How bad is Aiken SC?
January 3, 2006 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Is Aiken SC a good place for my mother to retire to? She's artsy and somewhat progressive, and I'm concerned that it's, well, South Carolina.

Note: I moved down to Atlanta (intown/ITP snob) 20 years ago

She's been looking for a southern town to move to for a couple years; currently she lives in a small northeastern town that is a minor tourist destination, packed with artists, antiques, and skyrocketing real estate. I'd been suggesting Asheville NC as ideal for her, but she wants to go where she'll have at least a couple friends already (understandable). Some good friends of hers apparently are retiring to Aiken SC, which is about 10 miles from Augusta GA and the Savannah River.

I associate that area with the military, nuclear weapons fabrication, good ole boy "heritage", and generally things that are just about the opposite of who she is and where she's lived. But I know that sometimes smart little pockets of tolerance and creativity can thrive in the midst of all that: see the aforementioned Asheville, Austin TX, my own intown Atlanta, etc. Hmmm, those all begin with A's ...

Is Aiken SC one of those pockets, or just another depressing hicktown?
posted by intermod to Travel & Transportation around Aiken, SC (16 answers total)
Well, it's not Charleston or Beaufort, but I can think of far worse places in South Carolina than Aiken. All those Cold War nuke scientists and engineers -- and their families -- turned out to be surprisingly culture-oriented, maybe as an outgrowth of having more formal education than was the historical norm for the surrounding area. It's also historically horse country -- there's a Triple Crown event on a succession of spring weekends. The proximity to Augusta couldn't hurt. Augusta to me was more of a working-class city but there's some culture to be had out that way.
posted by alumshubby at 6:18 AM on January 3, 2006

i'm not sure what the relation is between the two things. "a good place for your mum to retire to" is pretty much defined by "where your mum would like to go" which, in turn, seems to be determined by where she has friends.

your personal political intolerance doesn't seem to come into it, unless you are also planning on living there.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:19 AM on January 3, 2006

If you want an artsy, progressive Southern town, Asheville, NC, is pretty near the mark. Whether or not it would be appropriate for your mother's retirement is another question.

Whatever your mom decides to do, you and she (assuming she wants your opinion, which I suppose she does) should visit the place beforehand. This may be a little obvious, but she may find that Asheville is more to her taste even though she doesn't know any one there. There may be all sorts of senior citizen resources there that, if she likes the town better than Aiken, would tip the balance. If she wants to escape tourists, though, Asheville isn't necessarily the place.

All of that said, South Carolina, particularly the interior vs the coast, is fairly miserable and depressing, but who knows? Maybe Aiken is a beacon of fun for older people. I think you should check it out with her, anyway.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:06 AM on January 3, 2006

I live in Columbia, South Carolina; and I want to assure you that Aiken is definitely not one of the "smart little pockets of tolerance and creativity" that you sometimes find in the backwards South. It is like any other upstate South Carolina town: ignorant, petty, small-minded, intolerant, and full of Jesus freaks. I know that is harsh (I am still scarred from growing up in a South Carolina town like that), but better you hear the truth now than be disappointed later. I would go on to say that your Mom knows best where to move, and that she should make her own decision, but you asked what Aiken is like, so there is your answer: it sucks.
posted by ND¢ at 7:14 AM on January 3, 2006

Best answer: Aiken has an increasing number of of people moving there to get into the equestrian bidness. And polo's especially becoming a big deal. It is thus what I like to call a "small town with stuff," with grocery stores superior to what you'll find in Augusta and great restaurants, a microbrewery and whatnot in a vital downtown (also with a kick-ass kitchen store, ice cream place, photo shop, men's gifts, boutiques, antique shops, a city arts store, galleries, etc.) There are live oaks all over, my favorite sort of tree. There is a more than decent state college there (I live on the edge of Augusta, near its downtown, and can be in Aiken fairly quickly, faster than I get to the the main shopping areas of Augusta.) And I haven't found people to be very snobby there, despite all the money around. It would be a great place to retire, I'd think, but your ma should probably at least like the horsies if she moves there.

And yeah, Aiken and the surrounding county is still conservative, but it's safe to call the area "somewhat progressive" compared to what's around.
posted by raysmj at 7:18 AM on January 3, 2006

Oh, and the local alternative paper (in Augusta, that is) occasionally features, in its "whine line" section, people yelling about all the increasing number of Yankees in Aiken, and Yankees in Aiken yelling back at them. It's mildly amusing.
posted by raysmj at 7:20 AM on January 3, 2006

Best answer: I live in Augusta and have been here for over 30 years, so I have some perspective on the matter. In no way would I characterize this area as progressive. The area is solidly Republican; in 2004 I saw more Kerry for president signs in Texas than I did around here. The local news media tends to be very conservative as well. Aiken tends to have a more country-club brand of conservatism associated with its many horse farms. I agree that Asheville is more of a progressive city.

On the other hand, the area has definitely improved in the past 30 years; there seems to always be something to do related to arts and nightlife (which has not always been the case). As more people move to the area it tends to get more progressive, so I would love to see more people like your mother move down here. I assume she will visit the area to get a feel for it if she seriously considers moving here; if she flys she ought to come via the Columbia, SC airport which is reasonably close, has many more flights, and is much cheaper than the Augusta airport, which is quite pitiful. If you wnt more detailed info, feel free to email me.
posted by TedW at 7:21 AM on January 3, 2006

On preview, I agree with what raysmj says, especially about Aiken having a kick-ass kitchen store.
posted by TedW at 7:24 AM on January 3, 2006

some "depressing hicktowns" can be good retirement places, with low costs, low crime, and it probably has a cool group of interesting, creative folks doing cool shit. im sure if your mom retires to a republican-run place they won't actually eat her or feed her to chickens.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:32 AM on January 3, 2006

intermod, email me (info in profile). I can help, but would rather do so in private.
posted by shoepal at 7:59 AM on January 3, 2006

I grew up in Augusta and had many friends in Aiken. I'd say either place is a fine place to retire with plenty to see and do.
posted by Captaintripps at 10:49 AM on January 3, 2006

Best answer: I live in Asheville and I'd be happy to talk to you about it; email in profile. Yes, it's artsy & liberal & all that - it's also expensive as hell and getting more so, fast. Aiken will be far, far more affordable. I've never spent any time in Aiken but I know a lot of people who like it, so if your mother has friends there already, I'd say tell her to rent a house for a year and see what she thinks.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2006

My Jewish, under-age-50, raised-in-suburban-NY, lived-all-over-the-world aunt now lives in Aiken and seems to like it very much. She, too, is artsy--an art history major who worked at Soethby's London for a while, and who for the past few years has been restoring and decorating old houses and re-selling them. But she's also really into the whole horses/polo scene, which is why she picked the town, and which may not be your mom's cup of tea. Still, I've heard only good things about the place.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2006

What about Athens? Progressive, in between you in Atlanta and her friends in Augusta/Aiken....
posted by mdiskin at 3:33 PM on January 3, 2006

Athens is college town hell for anyone who isn't part of UGA. I lived there for a short bit, and I wouldn't give the thumbs-up to my mom retiring there, no matter how much fun I happened to have at the ripe old age of 23.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:38 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the comments. She had indeed asked me for my opinion, which was limited pretty much to what I posted. I'll probably print this out and let her see the results for herself. Renting first is a great idea for any newcomer. Thanks again.
posted by intermod at 5:03 PM on January 3, 2006

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