If you've ever considered a weekend getaway to Georgetown - and you should - don't let news of the fire that destroyed a portion of Front Street keep you away.
People who live in this beautiful city want you to know that they are open for business, and that the city has so much to offer, despite the tragic loss of seven historic buildings on the waterfront.
On an early October Saturday afternoon less than two weeks after the fire, crowds strolled from shop to shop or stopped to enjoy a late lunch at sidewalk tables. Nearby, Walters, who signs his art as Witzel, worked on a plein air painting of the street, showing an open gap where the buildings once stood. Although no people were injured in the fire, Walters lost his beloved Australian shepherd named Jake.
The buildings taken by the Sept. 25 fire were built in the late 1800s, and the downtown district is a source of pride for residents of South Carolina's third-oldest city.
Lisa Hawes, who owns Alfresco Georgetown Bistro with her husband, Chef Eddy Hawes, said she and others want Front Street to flourish so that tourists have more things to do in the city. She calls Georgetown "a small town but a big community. Everybody is family-oriented. We're all concerned about one another."
So here's your chance. Head to Georgetown and be a part of that big community. It's a great weekend getaway.
Here's some advice to help make the most of your trip:
Once you're settled, stroll down Front Street for dinner at Alfresco, which has been open for fewer than two years. The restaurant gets raves from Walters and others for its Northern Italian specialties. If the weather is nice, lots of outdoor seating is available, some right on the sidewalk and much more on a side patio. It's a great place to watch what's going on in the city.
If you're not staying at a bed and breakfast, start your Saturday morning at Kudzu Bakery with a delicious muffin or cheese Danish. My favorite things at Kudzu are the cheese biscuits, which are perfect.
Spend the morning taking in some of the museums in this city so rich in history. At the Georgetown County Museum, you can learn about important industries of the past, such as ship building and the lumber business; famous residents, including Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence; the Native American tribes who lived in the area; and the plantations where rice, indigo and cotton were grown.
The Kaminski House Museum, in a 1769 home, displays American and English antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Rice Museum is easy to find; just look for the large Town Clock. This museum explores the impact of the rice industry on Georgetown County. At one time, the county produced almost half of the entire U.S. rice crop, and it brought great wealth to the area. Next door, the South Carolina Maritime Museum is temporarily closed because of smoke damage from the fire. When it reopens, you'll want to visit to see the Browns Ferry Vessel, a freighter built in the early 1700s that sunk in about 1730. It was reconstructed by the University of South Carolina and has been on display in the museum since 1992.
All that history can make you hungry, so take a short ride to a small café with a cool name, the Humble Crumb. It offers artisan pizzas, (The Greek one with feta, mozzarella, kalamata olives, peppers, onions and tomato sauce sounds amazing.) meatball sandwiches and lots of specialties such as lasagna and veal or chicken parmesan. I haven't had a chance to eat here yet, but I have a friend who loves it.
While you're out, just drive up and down the streets to look at some of the beautiful old homes. Or take a Swamp Fox Tour and let an experienced guide point out some of the interesting homes, churches and buildings.
Another option is to spend your Saturday on the water. Take a cruise on the Carolina Rover to a barrier island and see the Winyah Bay Lighthouse, or get on Cap'n Rod's big pontoon boat for a tour of some plantation homes or to a barrier island for shelling.
For dinner, stop at the River Room for some seafood dishes - shrimp and grits, grilled grouper, crab cakes. You can enjoy your view of the Sampit River while you dine.
If you're lucky, the Swamp Fox Players could be performing at the Strand Theater that night.
Before you leave on Sunday, spend some time at Coffee Break Café for breakfast or lunch. I've enjoyed stopping here for coffee, and owners Meghan and Ron Rader and their staff are friendly. A friend tells me the chicken salad can't be beat.
Two of the city's biggest events - the Georgetown Bridge2Bridge run on Oct. 12 and the Wooden Boat Show on Oct. 19 - are still on, proof that the fire destroyed part of the city's history but not its determination.
"We plan on coming back strong and standing taller," said Walters, the artist.
Other places to stay: