys Island area for 25 years.

“I’m just starting to get some of my Pawleys Island customers back,” Camlin, a Pawleys resident, said. Many have told her they didn’t realize she moved.

“I guess they just don’t pay attention to what goes on” in Georgetown, she said.

While locals may be reluctant to make the trip, vacationers on Waccamaw Neck and in the Myrtle Beach area don’t hesitate to make the drive.

“A lot come to the beach area, then get tired of it and are looking for something else to do, so they come over to Georgetown for the day,” said Nell Morris Cribb, owner of Ms. Nell’s Tours.

Folks in Myrtle Beach want to get away from the high-rise hotels, neon signs and heavy traffic, business owners said.

So they come to Georgetown to enjoy a slower pace and small town atmosphere, stroll around downtown, enjoy a meal and perhaps take a boat ride.

For those staying on Waccamaw Neck, Georgetown offers more of the county’s charms, including its history.

“We have a lot to offer,” said Tracy Littlejohn, owner of Upper Crust Bakery. “When people find us, they’re always happy and they say they’ll be back.”

Annette Fisher, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, said she’s not surprised.

Georgetown’s history makes the area very appealing to folks staying in Myrtle Beach and a combination of that and it’s beaches make it easy to market the county as a tourist destination. Georgetown is a big part of the county’s tourism promotions.

“We’ve got the best of both worlds,” she said. “We have better beaches than Myrtle Beach, with better access and no high rises, and we have all the history of Charleston with none of the navigation issues.”

Another perk for downtown is its location just off Highway 17 in between two popular tourist destinations.

“We get lots of weekenders and tourists. They find us by fluke. They’re driving and say let’s just turn right here,” said Adele Rowell, owner of Head Over Heels , a shoe store.

Business owners say if they can just get better signs on Highway 17 directing travelers to Front Street, that will bring a remarkable increase in visitors.

Signage is one of the things addressed in a planning study that was recently conducted in Georgetown.

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