“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” These famous words were penned by Charles Dickens as the start of his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, where the drama unfolds in the cities of London and Paris. While Greenville is no London or Paris (yet), it has topped innumerable “Best Of” lists for the past 10 years and shows no signs of shrinking away from the limelight.
The influx of visitors and settlers is exciting, and the constant recognition is a source of pride for most Greenville residents, whether native or transplant. Thanks to social media and the prevalence of branding culture, Greenville has succeeded in setting itself apart from all those other Greenvilles out there (35 in all, if anyone’s keeping count). Unless you’re a cave dweller, you’ve undoubtedly seen, heard or used the hashtag “#yeahTHATgreenville.” Gone are the days of having to pinpoint our Greenville as “the one in South Carolina.” “Greenville” now stands firmly on its own as the answer to the question, “Where do you live?” If things keep going the way they are, we’ll soon be able to drop mention of those older, more popular sisters, Atlanta and Charlotte.
So, yeah. I live in THAT Greenville. But which Greenville is THAT?
The City of Greenville is almost 29 square miles, a very respectable size. But the County of Greenville covers a whopping 795 square miles. As anyone who has been affected by Greenville County School inclement weather policies knows, that’s enough area to support more than one weather climate and definitely more than one social demographic.
For visitors and tourists, THAT Greenville is definitely Downtown; mostly Falls Park and Main Street. But for the Locals, this Top Ten Town doesn’t end at NoMA square or the West End. It keeps going, and going, and going. Much like New York City and it’s famed boroughs, Greenville can be split into smaller geographic areas, all with their own unique dispositions.
Let’s take a moment to break down our fair city’s most dominant personalities, by some of its more populous boroughs.
Downtown. Downtown is the Crown Jewel of the Greenville that tops all the lists. It’s where all the pictures are taken, where every real estate agent and property owner makes the big bucks and every festival and conference dreams to be held. It’s Ground Zero for bragging rights and has the lack of parking to prove it. But, heavy is the head that holds the crown, as even Downtown can exhibit signs of multiple personalities. The Downtown borough is deceivingly intricate and can be sliced up like tiny slivers of pie, almost by street, or even by block. Augusta Road, North Main, the West End, Cleveland Park, and more, all with their own personal neighborhood vibe. Downtown’s long fingers spread out to Laurens Road and Pleasantburg as it tries to grab hold of Parkins Mill and Verdae. The Downtown crowd loves to be in the middle of it all. They’re social people, and don’t mind being in close proximity to their neighbors, because their neighbors are all good friends. They value old charm over modern convenience in their homes and know that a good location is priceless.
The Eastside and Greer. If Downtown Greenville and Greer had an illicit affair, then the Eastside would be their love child. Over 25 years ago, the Eastside took off, much to the chagrin of its promiscuous parents but to the happiness of its residents, who loved their newer construction and slam dunk school system. What’s not to love? In its early days of development, neither Greer nor Greenville residents were keen to claim the Eastside as their own socially, but local government was a huge fan of claiming those extra tax dollars. The born and bred Greerites stood on one side of Pelham Road and said, “This ain’t Greer.” The Downtowners glanced down 85 and quickly looked away, acting like they didn’t know anything was happening. You would think Greer would have been a little more accepting of the Eastside, seeing as it’s a bit of a love child itself, spawned from Greenville and Spartanburg. But, the tight knit community wanted to keep things the way they’d always been and stay true to their history. In the end, Greer won the battle for the Eastside. It was a battle that never actually happened, because it was theirs all along. After some initial growing pains in those early days with overcrowding and serious traffic issues, the Eastside has risen again, this time with better infrastructure and some shiny new restaurants and shops. Young families that love the downtown vibe but don’t want to spend the downtown dime frequently trade their “05” zip code status for that “50” Life by migrating to the Eastside. They take advantage of the family friendly neighborhoods and the convenience to businesses near I-85. Greer, seeing significant revitalization to its own downtown after embracing their German friends down the road at BMW, has taken a step off its historical, purist perch and seems more than happy to be known as the Eastside’s doting parent. Likewise, most of those under the 29650 umbrella seem to have ditched any previous bad connotations that once came along with having a Greer address. I just love it when a family works it all out. Hugs, y’all.
Five Forks and (parts of) Simpsonville. Back when the Eastside was new and bursting at the seams with all those people that Greer and downtown Greenville didn’t know what to do with people were still pouring into Greenville. They still wanted new houses and crazy good schools, but now they wanted some more acreage to go with it all. As they say, “if you build it they will come.” Well, this area of town is still being actively built, and the people are still coming in droves. A new Hartness residential/mixed use development on Highway 14 is well underway and a new grocery store development was recently completed on the far end of Woodruff Road. Both are bringing their fair share of traffic to an area where there used to be nothing. This borough is for people who like to have a little more elbow room, but don’t mind sharing it with others (as long as the others are at least ¾ of an acre away). If Greenville were Texas, Five Forks would be Dallas, where everything’s just a little bit bigger, darlin’. Bonus points if you’re ok with living your life in a 3 mile radius. Thankfully, everything you need is within that range, but if you want to go further, pack snacks. You might be in the car for a while.
Powdersville/Piedmont. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Neither did they, and I think they like it that way. Credit this well-kept secret to the toll road. Southerners are extremely distrustful of toll roads, as they’re clearly a sign of Northern Aggression. I myself may have willingly added miles and minutes to my travel time just to avoid the toll road. Partly because I, too, am a little distrustful of toll roads, partly because the whole thing is anxiety-inducing, but mostly because I rarely have cash. Well, here’s a secret for you: you probably won’t even have to pay the toll. It’s just a hop on and a scamper off of that mysterious Southern Connector that will get you to Powdersville and reveal an area of town that has all those favorable qualities we’ve been speaking of. Nice neighborhoods, fantastic schools and convenient retail. You know all those real estate advertisements that boast locations “just minutes” from Downtown and areas beyond? Well, here the claims are true, and it’s mainly because of traffic. The Powdersville / Piedmont group is like a salmon that sat back and said, “Hold on. I just don’t see how going UPstream is really the best idea here.” Smart, salmon. Buck the system. You’ll get to the same place, just coming from a different direction. This is a great area for families who are comfortable with keeping the action of Downtown being at an arm’s length, and want to get the most bang for their housing buck.
Traveler’s Rest and Beyond. This is a good place to slip off to dream, and get back to where we started. Travelers Rest has always been a quaint town, happy with its position on the outskirts of THAT Greenville. But when the Swamp Rabbit Trail barreled right through the middle of this sleepy town, cyclists (both professional and amateur), Upstate natives, and tourists quickly took notice of this little gem. Travelers Rest, or, “TR” as the locals call it, is now a destination of sorts for Greenvillians. When looking to do something different for a dinner out, you’ll frequently hear, “Why don’t we go to TR?” It’s quirky charm and slower pace are reminiscent of nearby Asheville, but more hipster and less hippie. The inhabitants are evenly divided across the fence of growth and revitalization. The old guard wants to hold on to their anonymity, while others see the economic benefits all the recognition brings. It will be interesting to see where this one goes. There’s enough mass-market retail and new residential construction in the nearby Cherrydale / Pleasantburg area to protect TR from outsider overdevelopment. So far it seems to be enjoying the sweet spot of being a great place to visit, but not for moving in.
Maybe you’ve read about your borough here, and maybe you haven’t. But we can all agree that Greenville is an area rich in personality, abundant with history, and a very bright future.
All these things make it great to be a part of THAT Greenville. But it’s even better to have MY Greenville.