Discover Aiken: ‘South’s Best’ moniker a great thing for Aiken, community leaders say
Aiken was named both the South’s best small town and the South’s friendliest town this year by Southern Living, a nationally acclaimed lifestyle and tourism magazine.
The post-announcement fanfare and frenzy was extravagant. Southern Living magazines, emblazoned with the iconic South Boundary Avenue oaks, quickly sold out.
Banners proclaiming the city as the South’s best now hang throughout downtown. And residents still mention the literary nod during City Council public comment.
Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon said the affects of the No. 1 spot are both tangible and intangible.
While tourism – and resultant clicks on the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s website – have “skyrocketed,” he said, the award also reaffirmed what was already known.
“I think we, as a collective city, felt that it really reinforced the direction we’re going in is a positive one,” Osbon said. “It put Aiken even further on the map. We’ve been recognized as a retirement community; we’ve been recognized for the Savannah River Site and for cyber.”
Despite its distance from the beach, the mayor said, Aiken is a tourism hotspot. The city is magnetic, the people are friendly, and the area’s cultural history is too grand not to at least recognize, he added.
“It starts with the people, where kids still say, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am.’ People feel a comfort here in Aiken, a friendliness in Aiken,” Osbon said. “People are approachable.”
Southern Living recognized Aiken for its well-rounded appeal: shopping, dinning, lounging and recreation – think horses or Hitchcock Woods – all within a quick drive or stroll.
In introducing the rankings, Southern Living stated most winners “haven’t bulldozed their past,” but have, instead, reimagined it and built off of it. Aiken leaders have often been the first to say growth is good, but only if it stays true to historical character.
“First and foremost, the people in Aiken are special,” Osbon said. “Second of all, it’s a beautiful city.”
J. David Jameson, the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, believes the “South’s best” tag is “absolutely” a great thing.
“When you’re No. 1 on that list, it adds to people’s curiosity,” Jameson said.
Jameson said local businesses are profiting from, or at least leveraging, the award, even if exact figures are hard to quantify.
“A lot of businesses have marketed that. ... A lot of Realtors have used that,” Jameson said. “Businesses are using it to build interest and add credibility to Aiken’s heritage and legacy.”
As for the award’s value, Jameson said Southern Living’s nod is more or less the gold standard.
“Southern Living, as a magazine, is equivalent to the old Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” the CEO said. “Many, many, many people have confidence in Southern Living and its decisions and its style.”
“We’re proud of the recognition,” Osbon said.