Downtown tourists bring much to Aiken residents

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AIKEN --- Aiken's historic downtown, with its quaint speciality shops and nearby winter homes, is an attraction for visitors interested in a getaway that doesn't involve big city hassles.

In fact, more than 60 percent of downtown business is done by out-of-town visitors, said Carla Cloud, the executive director for the Aiken Downtown Development Association.

Downtown's revitalization owes much of its success to the tourists who stroll along the sidewalks, browsing through shops and spending money in restaurants and hotels. Tourism allows Aiken residents to have a greater quality of life, City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

"For example, Citizens Park would not be of the quality and magnitude that we have it if it was not for the fact that we do have a lot of tournaments, and those tournaments provide revenue that allows us to have a higher standard of fields," he said, adding that because of the accommodations tax levied on hotel bills, the city receives about $375,000 a year. "We in turn use that to provide programs at Hopeland Gardens that locals as well as tourists enjoy."

A focus on tourism worries some Aiken residents, such as Jenny Stoker, who lives on a quiet residential section of Kershaw Street near downtown.

"My feeling is if we don't build our economy on tourism then we won't be dependent on it, and then it won't have that snowball effect like in Charleston where the tourism is such an imposition that people don't even want to live in the historic district anymore," she said.

Ms. Cloud, of the development association, said she doesn't think Aiken is in danger of becoming like many tourist cities along the coast.

"Until the ocean rolls up to our front door, we're never going to be that kind of tourist spot," she said. "I don't think anybody wants us to lose the quaintness and uniqueness of Aiken, but to say that the local people alone make Aiken a viable downtown ... it cannot be true when retailers are saying that 60 percent or more of their business is from out-of-towners."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.


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