I love a good weekend getaway as much as the next person, but lately I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a strange habit. Whenever I find myself in a city even remotely the same size and stature as Greenville, I subconsciously start comparing the two. Not in a competitive way, more in a pulse-checking way. We get a LOT of national accolades (understatement of the year), so when I have the opportunity, it’s nice to check in and see how we’re really doing from a street-level view.
This past Labor Day weekend, I was in Wilmington, N.C. for a bachelorette party. According to Wikipedia, Wilmington’s population is 117,525, while Greenville’s is 67,453. So while Wilmington is the larger of the two, the downtowns are actually very similar in layout and aesthetics. I would assume that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular. Here are the five other things that I noticed in Wilmington, in no particular order:
- Number of vacancies on Main Street. Not that I sit there and count them individually, but my eye is automatically drawn to empty storefronts with “for rent” signs in them. Wilmington had virtually zero on their canal street lining the river, which makes sense since that’s their tourist district, but had one every few storefronts just one street back. Greenville probably has just as many. We’ve written before about how vacancies are not necessarily a death knell for downtowns, and a comparison tells me that this is true in more cities than one.
- Number of people out for the night of the week. I expect a city to be relatively quiet on a Monday except for a few happy hours and business dinners. I expect restaurant reservations and bar seats to be full on a Saturday. Realistic expectations, and Wilmington far exceeded them. If you couldn’t tell that Wilmington is nearly double the size of Greenville during the day, you definitely could at night. Lines out the door at every bar, a late night pizza joint that basically required you to elbow someone to the face to get in (there may or may not be a personal story related to this). Maybe there were as many people out as there are in Greenville on a summer Saturday, but it felt like more, if only because it was so unexpected.
- The relative cleanliness of the city. Yes, I mean this in a literal dirt way, but I also mean this in a scrubbed aesthetic kind of way. Cleanliness is probably not the right word, but it’s 3:30 on a Friday and I’m worded out. Wilmington was, to be honest, way grittier than I thought it would be. Tons of cool, unpretentious bars to hang out in, lots of mismatched storefronts, nothing that looked particularly new. It was authentic. Not that Greenville isn’t authentic, but it is definitely clean in every sense of the word. Not a judgment. Just an observation.
- The number of cool trendy things that Greenville does or doesn’t have. Wilmington is currently building a Pour Taproom, which we have had for several years, so that was cool to see (win for Greenville). They have a Kilwins, we have a Kilwins (so that’s a wash). They still have a Pita Pit (RIP, win for Wilmington). They also have cool businesses headquartered there, including Port City Java and the beer app Untappd (very trendy wins for Wilmington). I’m sure if they visited Greenville, they would be jealous of some of our companies too, but it’s always fun to see what’s taken hold in another city.
- The number of tourists. This one is my favorite, because it’s still funny to me that people come to Greenville and spend money on things like carriage rides. But we did the Wilmington version of that. We were actually one of two bachelorette parties on a sunset riverboat cruise, and I just had to wonder if the natives were watching us from the dock like, “Y’all know this ain’t a Viking Riverboat Cruise?” Because I always wonder why people take carriage rides down Main Street in Greenville like it’s Central Park. But we had a great time, and took the cheesy pictures, and 10/10 would do again. Which I’m sure is what people say about our carriage rides. So tourism, I guess, is all in your perspective.
All in all, Wilmington was a very pleasant surprise to me. Way more to do, see, and experience than I thought going into the weekend. Which gave me a new appreciation for the people who visit Greenville for the weekend. They are welcome back anytime, as long as they don’t throw bo’s at Sully’s.