CHARLESTON, S.C. — We’re flattered, but please stop. That seems to be the general sentiment of Charlestonians regarding the national press their city has garnered in the last few years, particularly around its burgeoning culinary scene.
With prime coverage from the likes of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler and Food & Wine Magazine, Charleston has felt a substantial impact from media attention in the form of worsened traffic, rising rental prices and staffing shortages.
With a 35-person daily growth rate and tourism bringing six million visitors annually to the area, Charleston’s small town infrastructure is having a tough time keeping up with the volume of people moving throughout the peninsula and beyond.
“The people who live here are frustrated and don’t want to see Charleston continue to be number one on these lists,” says Jamee Haley, executive director of Lowcountry Local First. “While some are thriving, we’re losing those businesses that provided vital services to the people who live here.”
“I want to see local businesses prosper in our community, but we must be careful of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” she says.
The nonprofit Haley leads advocates for local independent businesses and farmers by building a place-based economy that uses the community’s public amenities to make economic progress. She says the national press has certainly had a positive effect on local restaurants, which in turn provides more opportunity for farmers in the region — but more opportunity for farmers doesn’t always equate to more revenue.
“Rents in Charleston went up 26% in one year’s time,” she says. “Local businesses have been closing their doors at an increasing rate, because the sales they make don’t equate to the rent they are paying.”
“With so many restaurants and hotels opening, there is a real staffing crisis — we have seen restaurants close their doors and some that intended to open change plans due to the lack of staffing,” Haley says.
For many local restaurant owners, the tourism is both a blessing and a curse.