ORIGINAL EXPERIENCES DRIVE BOTH ECONOMIES

On my first visit to Rovinj, a lovely seaside town on the Croatian coast, a three-hour ferry ride across the bay from Venice, I fell in love with the setting: A compact and well-preserved old town, a wonderful harbor walk lined with restaurants, and a fabulous large park where five-star hotels overlook the Adriatic Sea — plus miles and miles of bikeable public nature preserves along the blue ocean, which entices swimmers to jump in the clear water.

It was easy to be impressed by the town’s always spotless streets, where we could indulge in ice cream shops, local seafood and quaint benches that line the cobbled and car-free squares, offering generous view of the bay and nearby islands — we always felt welcomed by the professional hospitality workforce.

hiltonhead img02But on a deeper level, what makes the 13,000-resident town of Rovinj and the Istrian peninsula so intriguing is its local authenticity. It gets under your skin. It’s safe to say that buying and shopping local is in the Istrian DNA passed down over generations. In practicality, that means that everything that is displayed in the daily local market or ends up on your plate is farmed, caught, foraged or crafted within a 100-mile radius. This strong tie to local products extends to whatever extent possible to the boutiques, stores and galleries. There is not one fast food franchise, nationally branded outlet or big-name hotel to be found anywhere. This translates into a truly authentic and original experience for a visitor. And why would we travel in the first place if it was not to discover something new and different than what we can find at home?

The reason I draw the comparison is to remind us that original experiences drive our local economy. Every year, millions of visitors and thousands of new residents arrive in the Lowcountry, because we have preserved most of what makes the destination unique: the nature, the marshes, neighborhoods that are nestled into green spaces. And while we don’t produce olive oil and wine in South Carolina, we have peaches and shrimp. Just go to the Bluffton farmers market on Thursday afternoon to savor the full array of local produce on display.

Every time a chain restaurant or national big-box store opens, I cringe; typically, these stores don’t support the local economy beyond offering low-paying employment opportunities. Compare that to a locally owned business where the decision-makers live here and pay local taxes, give back to local charities and reinvest their profits to create more diversity and original experiences.

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We are lucky that we still have a healthy locally owned business community and many innovative entrepreneurs. They all deserve our support because they are a big part of what makes Hilton Head Island special and Bluffton unique — in many ways, they are the reason that many of us came here in the first place.

To draw an American comparison, we should look to Austin, Texas, where the famous Sixth Street district — approximately a nine-block square — is dominated by locally owned bars, nightclubs, restaurants, music venues and shops. No franchise is allowed. It is part of the “Keep Austin weird” movement. The fact that this area is local and authentic “Austin” is the reason that makes it an exciting place to visit and is the reason for its success. It would be easy to imagine that the Bluffton Town Council could designate the “historic downtown” area as off limits for national franchises.

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Locally owned businesses are the bond of every community. It’s one of the reasons we launched ShopMoreLocal.com after Hurricane Matthew: To help strengthen the Lowcountry’s economy and social fabric by promoting local entrepreneurs and our cause. Please check our website www.shopmorelocal.com, register to become a member to get the latest updates and find out how you can sustain one of our 440+ partners. Buying local is just one of the ways we can help maintain this paradise we call home.


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