Three Days in Florence, South Carolina

Florence, South Carolina is a conundrum.

I came upon it entirely accidentally. After leaving Baltimore, I passed through Virginia Beach and Fredericksburg on my way to Orlando to see friends. I woke up early in the morning at a truck stop in Dillon, SC (just past South of the Border), got some coffee and headed south. (If this were a novel, this entry would be called a flashback. But it’s a blog, so I guess it’s just called talking about something that already happened.)

I had a ton of work to do, so checked Google Maps for nearby libraries and saw one not too far away with all 5 star reviews.

florence SC library

I pulled off the interstate and towards town and was immediately suspicious that a 5 star library could possibly be nearby. (Oh Google Maps, you keep burning me, and I keep coming back.) The road to Florence is paved with, well, some empty fields mostly. As you get to the town itself, you see the familiar signposts of a lot of small towns in America: empty buildings, for sale signs.

downtown florence sc

I kept driving. Hope springs eternal and all that. And then out of nowhere, like a mirage in the desert: the library.

Seriously. I hung out for a while until I needed more caffeine so I checked Yelp, which pointed me at a coffee shop right down the road. I drove back towards empty buildings and a desolate downtown and came upon this auditorium: florence auditorium Where did that come from? I hung out at the homey Clay Pot coffee shop and had some tomato pie. clay pot florence sc As I was leaving, I saw this poster on the door, for a concert at that crazy beautiful auditorium: 2014-09-25 14.09.55Well. You may not know this about me, but I’m an Amy Grant fan from way back. A close reader of this blog may recall that my very first concert was way back in 1980: Amy Grant at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, OK. I have seen her in concert many times since then, the most recent being just last year at the Greek Ampitheatre in Los Angeles with my sister (who I went with to the first one) and my niece (who was seriously not born in 1980). And this concert was only two days away. So what do you think I did next? Obviously I walked right across the street and bought a ticket. amy grant florence sc The woman working the box office told me that it was a great venue for concerts. “It’s really too bad you don’t live here”, she told me. So now I had two more days in Florence, South Carolina. I found an RV park just outside of town with a duck pond. florence rv park That night, I checked out the local fancy hotel with fancy bar and restaurant. It was a hip hotel you might see in any cool downtown. Except Florence’s downtown looks like this: florence sc downtownYet in between the abandoned buildings are lovely, peaceful, park-like areas, like this: florence sc The next day, I hung out at the library again, then decided to check out another coffee shop: Lula’s. Clay Pot has the cute cafe vibe, whereas Lulu’s is all hipster love. After I’d been there a while, a couple of people came in with guitar cases. Cool, live entertainment later. But then some more people came in with guitar cases. Pretty soon I realized the place was jam packed full of people will guitar cases.

Open mic night. A couple of things about open mic night in Florence, South Carolina: everyone plays guitar. Everyone is exceptionally good. 70% sing gospel music. 100% of the audience knows every word to said gospel music. And 150% of the audience is completely supportive of absolutely everyone on stage. I only heard more singing along and clapping and yelling and whistling and encouraging shouts at, well, maybe no where. You can hear a little bit of it here:

Lula’s Florence Open Mic

At first, I was thinking, oh wait, is this a Christian mic night? But then I remembered what it was like to go to high school in Oklahoma. This was just regular southern small town open mic night. I heard gospel sure, but also some pop stuff, country, Christian rap, the usual.

Then, concert day! Fresh off open mic night, I wandered over to the downtown Friday night street concert. The street (the one surrounded by abandoned buildings) was full of people. 

Free concert! A photo posted by vanessajfox (@vanessajfox) on

I hung out for a while until it was time for my own concert.

Amy Grant concert

So what is the deal, Florence? What’s with your fancy library and your fresh faced young people singing gospel music and your hipster hotel remade from an old timey bank and your abandoned buildings and your large police presence?

Oh, did I forget to mention the large police presence? Once I started looking, they were everywhere.

florence police

I did some online town stalking, as you do.

First, I came upon this news: on Thursday night (not long after I left the singing, fresh faced teenagers in their organic , commune-like coffee shop, five people were shot in a drug deal gone bad two miles down the road.

Wikipedia put the puzzle pieces together.

“The city of Florence has recently undertaken a massive redevelopment of Downtown Florence… The historic downtown district running from the central business district toward the McLeod Medical Center, features a number of historic buildings that have been rehabilitated. The redevelopment started with the $18 million Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Library [Editor’s Note: The Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation seems to be behind most of the investments in refurbishing Florence. But just who Drs. Bruce and Lee are, where they got all that money, and why they love Florence so much are questions I could not find answers to.], and today now has the new Florence Little Theater, some 60 new apartments and the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center which opened in September 2011… New office space has emerged from once abandoned buildings, and a police substation was added on once crime ridden Dargan Street.”

The police substation, yes (it’s right on the corner with the hipster hotel and the homey coffee shop and the tea house and the Friday night street concert). The office space emerging from once abandoned buildings? That might be a little aspirational.

Actually, quite a lot of the Wikipedia entry seems aspirational, like perhaps it was written as part of the redevelopment effort, perhaps by someone on the redevelopment committee. Portions just seem, oh, a bit optimistic:

“As of 2013, the city retains its status as a major hub, both for industry and infrastructure, while establishing itself as a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance… Florence has blossomed into a strong center for medical care…”

And maybe a little reaching:

“Florence has benefited being located at the intersection of I-95 and I-20, approximately halfway between New York City and Miami, Florida…. his has allowed Florence to remain competitive and bringing in and sustaining major manufacturers.”

Look, I have an English degree too. I certainly admire crafty use of language.

The entry tells the tale of our world, the tragedy and triumph of our modern age:

“Special efforts are being aimed at the downtown area, which was once the center of the city’s activity but remains dormant after retailers and shoppers left for suburban malls.”

The section on crime is a study in contrasts, in contradiction, a microcosm of the town itself:

“In 2006 FBI crime statistics ranked Florence fifth in the nation in violent crimes amongst 350 metropolitan statistical areas. The city also ranked fifth in the nation in 2005 and first among comparable American cities. At the time, Florence police chief Anson Shells attributed much of the violence to gang activity, and said that “[e]very city, especially metro areas, suffer from violent crime. I’ve never considered the Florence area to be a particularly violent area. I consider this to be a very safe area.” In his 2012 state of the city address, Florence mayor Stephen Wukela stated that in November 2008 the crime rate in the city “was one of the highest in the country.”

Not surprisingly, the article about the Ku Klux Klan enclave there in the 1950s is relegated to a footnote.

Florence is slightly larger than Hudson, OH (around 30,000 vs. 20,000 people), but about 20% of the population is living below the poverty line there vs. less than 2% in Hudson. The median household income is a bit different too: $35k compared to Hudson’s nearly $113k (unrelated tangent: in Hudson, the median income for males is $87k compared to $38k for females). You remember Hudson? No downtown revitalization efforts, just a magical, movie set of small town America.

What causes such a difference? History? Proximity to larger cities? Nearby opportunities? I dunno.

As it happens, I’m back in Hudson right now. It’s still pretty magical. I started having brake problems again as I was driving west from New York and figured Hudson wouldn’t be a bad place to be stranded for a while, if in fact I needed to be stranded. Turns out, I didn’t. The Chevy dealership fit me in despite having a booked schedule, gave me a ride to the library, fixed everything up in a couple of hours, and then came and picked me up.

Someone who knows me from the internet saw I was in town and hung out with me and bought me dinner. I had fast wifi all day and a peaceful place to work from.

But Florence was pretty awesome too. It also has a great library and hip coffee shops. Plus overflowing talent at open mic night and free outdoor concerts. And Hudson doesn’t even have a cutesy hotel or a beautiful auditorium, as far as I can tell.

So visit Florence. And visit Hudson. And experience the wonderment of the vastness and contrasts of America.

96 thoughts on “Three Days in Florence, South Carolina

  1. Wow! That’s quite a jump. From Florence, SC, and back to Hudson. How long will you be in Hudson? I was sorry we missed you when you were last in our neck of the woods. We’re currently spending the Winter at the KOA here in Streetsboro.

    • I thought that KOA was closed for the season! I stayed there the first time I was in Hudson and had planned to stay there again but the web site said they closed Oct. 15th. I actually went from Hudson to DC, then down to Orlando, then back up the coast to Boston, then back across to Hudson! I’m now in Indiana. Sorry I missed you!

      • It is closed for those passing through unfortunately. For the Seasonals that are staying over for a Cleveland Winter it is “open”.

        My guess is that you’ll be passing through Hudson sometime again. Give us a ring if it’s before next summer. We’ll probably be heading back to Seattle by then.

        • Born and raised lived there until I went off to college so I know Florence All my family is there as I speak I was there for Thanksgiving. Please tell me who is paying you to tell these lies .

          • Exactly!!!! Why would someone trash Florence? It was a wonderful place to grow up!!! People obviously don’t realize how much Florence has grown and what all they hve put into downtown. Be nice and like the southerners say “Bless your little heart”.

      • Not a very nice thing to say about Florence, SC. Especially since you probably hvnt even been there. I had to move to Florida in 2010 for work but Florence is still home. Everything I come back it has grown immensely and downtown has been almost completely revamped. There is nothing wrong with Florence. Know what u are talking abt before you make derogatory statements!!!

  2. Loved this post. Just catching up with your blog, and loving everything you’ve written. So interesting and beyond the normal travelogue.

  3. Thank you for your kind comments about Florence, SC! We landed here in 1998, courtesy of the US Navy, when my husband was a recruiter. We stayed and our children have grown up here. Florence has so much more!…2 major medical centers, a great rehabilitation facility and numerous assisted living centers. We have our Civic Center, which hosts a variety of events and concerts. There are also two large schools, Francis Marion University, and Florence – Darlington Technical College, as well as several beauty schools. We have dozens of great churches and lots of restaurants! In spite of being situated in a swampy area, it really is lovely here in Spring! We have many industries here and we are always growing and developing. I am proud of our town, and hope your readers will stop by!

    • The things she said about Florence were not “Kind”. Florence is a MUCH bigger area than the one street she went down. And it is MUCH better than her description. Maybe next time her visit will involve riding around with a tour guide who can show her our Eddie Floyd tennis center, which hosts several huge tennis events…or maybe take her to one of our 3 large public high schools, multiple private schools….world class museum…2 Country Clubs, and a public golf course….shopping at all of our local and big box stores, including Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, one of the 3 Starbucks, Target…or any one of the dozens of grocery stores….or out to eat at 100s of restaurants including Olive Garden, LongHorn, Outback, and numerous delicious locally owned restaurants….several large beautiful parks…..many churches of all denominations….ETC ETC. Describing Florence as having only one gas station and being a small town with dilapidated buildings for sale is NOT accurate, at all.

      • I suppose you are also one of the delusional natives that thinks this downtown project is the best thing since sliced bread also? I worked for Florence PD for 6 years the downtown area is a dump ad until they figure out a way to remove everyone from Waverly Ave, Dargan St, Pine St (or every other street on the east side), Oakland Ave Wilson Rd, (or every other st on the North side) that’s within walking distance from downtown or will remain a drug and crime infested problem just like the other populated areas of Florence. The tennis center is nice but would you want to live around that neighborhood over there off of Cashua……..nope! People live in the suburbs and areas like forest lake and forget or are oblivious to the fact that Florence (or at least the city part of Florence) is a dump. No matter how much money McLeod spends on bars nightlife and parking buildings you will never keep the thugs out of that area especially when they can sit on the porch get all liquored up and walk to that area of town. The two gas stations she passed on the way to the library from the campground would’ve been the tiger mart and tommys quick mart. Both have the same clientele as the crack house and the hip hop clubs in this area.

        • You do have some valid points, however every city, town, metropolis in America has drug infested gang liquored up people, it’s a fallen world we live in…go to Charleston, SC and you have multi million dollar houses right beside slums….the point of what I was saying is that her article focused on one road in Florence and she made it seem like that’s all Florence has to offer. Quite frankly, I’m worrying way too much about what someone who spent 3 days on one road wrote. I hope y’all all enjoy where you live.

          • Thank you Chelsea for addressing some of these issues! Florence is a lovely smaller city. It has a lot to offer. Im not from Florence but lived there and worked there for 13 years. I like to consider it home and often long for that familiar town. There are problems everywhere, and the fact that Florence is a quietly progressive town is a good thing! I know its has grown by leaps and bounds since I moved away 4 years ago. Florence has a lot more to offer than this article leads on and the people in Florence are lovely.

        • Every town has poor neighborhoods where you put broke people and crime comes with it but as the city develops those areas will improve just look at Harlem N.Y. and how that was in the 80s and 90s and how it is now as a former FPD what where you on the job for?? If not with there hope of making the city better and being half way between Miami and NY there gonna be drugs let’s not forget 4 Hour to Atlanta another drug hub Florence sc is a lovely place with real work charm and problems Florence ain’t a bad place you want back go stay a month in Oakland California and then come talk to me bout bad

        • You sound a bit racist by saying to get rid of the predominantly African American parts of Florence! You’re probably no longer apart of the PD because you also sound like the crooked cop type. Everyone in those neighborhoods you mentioned are NOT thugs, alcoholics, or crackheads. I’m not ashamed to say I grew up in North Florence because guess what … I am now a successful Junior at FMU who has been on the President’s List. You say downtown is a dump and that she thinks “this downtown project is the best thing since sliced bread also?” Why should it have to stay that way? There is nothing wrong with change and improvement! North, East, or West Florence has absolutely NOTHING to do with that. I’m highly offended.

      • At least she mentioned places unique to Florence, Chelsea. All of the places you listed are chains. Nothing makes us sound like a backwoods town like saying, “We gotta Outback Steakhouse! Look at us now!” I agree that the writer didn’t do our city justice. However, Kimberly listed places for which Florence is actually known. Having a public golf course and a Starbucks doesn’t mean much.

        • My point was that we aren’t a one gas station run down crime ridden town that she made us out to be. I was trying to point out that we have large businesses here…it’s not a one stop light town….which is precisely what she wanted everyone to think.

      • I want to know where she saw all these empty fields and all of a sudden amidst all that was the library. I’ve live in Florence and surrounding area for 50 years of my life and I can’t seem to remember now having empty fields coming into Florence. Where I live now in Olanta we do. But empty fields and then a library.
        And I agree with you she should see the other things Florence has to offer and not just downtown

      • I agree, her words were not kind. As a writer myself, I can see that she is attempting tongue in cheek humor. But the backhanded compliments, and the outdated pictures she posted. I have never seen Dargan Street look as deserted as that photo. I lived there for many years, and grew up in even smaller Hartsville, but I can truly saw that the unkind words posted by a three day wanderer should be taken with a grain of salt.

  4. I live in Florence, SC….and have lived here for almost 50 years. You stated in your article that it has a gas station, and well you made it seem like it was this dinky crime-ridden nothing of a town. Well, it’s not. We have 2 rather large malls, 100s of restaurants, 2 large hospitals, a cancer center, a convention center, and numerous other facilities. I just felt like you were implying we were a slum, backwoods, one horse town. Rather, you were saying you were surprised to find such a nice library and performing arts center right here in the middle of crap, with made up information on Wikipedia. Maybe this isn’t Houston or New York City, but it’s alot more than the passive aggressive description you made our town out to be.

    • Totally agree! Florence is 1000x better than the run down town she tried to make it out to be. Hate that you saw and heard about some not so great spots but it’s way better than that!

    • As a result of being a former Navy wife, I have lived up and down the Eastern seaboard. Trust me when I say, Florence is not the place she made it seem. Now living in the Washington DC area, I can tell you that Florence living was better on bad days than this area offers on it’s good days.

      Go shopping in any store in the DMV and you will find armed security guards or in most cases, armed police officers. Spend more than 5 minutes in Philadelphia or Richmond, and all you will see are abandoned or boarded up factories, stores, and homes. Go to Main St in Anywhere, USA and you will see the effects of the economic downturn. Florence is not unique in how shopping centers and malls pulled people away from downtown. Perhaps if she had ventured to the mall, she would have been comforted by the big box retailers, and HUNDREDS of chain stores, restaurants, bars and pubs in Florence. Couple streets north and she would have fallen in love with Venus Pancake. OR a couple steps to her left (lol) and she would have seen Dolce Vito. A quick trip down Irby Street and she would have encountered Victor’s (When I worked at Monster.com, also in Florence, our Executive Vice Presidents LOVED Victor’s). Both were well traveled men who had been all over the WORLD and ranked Victor’s as one of the best restaurants they had ever visited. Maybe she should have ventured a bit farther – Red Bone Alley, any of the dozens of Greek restaurants, Percy & Willie’s…etc.

      My personal opinion: If you write a travel blog…research before you post. My professional opinion as a freelance writer….research and research again. Develop a point of view. Don’t use Wikipedia as the basis of your research.

    • I completely agree!!! They made florence sound like lake city or somewhere like that.Florence people work hard and are very proud of everything that has been accomplished there. It has almost tripled in size since I moved away in 2010. Y’all come back now, you hear!! Lol. That’s what they think of Florence. We aren’t ignorant and we are probably the kindest people in the state!!

  5. Dear Vanessa,

    I want to start off by saying I loved this blog entry. Thank you for being inspired to write it! My name is Karen and I grew up in PG County – Riverdale (Eastpines to be exact). Fifteen years ago I moved to this cute little town you described herein. It took me a while to get adjusted, but I love it here now. I love how you certainly captured it’s essence entirely. For me? I will never move back to the suburbs of DC. Even though we do have some rougher areas here (but not anywhere compared to my even rougher PG Co upbringing) my kids are free to go ride their bikes in the neighborhood I live in…did you see the recent article publicized about the couple in Maryland who were arrested for letting their kids go to that park? Well the good news it here I can do that….I can let my kids have some freedom. And guess what else? I know all of my neighbors…all of them! Within the three block span I live in. So the good news? The America I grew up in in the 70’s still exists! The time when I l could leave home in the morning and did not come home until the street lights came on. It is here in Florence. We may not have a lot of money here and we are certainly struggling to complete the downtown area, but we will. This little town will put the America we used to know back on the map…even it it his hidden and found my accident. 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed your time here. Wait a couple of years and come back and write about it again! I would love to know you thoughts on how it will change between now and in that time span. 🙂

    • Haha, I was reading this post with the same view, just reversed! I grew up in Florence and now live in Sterling VA, ‘burb of DC. You are right, PG is rough and getting rougher. Florence has improved a lot in the tad bit more of a decade since I have moved. In fact, it’s not a bad place to live and I get quite nostalgic when I visit my family, it’s just that I don’t want to move back so close to where I grew up! However, many of my classmates went to college elsewhere, graduated and decided to move back, so it can’t be that terrible of a place 🙂
      Anyway, I feel sure that lots of people post similar comments when this blogger drives into their hometown. There is good and bad everywhere and overall (minus the crime stats, really?! referencing the KKK?! Way to go on perpetuating that stereotype!) Flo Town isn’t that bad, or tiny, place to live!
      PS – let’s not trash talk our city on an open blog. It doesn’t help matters.

      • Well said Misty! I find myself missing that town. After I left home and lived here and there, I moved to Florence and planted roots there for 13 years. I actually consider it home . Florence adopted me. I miss all the familiar faces and places as well. Wonderful place!

    • I too grew up in East Pines – 6603 Oliver Street, next door to the Griffins. In 1997 I moved to Florence, Sc via a job offer for my husband in Hartsville. We were here for five years and then we ended up being transferred to OKC, and then onto Houston. Well 2012 and we are back in Florence with no children! And you know it hasn’t really changed. A few new streets and a few new businesses but other then that it’s the same. Good to know another PG County gal is in the midst of Florence. It’s a sweet little southern town that’s laid back and no one is ever in a hurry.

      • I grew up on Patterson Street 🙂 and was there from 73 – 92 🙂 Find me on FB if you like! It is awesome to know someone else from the neighborhood is here! Karen Metler Johnson

    • Lol, I now live in PG county. While I love it up here (most days), I absolutely miss the small town feel of Florence.

    • I agree with you that Florence was a great place to live and raise a family. I have not been back there in 40 years so I can not speak to the Florence of today. I was lucky to serve on the FPD for four years prior to my entry into the Army. I greatly enjoyed reading the comment in this blog, and have planned to make a trip to Florence to renew my nostalgic memories. This blog stimulated my interest anew. Maybe I will post my comments from a different perspective. I look forward to seeing a renewed Florence.

  6. As someone who grew up outside of Florence (so I well remember the days when if you needed more than the grocery store offered, off to Florence you went…), I have seen huge changes in the area over the years. They are most noticeable when I return “home” to visit family. It seems to me as if you only explored a small part of the area, leaving the rest of your learning to come from online sources and not personally confirming the details. You give a much bleaker view of things than what Florence actually offers. Medical care and manufacturing are there. The medical center has grown and grown in the years since the “new” hospital was built. Manufacturing and distribution centers have invested in the area. It seems that you were mainly focused on the downtown area which, yes, is in need of some revitalization – but Florence is much larger than just downtown.

    • Yes!!!! It is my hometown and every time I go back it is bigger and nicer. I would never live there again(bc I want to live in the mountains ) but I do thoroughly enjoy going back to see family and the new changes.

  7. So funny/cool/kind of wierd to see a write up on Florence. I loved all of your thoughts and questions on my hometown. I grew up in Florence. Pretty much my entire family still lives there.

    My great grandfather was Dr. Bruce of the foundation that you mentioned in your post. If you’d like to know more, here is a quick link: https://fdo.foundationcenter.org/grantmaker-profile?collection=grantmakers&key=DRSB001&state=%22South%20Carolina%22&page=2&from_search=1

    If this isn’t enough, then just ask! 🙂

  8. Very interesting post! I currently live in Charleston, but I grew up in Florence and my parents are still there. A Facebook friend who lives in Florence randomly shared your post.

    I actually did a post on the revitalization efforts about a year ago (http://jaredbramblett.com/blog/2014/4/14/hometown-revitalization). It’s nice to read an outsiders perspective on the town. There is a long way to go, but I’m still pretty amazed at the progress that’s happened. A few years ago, you wouldn’t have felt safe walking the streets, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a concert in the downtown area.

    Safe Travels!

    • Great photos Jared…I wish the shot of downtown would have been taken from a better angle…. There is certainly more to see, every day as a matter of fact. Great efforts have been made by many private investors, it takes a community that believes in itself to rebuild a community

  9. It’s so funny that someone who was here for only three days quickly realized that a) the only reason the downtown dump area is advancing is because McLeod hospital and some their doctors are sinking a ton of money into because of obvious political reasons. And b) that at first sight the downtown area is and will remain the appearance of an abandoned town because of the close proximity to the three of the most overrun gang and drug related neighborhoods in the entire city/county. From the area you took those pictures of the fabulous buildings McLeod paid for you are literally within three to four blocks (walking distance) either way you want to travel from predominately crack houses, marijuana hot spots, thieves, gang bangers, and some of the worst poverty stricken areas in florence. That’s why the police presence was so abundant. They (the city of Florence) doesn’t want people to be worried about their vehicles being broken into or other working class people who are out enjoying themselves to get robbed or offered drugs as soon as they exit one of the many downtown venues!

    • McLeod did NOT pay for those buildings. Why are people not reporting factual information? Francis Marion Performing Arts Center was paid for by FMU. The Florence Museum was paid for by fundraising of the Friends of the Florence Museum. The Library was funded by the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation.

      • That’s why Both doctors have there very own 6-8 square foot office with their names in nice gold postings on the door on the second floor I suppose. Ohh that’s right they only donated 15 million to the structure itself for FMU. It may say FMU but McLeod footed most of the bill as they have for the rest of the downtown area. But I suppose you also think McLeod didn’t pay for the fancy hotel built downtown either. Or that they said in order to keep it open they would place out of town doctors etc in it to make sure it sustained through tough times if occupancy wasn’t met. McLeod owns almost every square inch of downtown Florence

        • Josh,
          Sounds like you have some issues with Florence. I don’t know the reasons but there is a ton of great things about Florence. Like every other town not so great. We who love it regardless still see it’s beauty. The issue of gangs and drugs are everywhere. When a town gets a solution to the problem they need to let the rest of the world in on the secret! There will always be someone else who takes the place of a dealer or criminal. it’s everywhere and most people don’t like it except for those doing the wrong. It’s still a great place and I will love it always!!!

        • Josh, McLeod had nothing to do with funding the library or the museum. The only role they played in funding the FMU Performing Arts Center was in providing a small parcel of land that hadn’t been used for years. The Bruce and Lee Foundation $$ came from the sell of Carolina’s Hospital System to a corporation, and since it was non-profit, the money had to go into a charitable foundation. It isn’t “Dr.s” who run it, but a board made up of leaders from all parts of the community, and the fund charities, public buildings, scholarships, and recreational facilities. The “fancy hotel” has been financed by PRIVATE investors, not “The Drs.” I personally know the investors – do you? A simple look on the publicly available tax map shows you have no clue who owns most of downtown Florence – McLeod owns land adjacent to their campus, but downtown is owned primarily by other individuals and entities, NOT McLeod.

          HopeHealth (not McLeod) is expanding in downtown, the hotel is expanding (its almost at full capacity every night), several other renovations are currently underway (with condos, apartments, restaurants and shops), 85 higher end apartment units on Cheves street – need I go on? Tens of millions of dollars in PRIVATE investment in downtown Florence during the next few years has ALREADY began.

          I am in downtown Florence every day and many nights. Downtown will be a jewel in another 18 months. I feel safe anytime I am down there, day or night. I am also in east Florence and north Florence in the neighborhoods you talk about every week, interacting with the people that live there. These neighborhoods need a lot of attention and work. Do I feel safe in those neighborhoods? Not especially, but that will take some time. I do personally know DOZENS of great families who live in those neighborhoods, and they are poverty stricken – but not EVERYONE in those areas are crackheads, thieves and gangbangers! Our police force does a great job, but there is more work to be done to address the crime and poverty.

          Get your facts straight before you try to correct someone else. McLeod’s investment in downtown is limited to their campus improvements, which are amazing. But, the investments in downtown are not by either hospital. Most of the current and ongoing developments are in fact funded by private dollars.

          I apologize to the blog author for co-opting her comment stream! We appreciate your stopping in Florence and hope you’ll do it again sometime – enjoy another show at the PAC (the summer series features Kansas, Christopher Cross, and Bruce Hornsby), some great food at a local restaurant (Tubb’s, Victors, 1031, Stefanos or one of the new places opening in the next year) or one of our many downtown events. If you wait another 18 months, many of the empty buildings will be renovated and filled!

        • You may want to check your facts Josh. Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation was funded by the sale of Carolinas Hospital system. They have nothing to do with McLeod.

  10. Great article!

    I also agree that what some commenters have termed as a “bleak outlook” is caused by the fact that Florence is a fairly large area geographically and is also compartmentalized in some way (this would explain the high crime rate and the “safe city” comments of the police chief). Because of this you’ll also find that a lot of the suburbs and major shopping areas are actually on the other side of town from where you visited.

    When taking this into account, I think you’ll find that the Wikipedia article really isn’t that much of an exaggeration. For example, practically next door to the scenes you described is McLeod Regional Medical Center, which at ~6,000 employees is one of the biggest employers in the region.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your visit and will visit again someday. And I wouldn’t worry too much about some of the recent commenters that seem so offended by your article!

  11. Thanks for the kind words about Florence. You are very astute in using the tern “conundrum”. Although, the term “transition” may be a better fit.

    We came here in 1990 after my wife was transferred. That’s another thing about Florence. (It is a real melting pot of immigrants & transplants from all over the globe.) It’s also a city that has been in transition for as long as we’ve lived here. But, it is also a city that will surprise those that take the time to look & enjoy what it has to offer.

    ***We have mom & pop shops & restaurants and we have five star gourmet dining.
    ***We have small local shops, large retailers and malls. We also have HIGH END custom clothiers.
    ***We have a very artsy community; while we hold on to traditional values.
    ***We are more conservative as you may gather. But, we have a lot of things that more progressive cities enjoy.
    ***We have old neighbors with small depression era homes and we have old neighborhoods with large colonial style homes. We also have LARGE palatial million dollar mansions.
    ***People that take the time to explore will find great opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, gardening, shooting and all other types of outdoor sporting activities.
    ***We have a state of the art sports & tennis complex and beautiful golfing opportunities.
    ***The list goes on with gorgeous parks, natural swamps & wetlands and Culture related activities from all over the globe.

    I will close by addressing the crime issue & police presence-
    The location of Florence (The junction of I-95 & I-20- halfway between Miami & NYC), as made this a prime area for drug related trafficking & crime. When we first moved here downtown Florence was typical of most more urban downtown areas. But, a real effort has been made & money has been invested to restore what crime & drugs almost destroyed. We still have areas of the city where you wouldn’t necessarily want to walk alone at night. (Just like any other city.) But, for the most part Florence is a place where you can come & go day or night quite safely.

    Oh, I almost forgot to mention the “Weather”. The weather is among the best weather you will ever find ANYWHERE in the country! That’s why we have a lot of retirees here. Florida weather & Florence prices make for a GREAT place to retire! Over all, you would be very hard-pressed to find a better, more well rounded place to live than Florence, SC.

  12. Florence, SC is FAR from tiny….but it is not much at all to look at. I was born and raised in Florida and was moved here my senior year of highschool (due to my father being transferred with work). It is a large city, full of crime, drama and gospel music. lol Nothing fancy. The WHOLE city needs a makeoever, however, much of the downtown area has been redone in recent months….

  13. It’s embarrassing for my hometown to be compared to a town in Ohio!

    Although I no longer live in Florence, I feel compelled to defend it when it’s described so blandly as it was above. It’s definitely no New York or San Francisco, but this small town has an allure all its own — most especially in its charming, kind and friendly people.

    • Not sure why being compared to Ohio is offensive? Umm have you even been to Ohio? Florence has nothing on the majority of towns in Ohio. It’s more of a compliment then anything else.

      • Florence’s people defend Florence, just as you are defending Ohio. Just don’t go around saying your state is better than SC. We definitely don’t need or want a compliment or comparison to Ohio. They are 2 completely different states. Nothing to compare!!

    • Love how you defended our growing city of Florence!!! It is full of very special people and grows more and more each time I visit family. It was a wonderful place to grow up and best of all (bc I live in Florida ) you get to experience some true southern hospitality. They don’t know what that is in Florida!!!!

  14. Thanks for the article! It was really interesting hearing someone’s view of my town who just stumbled upon it. I found your comments to be pretty fair and accurate.

    I grew up hating Florence and vowing to move as far away as possible. I went to college in Charleston, and then I was a social worker in some rural areas of South Carolina for years. Compared to some places in South Carolina I’ve lived Florence is a booming metropolis. I’ve moved back now and I found it’s not as terrible as I thought it was.

    The Bruce Lee foundation was established after Bruce Hospital System was sold to Carolina Hospital System. It was a non profit hospital, so supposedly no one was allowed to make money off the sale. All of that money went to the foundation. I think there’s a committee or something that decides how to spend the money. I had to comment because no one answered this question.

  15. I think this is the most notorious part of the writers Blog….

    “As of 2013, the city retains its status as a major hub, both for industry and infrastructure, while establishing itself as a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance… Florence has blossomed into a strong center for medical care…”

    AND MAYBE A LITTLE REACHING:” <—YES YOU SAID THIS

    Perhaps in your internet searches for "Klu Klux Klan" info and "hipster coffee shops" and "1 gas stations towns" You could have seen that Florence houses massive industry in the form of one of the largest QVC Distribution plant, a Honda Manufacturing Plant, 2 Massive Medical centers with a major nursing University, a GE Manufacturing Plant, Roche Pharmaceutical Plant… Also Monster.com, IFH and is only minutes away from Duke energy Nuclear plant…

    You compare Florence to Hudson…10000 people is not a comparison..it is a drastic difference…and perhaps if you had traveled anywhere other than 2 hipster coffee shops you might have known that.

    Don't get me wrong.. I am not a fan of Florence… I lived in Atlanta and NY before moving here 4 years ago…but misrepresenting a location to make your hipster blog look cool is weak…
    Concert tickets, coffee shops, gospel; music shaming, and Police state mindset… I can almost hear you voting for Hillary Clinton Already… Feel free to respond….

    • i was born in florence and lived there for the first 30 years of my life.
      i’m thrilled at the redevelopment of the downtown area. just visited (i live in charlotte now) and was so proud and pleased with the efforts to revitalize the area. in the 70s i shopped on dargan street. loved mangums and gladstones; this renewal is fabulous.
      that said, florence does have other strengths that weren’t mentioned in the article, many that you mentioned in your reply to the article, jonathan. and i guess it depends on perspective whether or not you’d consider florence to be a “a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance… Florence has blossomed into a strong center for medical care…” obviously vanessa (the blogger) was just passing through and from her limited perspective, this is what she saw.
      what KILLS me is this: ‘Concert tickets, coffee shops, gospel; music shaming, and Police state mindset… I can almost hear you voting for Hillary Clinton Already…’
      How does this have ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE BLOG POST???
      As if voting for Hillary is the ultimate insult.
      it’s embarrassing to me. as a native Florentine for you to write to defend my town this way.

      th what’s happening to ofi can’t understand for the life of me what

    • i was born in florence and lived there for the first 30 years of my life.
      i’m thrilled at the redevelopment of the downtown area. just visited (i live in charlotte now) and was so proud and pleased with the efforts to revitalize the area. in the 70s i shopped on dargan street. loved mangums and gladstones; this renewal is fabulous.
      that said, florence does have other strengths that weren’t mentioned in the article, many that you mentioned in your reply to the article, jonathan. and i guess it depends on perspective whether or not you’d consider florence to be a “a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance… Florence has blossomed into a strong center for medical care…” obviously vanessa (the blogger) was just passing through and from her limited perspective, this is what she saw.
      what KILLS me is this: ‘Concert tickets, coffee shops, gospel; music shaming, and Police state mindset… I can almost hear you voting for Hillary Clinton Already…’
      How does this have ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE BLOG POST???
      As if voting for Hillary is the ultimate insult.
      it’s embarrassing to me. as a native Florentine for you to write to defend my town this way.

  16. Your perspective is interesting. It is primarily accurate about the downtown but you missed so much more! My parents were born and raised in Florence and the surrounding area. We moved back when I was 6 and I lived there till I graduated from high school. Since I’ve been gone (all of 6 years) there has been a tremendous change in the town itself. There’s rumors that FMU is going to be piloting a medical school in conjunction with McLeod which is one of the top nonprofit hospitals in the state. FMU itself has been striving for growth and has become a good university. It’s a shame you missed a summer baseball game watching the local Redwolves play or that you didn’t eat at the delicious Thai place right downtown or that you didn’t visit the numerous antique places in town. There’s a little more than just two coffee shops and a library (which I adore). It doesn’t look to great now because of the transition but neither do bangs when you’re growing them out. I invite you visit again. It’s not a mega town with tons to do but there’s great people there. It’s home.

  17. Huh… Assuming that you exited the Interstate at the intersection of I-95 and I-20, you would have driven through one of the most developed parts of the city (sizable mall, civic center, bunch of shops and dining, hotels, and a few gas stations). That whole area is probably the nicest part of town, and the downtown area is catching up fairly well these past few years. Not to mention the industry surrounding Florence, such as QVC, Honda, etc. So your implied summary of Florence as a small, one gas station town is a bit inaccurate. And you forget to mention that the library and the performance arts center in the downtown area are both right next to some of the most run-down neighborhoods in the city, which helps to explain the number of police there (personally, I’ve felt safe there, but I guess some others don’t?). I’ve been living in Florence for a bit over a decade and personally I enjoy my time living there: enough things to do around town to have a good time yet quiet enough to relax (compared to college towns like Clemson).

    Before moving to Florence, I had lived in Dillon for almost a decade. All I have to say about that place is that I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone visiting unless you have family there…

  18. I am happy for the improvements in Florence but I think the area around the Airport and Lucas Street (Hwy 52) need vast cleanup efforts and improvement. These are 2 of the main entrances to Florence and both are embarrassing eyesores.

  19. So glad you found our little southern town and enjoyed the wonderful things that are happening here. It’s not just the city that’s growing but the entire county. The county library system has built miniature versions of the library you visited in places like Timmonsville, Olanta and Pamplico. Lake City is now the home of one of the premier art events in the country -ArtFields. Check it out at ArtFieldssc.org. A hotel similar to our cool one in Florence has opened there. The Jones-Carter gallery has hosted major traveling exhibits like etchings by Goya and the works of Florence native William H. Johnson. There are several really good restaurants in Lake City as well. New stores are opening downtown in Florence and a new restaurant opened last week. Hope you’ll come back and visit and experience more of the great things Florence has to offer!

  20. I live in Florence and downtown was always a sketchy place to go but since the revitalization has started we have better restaurants and a great library and a restaurant called the library and Francis Marion University is here. It’s a wonderful town and I love living here. I’m glad you enjoyed a little bit of our small city

  21. I came to Florence in 1972 to help start the new state college that has become FMU. I had little expectation that I would stay. In fact, there was so little in Florence that often on weekends the faculty ran to Charlotte, Charleston or all the way to Atlanta (Columbia had little to offer). The college kept growing as did Florence and every time I considered another appointment we ended up staying. Why? Love of the college. New entertailnment and opportunities. The energy of the art community to provide the Little Theater, the Florence Symphony, the local community concerts, and on and on.
    The Bruce Lee Foundation did come from the sale of two small hospitals and has invested in the Florence Library, the FMU Performance Arts Center, the Florence Museum, the FMU School of Nursing Building, etc. In fact, an FMU medical educational center will be built at the end of the redeveloping downtown again with Foundation Money. Of course, almost every building I have metioned that has funding from the Foundation also has state and Federal dollars.

    Essentially a complex small metropolitan area that is growing and revitalizing its old downtown.

    Of course, I’ve retired to a purple state with on the coast! (unedited)

    • Hi, Doc–Good to see you are still kicking. Florence is a great town. I met some world-class people when I lived there, and still love it. What is happening downtown is impressive and with time, will build on itself. I still go back for the paintings, the poetry, and the music. You and all the FMU family can be proud of what has been accomplished.

  22. Wow, living in Florence and seeing how people act just continues to amaze me. All of you Florentines who are ripping this blog apart should feel ashamed! I have never met a group of people who get so easily offended by the smallest things. You should be grateful that someone randomly stopped through this town, decided to actually stay for days to explore and spend her money, and then write about it in her blog telling people that they SHOULD come visit. I don’t know why anyone would want to after seeing such negative reactions from the locals. Most comments are far from friendly! She didn’t come here to write some big article about discovering all of Florence, SC. Heaven forbid she did things that interested her instead of visiting hospitals and tennis courts. What is wrong with you guys??

  23. I want to say that my parents moved here in the early 60’s and they successfully ran Mangum’s Army Navy as a family business for 38 years with the relocation assistance the Gottleibbs from Charlotte NC. It did not bother me that the comment was about a run down building as I know what went on there and I know my heritage and the impact my family had on Florence and its’ community of people back in the day. The downtown area was a wonderful part of my childhood and I would not trade those memories for anything in the world.

  24. I lived in the Florence area from 94 till 2012. The loss of many of the plants in the area really caused the area to suffer. When I was last there, the blue laws were ridiculous. No shopping, unless its to fix your vehicle, before 1:30pm on Sundays was a law that many of the citizens tried to fight but last I knew, it still stood. Once witnessed a famous local preacher protest an Aerosmith show forcing them to skip Florence. There were many things I didn’t like about Florence.
    BUT.. now that I have been living in New York (again) for 3 years, I’d give anything to be back in Florence. 😉

  25. I live in Florence and attend Francis Marion University, you know, the place responsible for the Performing Arts Center downtown. Francis Marion University is also about to build a medical school downtown where medical students from USC will be located while doing internships at our large hospitals (McCleod and Carolina’s). Not to mention the existing programs at FMU that will be located in this new building. There is also an art gallery downtown. Art students and others can sell/display their pieces there. There are tons of other things in Florence that everyone else already mentioned. Florence is not a tiny town, tiny towns do not have universities with medical schools. Also Wikipedia?! Really?! NEVER use Wikipedia for research. That’s research 101. I learned that in middle school. Florence’s downtown development committee has a Facebook page, Florence has a website, and Florence’s downtown has a separate website.

  26. Florence sc is bigger than alot of people think. i wish the would fix up the hwy 52 entrance to the city of florence. make it look like the entranceway at I-20 coming into the city from the west. put up palm trees along the way into florence from I-95. make it beautiful.

  27. As someone who grew up in a town about 30 minutes from florence that legitimately had one hardware store and two traffic lights, I find this description of Florence absolutely laughable. I lived in florence during college, obtaining a degree in nursing. During college I was employed by one of the regional medical centers, and the experience I gained there was remarkable. As a current employee of the school of medicine that will soon have a Florence campus, I’m proud that Florence will continue to be a major medical hub of SC. This girl should do some research from a better source than Wikipedia, like perhaps an actual book she could have found at the awesome library.

  28. I appreciate everyone’s comments on this blog post. While there are many misperceptions about our current Downtown redevelopment efforts and the reasons behind those efforts – I will quickly address the population confusion our author brings up.

    South Carolina law makes expanding City limits very difficult. (Note the County ans City share a name only enhancing consuion). The population of our great City of Florence is clouded by this fact. Our US Census population doesn’t take into account the number of people that come to Florence to shop, work, or go out to our numerous entertainment options. Even still Florence is the states tenth largest city by population and has the third highest sales tax receipts per capita. This is a testament to the vibrant and diverse economy Florence enjoys. Our City is stronger than the information on Wikipedia presents and we would welcome all of you to visit anytime and especially to inquire about how our downtown is fast showing what happens when government, nonprofits, and citizens unite in a common vision for growth and our leaders practice leadership in taking risks for the greater good of our community.

  29. To the author, thank you for visiting Florence, and thank you for an important perspective of those who visit. Our town in many ways is like the movie Cars. Across town from where you stayed 2 interstates (i-20 and i-95) converge. This occurred in the early to mid 70s. Ever since, there was a tug for businesses to go there instead of downtown. As time went on, downtown and its surrounding areas started decaying. Some businesses did OK there, just not many. It is taking a concerted effort to raise that part of town up and it takes time.

    To everyone from Florence who is posting, think of her experience. If you come off of i-95 by highway 52, you see a lot of dilapidated buildings. It is getting better for sure, but it is reality. What she saw is what everyone that visits in that part of town sees. Talk to the airline attendants that end up staying here. They land, go down Church St. to a hotel on Hwy 52 and back to the airport the next day. To them, Florence doesn’t seem like a great place to live. It is changing, but failing to recognize those views is just ignoring the obvious to people who aren’t from here.

    • yes Jonathan you have a point. we live here we see it every day. But in my heart of hearts I think Florence will come out fine. I was able to talk to Drew Griffin the city manager. and he told me that the area around the airport will be fixed up. plans are in the works now for that area. also the area coming into Florence from I-95 on HWY 52 will be also fixed. so their is great hope for the city of Florence sc.

  30. For only three days of visiting the town by accident, I do appreciate the article to some degree. It shows a Northerner point of view of a city without too much bias and she does make some good comparisons between Florence and Hudson, OH. Some infomation she gather doesn’t show the full scope but the ceiling is a lot higher in Florence then in Hudson I would say because of not having major cities near by and also being the center city of its area.

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