Charleston’s got charm – some call it swag – like you’ve never seen

If you know anything about this top city in the world, you know Charlestonians have a long history of enjoying themselves. 

In 1770 the famous French author J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur visited a much younger Charles-Town, and wrote, “The inhabitants are the gayest in America. The rays of their sun seem to urge them irresistibly to dissipation and pleasure.”

It is 240 years later and these words ring as true now as they did then.  I have traveled coast to coast, and have never encountered a more uniquely fun-loving city filled with uniquely fun-loving people.  Happiness is in no short supply here, and apparently it’s a 240-year-old tradition, which makes it alright.

Although the culture and attitude of Charleston may not have changed, a few things have – mainly the growth.

Charleston is no longer a little port city nestled in the heart of the South.  It has grown into a world-class first-rate city, and this growth has been impressive to say the least.  In a time where America has become a punch line of many jokes, and forecasting its demise has become the fashionable thing to do, it’s very empowering to live in a place with such character, attitude and pride.

King Street – then & now

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King Street divides the downtown peninsula right in half from north to south and there couldn’t be a better street to do it.  It’s got what you like, want, and what you’re looking for, and it’s always been that way.

Historically King Street was the main route that travelers would enter the city.  With it being one of the first streets in Charleston it’s no wonder it was and is such a hub of activity.  Even though the hardware and grocery stores have been replaced by fashion and antique boutiques, one thing has not changed; the abundance of local watering holes.

Upper King, the area north of Calhoun Street has become one of the nation’s premier late night districts.  More than any other city in the nation Charleston keeps it classy, and on any given night local doctors and lawyers don’t hesitate to cozy up to the bar right next to a College of Charleston student.  With one newly erected hotel and a Waldorf Astoria on the way this is an area that still has its best days in front of it.

Just ask Bill Hall, the owner of Hall’s Chophouse located at 434 King Street.

“The reason my family opened this restaurant where we did was exactly because of the energy here and the growth that’s coming,” he said.

Hall, a man who spent more than 40 years in the hotel business, put his money where his mouth is and it’s paying off quite well.  Hall’s Chophouse is packed every night of the week.

While Upper King is more of a night scene, Lower King, the area south of Calhoun Street, is for daytime activities.

Lower King is split into three districts the design district, the fashion district, and the antique district.  There are a few restaurants in the mix, too.  The unique thing is the diversity.  You can shop at a local Charleston fashion designer’s shop and then hop across the street to Louis Vuitton.  It really does have it all.  Antique shopping here is world famous, and people come from all over the world to do it.

College of Charleston – then & now

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Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest institution of higher education south of Virginia, and the 13th oldest in the country.  The College was charted in 1785, and classes began in 1790.  During the 1970s, the College enrollment remained around 500.  From then until the early 2000s enrollment increased steadily every year.  Now the college is attended by a little over 10,000 students from all four corners of the earth, stared from the bottom now we’re here.

Anyone who has had the privilege to visit this campus cannot argue with the Most Beautiful Urban Campus Award, which was received by CofC.  This campus is so uniquely integrated with the city of Charleston it’s sometimes difficult to know when you’re on campus and when you’re not.

Many of its buildings sit right on King or Calhoun streets. It is this unique integration that sets a cap on the number of students that can ultimately be admitted to the College.  Space is an issue when you’re on a peninsula.  If you ask many of the students, myself being one of them, and faculty they are quite alright with the College of Charleston never having 35-40,000 students.

Just because attendance cannot grow, doesn’t mean change isn’t coming.  There is a serious conversation happening between The College of Charleston and The Medical University of South Carolina, also located downtown, about a possible merger.

This would make the college of Charleston a research university, and as CofC Board of Trustees member Jeff Schilz states, “The time for a research university in Charleston is now.  Charleston is growing and education needs to grown with it.”

Industry & Development – then & now

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Charleston is known as a port city, and rightfully so.  It was the port that made Charleston such a major influence during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  It is the port that produces a large portion of industry.  It is the Port that puts us on the world’s stage.

Each day an average of six vessels park in a South Carolina port, shipping cargo worth more than $150 million.  Now this port which was number one for cotton exports to England during colonial times is now considered a world class port.

With no doubt the Port is Charleston’s heart and lifeblood of business, its bricks and mortar if you will, but there’s a new emerging industry making big waves in the Lowcountry.  Technology-based businesses (aka, new “think companies”) are beginning to pop up and plug in to Charleston.  Sparc, Boomtown, People Matter, and Blackbaud are a few of the most known tech companies to recently call Charleston home.  These companies range from human resources, nonprofit programs and services, and all around web design and application.

Inc. Magazine just recently named Sparc as the 14th fastest growing company in the nation and this recognition is not going unnoticed.  Mike Seekings, Charleston city councilman, believes in these companies and fought hard to get People Matter to move its offices to Upper King Street.

“New technology companies are the future, and they are great for area.  We have a college, we have students, and now we have places for them to work,” Seekings said. “These new technology companies are the future of Charleston.”

Hospitality – then & now

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Charleston just recently made number one on Code Nast’s list of friendliest cities in America, for the third year in a row.  When you’re happy you want to make other people happy, and as Crevecoeur said more than 240 years ago Charlestonians are the happiest inhabitants in America.

This still must be true.  This hospitality is not just in the “how y’all doin?” and the smiles you get walking down the street.

You can feel it in the shops, bars, and restaurants, and that is why Charleston has grown into a fine dining destination spot.  Hall’s Chophouse was recently named the sixth best restaurant in the nation by Trip Advisor, and Tommy Hall, Bill Hall’s son and co-owner of the Chophouse, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s all about family, once you walk in those doors your family, and we will do anything to make you feel at home.  The Hall family loves this business.  We grew up in it, and we are going to continue it.”

Just a quick glance at Open Table, Yelp, or Trip Advisor and you will see Charleston has a long list of places to spoil yourself.  If you need something just ask, and you will be surprised at how quickly a helping hand is offered.

-by Kevin Phillips

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Comments

  1. Very nicely written…except in 1770, Charleston wasn’t exactly a “young” city, it was 100 years old.

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