“In a big place, you need to subtract things to make it interesting, in a small place you only have to add yourself.” – Richard Hugo, Poet

We had taken a risk traveling to this small town in the low country of South Carolina. But here we were at the elegant Victors behind a unique hotel. The table, with a view of the bar, was set to reveal a wonderful evening. 

I have been an urban dweller most of my life. My camera likes the vivid hustling landscapes of the city. Time and age though change your sense of things. More importantly, you learn to trust those senses more. Now I seek a deeper meaning to my experiences.

The South is about small cities and towns full of great people and deep history. It is there that you really begin to experience life in the South and maybe a different you.

The small towns are picturesque. Some though you want to take in your arms and fix, too many empty storefronts and years of neglect. The results of the huge economic swings and history legacies. Other small towns are work in progress where you see hope on the horizon. Still others have started to flourish fully again, spurred by new industry on their outskirts and community leadership. 

You can travel to many on day trips. Some though involve an overnight and opportunity to explore even more deeply the region. So, you take risks. You research the level of interest and culture, the uniqueness of places to stay and of course, great places to eat. Sometimes you are disappointed. Other times you find an experience that is rich, one that you own.

On this overnight, we traveled to Florence SC. A town of forty thousand at the juncture of three railroads and near the confluence of the Pee Dee River territory. We were attracted to the Florence Hotel, steeped in history. It boasted being completely redone to its original glory and had the addition the elegant restaurant we were at.

Over dinner, we compared notes about visiting the nearby art museum and cultural center the city invested in. The paintings and displays about area history still lingering on our minds. The hotel also turned out to be an art piece in its own right. The warm wood and unique rooms wonderfully restored. Local art and customer service of staff making it all come together.

About half way through dinner, the bar began to fill with local business people. In had walked a tall man with sportscoat and his beautiful wife in a flowered dress. He easily made his rounds at the bar shaking hands and chatting. The demeanor of a politician at work.

After dinner, we moved to the bar for a night cap. The tall man approached us and introduced himself, Tim Norwood. We learned he owned the restaurant with his wife Anne. Tim also was one of the three investors in the hotel.

As he introduced us to the local business people and other people at the bar, the story of how this all came together emerged. Tim talked about initially getting a “what can you do for us” attitude from the major’s office. They simply didn’t understand the importance the hotel could mean to downtown nor did they understand the contacts Tim and the other investors had. Another meeting was scheduled. This time they brought with them Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham ask the mayor how much the city invested when a new subdivision was being constructed. The mayor said about $1.0 million. Graham looked at him and said, “I would suspect your new hotel will get the same level of support.” It did. The business guys near us and Tim chuckled reliving the experience, told often I am sure.

We felt invited and welcomed in for a short time to the inner workings of a sweet southern place. Understanding how important it was for these people to bring their town back to life. Indeed, they have. The shops are beginning to fill in colorful streets of this place called Florence.

For a tank of gas and the price of a hotel room, we walked away with an experience we would own for a time. You don’t have to go far to experience the richness of life. Often times, the shorter distance gives more time for that.

David Young