Tourism in the Upstate: The Good, the Bad, and the Different

Tourism in the Upstate: The Good, the Bad, and the Different

A conversation with Tim Todd, executive director, Discover Upcountry Carolina Association

Tim Todd

Tim Todd, Executive Director of Discover Upcountry Carolina Association

Early on during the pandemic, we had Tim Todd as a featured speaker on one of our TATT Chats, talking about the ways the tourism industry had been hobbled by COVID-19. Several months later, we wanted to check in to see how he sees things changing and whether things are looking up for tourism in the Upstate.

Q: Tourism was hit hard and quickly by the pandemic. What signs do you see that things are recovering?

A: While there is still a long way to go before we see things return to pre-pandemic levels, I am encouraged by several things that indicate that the industry is on its way back. In early April, the number of hotel room nights sold was down 68.9% from the previous year for the state. Six months later, in early September, the number of room nights sold was down 25.4% from the same period in 2019. Also, certain sectors of the tourism industry are doing very well during the pandemic. Outdoor activities such as boating, hiking, camping, exploring waterfalls, and fishing are especially seeing positive numbers. Lodging properties such as bed & breakfasts, cabins, campgrounds, and short-term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) are also doing well.

Q: How are people doing things differently now as tourists—are they coming back to hotels, or making more use of vacation rentals like Airbnb, or doing more day trips?

A: Visitors have slowly begun to stay in hotels again, but as I stated previously, the vacation rental properties have been more popular due to their ability to allow guests to socially distance. Hotels are working very hard to implement new protocols and policies that ensure that their guests can be safe during their stay. Our attractions in the Upcountry are seeing a lot of visitors from the immediate area, so day trips have definitely been on the upswing during the past six months. But guests are also coming for overnight stays, particularly from within a 300-mile radius.

Q: How is the tourism industry responding with changes to make people feel safe?

A: It seems that many of the tourism industry businesses and organizations are “building the ship while they’re sailing it.” They are constantly implementing new safety and cleaning protocols, upgrading and adding technology systems that help them conduct business more safely and efficiently. Many lodging properties now have “touchless” check-in and check-out systems now, as an example. Hotel rooms are left vacant for a day before the next guest checks in to allow for increased cleaning and sanitizing. Attractions and recreation providers are operating with limited capacity so that proper social distancing can be done. In a lot of restaurants, menus are on the website or a QR Code can be scanned to download the menu.

Q: What kinds of changes in tourism do you think might end up being permanent changes? For example, do you see buffets making a comeback, or are they gone for good?

A: I’m not sure if buffets will completely vanish, but I think they will look drastically different than before. I think the biggest change that is here to stay will be additional technology that is being developed and implemented to allow for less human contact—things such as the example I mentioned earlier about lodging properties implementing “touchless” check-in. I believe ticketed attractions/activities will implement reservations only policies so that their facilities can properly manage capacity.

Art Galleries like at the Chapman Cultural Center are continuing to open exhibits, though most viewing is virtual.

Q: With the arts being such a huge part of tourism, and many arts venues struggling to survive, what can communities do to keep those destinations alive?

A: The arts community has obviously taken a huge hit due to the pandemic. According to an August survey by Americans for the Arts, the South Carolina arts community has lost an estimated $20 million in revenue since March. Several facilities and theaters have gotten creative and developed virtual and online programs. I have seen some organizations encourage their supporters to renew memberships and to continue annual giving pledges, even though performances might not occur for the next several months. I’ve also noticed that many organizations are encouraging their supporters and the public to purchase gift certificates to generate revenue. I am hopeful that the public, governmental agencies, foundations, and the business communities recognize the importance and impact of the arts organizations and will continue to support them in any way they can.

Powdersville Business Council and Main Street Laurens Awarded $5,000 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Grants

Powdersville Business Council and Main Street Laurens Awarded $5,000 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Grants

The Powdersville Business Council for their Rhythm on the River event and Main Street Laurens for the Piedmont Blues and Roots Music Festival were the $5,000 recipients of the 2019 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Grants as announced by Phil Hughes during Ten at the Top’s 10th anniversary event on November 20th. Hughes also pledged to give $1,000 each to the other three finalists if they complete their proposed projects.

Gordon Brush of the Powdersville Business Council accepts the Elevate Upstate Grant for Rhythm on the River from Phil Hughes of Hughes Investments

Rhythm on the River, a community event designed to bring families and businesses together in the Powdersville community, will take place on May 2, 2020, at Dolly Cooper Park with family activities, music, and food trucks.

Piedmont Blues and Roots Music Festival will take place in downtown Laurens on May 9, 2020, celebrating the Piedmont Blues music that has roots in Laurens.

The other three finalists were A Common Thread: Textiles Past and Present (Arts Center of Greenwood), Trains on Main (Main Street Clinton SC), and Peg Leg Bates Dance Showcase (City of Fountain Inn).

The five finalists were chosen from a total of 23 applications submitted for the two grants available in 2019. Hughes Investments contributes at least $10,000 per year to the program with two recipients each year receiving $5,000 to support a new vibrancy initiative in the Upstate. The program began in 2013 in conjunction with a series of Community Vibrancy Workshops hosted by Ten at the Top. Since the inception of the grants program, Hughes Investments has contributed a total of $93,000 to 29 community vibrancy initiatives across the Upstate.

Finalists Announced for Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants

Finalists Announced for Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants

Ten at the Top (TATT), an organization created to foster collaboration, partnerships and strategic planning across the Upstate, has announced the finalists for the 2019 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants.

The five finalists were chosen from a total of 23 applications submitted for the two grants available in 2019. Hughes Investments is contributing $10,000 per year to the program with two recipients each year receiving $5,000 to support a new vibrancy initiative in the Upstate. The program began in 2013 in conjunction with a series of Community Vibrancy Workshops hosted by Ten at the Top. Since the inception of the grants program, Hughes Investments has contributed a total of $80,000 to community vibrancy initiatives across the Upstate.

Prior to the Ten at the Top Celebrating Successes luncheon on November 20th, the five finalists will each provide a brief overview of their initiative before the 2019 recipients are selected and announced at the luncheon. The finalists’ presentation will be held from 10:30–11:15 a.m., and there is no cost to attend, although registration is requested. The cost to attend the luncheon is $50, and prior registration is required. The luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. at the Greenville Convention Center, with Governor McMaster as the guest speaker. To register for either event, go to or contact Sharon Purvis at

Below are the five finalists (project name, applying organization, and brief summary):

Rhythm on the River – Powdersville Business Council
The Powdersville Business Council (an extension of the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce) is looking to promote and sponsor Rhythm on the River, an event designed to bring families and businesses together in an unprecedented manner for the Powdersville community. This event will take place in the spring of 2020 at a local county park.

A Common Thread: Textiles Past and Present – Arts Center of Greenwood
In Greenwood, textile mills began to dominate the business scene in the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s. The mills and mill villages played a vital role in the life of this county. The Arts Center and The Museum will present exhibits and events in the fall of 2020 to honor our textile history and to educate and entertain visitors and residents. The themed event, A Common Thread: Textiles Past and Present will be a review of the institution of textile mills, village life, and more current trends in the commercial and artistic realm of textiles.

Piedmont Blues and Roots Music Festival – Main Street Laurens
The Piedmont Blues and Roots Music Festival will be a celebration of the rich past Laurens has with blues, jazz, and even rock music genres. The event will be held in Downtown Laurens and will focus on the traditional piedmont blues music, mill hill blues, and other types of music that have played such an important role in music history. There will even be an opportunity to highlight local record companies and local bands who produced their own records back in the day!

Trains on Main – Main Street Clinton
The young and young at heart all love to stop and watch the trains as they roll through the City of Clinton, parallel to Main Street. Trains have long been a part of Clinton, so what better way to showcase this history than with Trains on Main. Model trains provided by the Copper family, the participation of downtown businesses, and Main Street Clinton volunteers, can all make this possible. The model trains will be on display and operating along the top perimeter walls of local businesses, in hopes of attracting local Clintonians and visitors from afar to step in and take a gander.

Peg Leg Bates Dance Showcase – City of Fountain Inn
The Peg Leg Bates Dance Showcase will be an exciting opportunity for local dance groups to participate in a free and fun event at the Fountain Inn Activities Center. This Showcase is open to all dance groups, however, the purpose of this project is to create a premiere dance event for groups who may not be able to afford or have access to traditional dance events/competitions. The goal is to have at least ten local dance acts participate throughout the day of the event. The idea is not necessarily to compete, but to highlight extraordinary local talent in the area of dance while creating an opportunity to celebrate an amazing native of Fountain Inn and his accomplishments.

 The selection committee for the Elevate Upstate Grants Program includes Phil Hughes (President, Hughes Investments), Ingo Angermeier (Retired, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System), and Terence Roberts (Mayor, City of Anderson).

Elevating the Upstate with Grants Since 2013

Elevating the Upstate with Grants Since 2013

One of last year’s winners was the 96 Mill Village Association’s Movie in the Park series.

Every year in June, Ten at the Top opens the application period for $5000 Elevate Upstate grants, given out every year for programs, projects, and initiatives that promote community vibrancy.

Since 2013, Hughes Investments, Inc. has provided $80,000 in funds to 24 local communities as part of the Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grant program.

What is community vibrancy, anyway? Think of the things in your own community that make you proud to live where you live, that get you out of your house and interacting with your neighbors. Things that make your streets more attractive and celebrate what makes your community unique. Those are things that make your community vibrant.

Phil Hughes, president of Hughes Investments, says, “The Elevate Upstate Grants are for those wishing to bring new life to their communities—a spark, a fresh idea, a new tradition—something that will excite the public and bring people together from all walks of life in a new way.”

One of the winners from 2013, the first year the grants were awarded, has become a popular annual event in Greer.

Past Elevate Upstate grant winners include public art projects, interactive outdoor education, downtown music, a food truck plaza, and more. The key element is that the proposed initiative will increase community vibrancy and sense of place and benefit the community as a whole. Take a look at the list of past winners here, with some video clips that explain the projects.

Do you have a community vibrancy project that could use some funds to get off the ground? Do you want to find out more about how to navigate the process of applying for an Elevate Upstate grant? On July 16th, we’ll be hosting an Elevate Upstate Grant Workshop here at our event facility, and we’d love to see you there.

The town of West Pelzer capitalized on its designation as a bird sanctuary and created an educational art installation of bird houses along Main Street.

You’ll hear from Mary Anne Goodman from the Ninety Six Mill Village Association, who successfully applied for a grant to fund a community movie night. You’ll also hear from Coie Switzer and Curtiss Hunter from the Union Environmental Art and Music Festival, who were runners up and received a matching grant—and how they got the support they needed to launch their event a year ahead of schedule.

For those interested in applying, an interest form is due by August 1st and the completed applications due by September 16th. Two grants of $5,000 each will be awarded at Ten at the Top’s annual Celebrating Successes event in November, where finalists will have the opportunity to present their proposed project before a final judgment is made.

Article by Sharon Purvis

Celebrating Our Independence in the Upstate

Celebrating Our Independence in the Upstate

Starting this weekend and continuing until next weekend, communities and organizations all over the Upstate are celebrating Independence Day with food, music, family entertainment, military appreciation—and, of course, fireworks!

Starting this evening (June 27th), Furman University’s Summer by the Lake Concert Series will present a concert of patriotic music featuring the Greenville Chorale along with the Lakeside Concert Band.

On Saturday, you can head over to Greer for Freedom Blast 2019, which is an extravaganza of Independence Day activities, with a military tribute, a kids zone, plenty of food and music, and sky diving! Truly something for everyone at this Greer tradition.

Greenwood’s Festival of Flowers closes out on July 2nd with a Musical Salute to America by the 246 Army Band at the Greenwood County Veterans Center.

Clemsonfest, on the 3rd, has plenty of family fun during the day, and then in the evening, music and fireworks will ring in July 4th.

On the morning of the 4th, lace up your running shoes for the Greenville Track Club’s Red, White and Blue Shoes 5K, which raises money for the Blue Shoes track scholarship program.

Hillbilly Day, one of the oldest festivals in the state, doesn’t have any fireworks on the 4th, but plenty of clogging, bluegrass music, crafts, old-time games, and food. Head on over to Mountain Rest for an old-timey good time!

The FR8yard in Spartanburg celebrates America’s birthday with the GR8 American Throwdown, where proceeds benefit the Hub City Animal Project. In addition to fireworks, there will be ping pong and cornhole tournaments, a “patriotic pup” contest, and pop-up pools to beat the heat.

Ridenour #upstatevibe365And Liberty, whose town name is just begging for a July 4th celebration, has Love My Liberty, where the hotdogs, children’s activities, inflatables, and live music are all free. Greenville, Spartanburg, and Seneca also have their annual 4th of July fireworks festivities.

Shipwreck Cove in Duncan will have free swimming and fireworks from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m., perfect for the hot weather!

Mauldin’s Beachin’ Fridays keeps the festivities going on the 5th, with the 246 Army Band and Fireworks Show, and Cowpens National Battlefield closes out the week on a historical note with its Celebration of Freedom event on the 6th.

Have we left out your Independence Day event? Tell us about it on our Facebook page—and you can always add your events to our calendar!

Article by Sharon Purvis

Small Town, Big Talent—Get In on the Act!

Small Town, Big Talent—Get In on the Act!

Broadway theater in New York City is the pinnacle of success for stage actors who dream of making it big—and there’s no doubt that seeing one of those big city productions is an unforgettable experience. The closest thing to that around here is the traveling Broadway shows at the Peace Center, and those shows are worth seeing if you can get tickets.

Those actors and actresses decided to pursue acting for a living, which is a choice that comes with a lot of sacrifice—there’s no question about that. But there are talented people who stayed in their own communities, too, making different choices but not losing their talent.

For every famous actor or singer who says they got their start singing in their church choir or doing school theater, there are a hundred more who still sing and act beautifully while being teachers and car salesmen and nurses and stay-at-home moms by day. And a lot of those people are acting in plays and musicals right here in the Upstate, giving some really remarkable performances.

I went to see Fun Home put on by the Proud Mary Theatre Company last weekend, which performs in a small space in the West Main Artists’ Co-op in Spartanburg—and in front of a crowd of 50 people or so, the cast performed their lines and songs with every bit as much emotion and nuance as they would have in front of a packed house at a larger theater. Dean, our executive director, took his daughter to see M*A*S*H at the Abbeville Opera House, and they were pulled into the characters’ story as much as they would have been with a traveling Broadway show. My husband, who never thought he would enjoy a musical play, now is the one to suggest that we go see the latest offering at the Spartanburg Little Theatre. And there are lots of other theaters in towns all over our ten counties putting on great shows.

Supporting local theater keeps the arts alive in your community. It’s an affordable evening out. You may see someone you know in a production and get to see a different side of a neighbor or co-worker. You might even be inspired to join the cast or crew yourself! There are a lot of plays listed on our calendar, so why not go check one out this weekend?


Article by Sharon Purvis