People say New York City is the most expensive city in the world to live in. “Horse feathers,” I say, immediately before Googling the term “horse feathers” to see if it means what I think it does.
As long as you have no intentions of living in a Manhattan penthouse or eating diamond-encrusted Berkshire pork tournedos served on the back of one of P. Diddy’s man servants every night, you can amble fairly comfortably along the boulevard of low-cost living. Living on Hilton Head was equally if not more expensive, simply because there weren’t that many damn options for stuff, like restaurants, bars, stores, etc. The lowest cost place to eat was a fried seafood shack, of little use to a vegetarian other than its cultural significance (it was once visited by Rachel Rachael Ray, of course).
It’s all just perspective.
An example of the change in my life living in the city vs. living on Hilton Head:
Today I paid $11 for four bottles of Two Buck Chuck (actually Three Buck Chuck in New York City), including employee discount.
In August, I sat at the bar at MichaelAnthony’s on Hilton Head and ordered one glass of house cabernet . The tab? $15.
The wine was just OK too. That’s not even to mention the universal mediocrity of the dozens and dozens of island restaurants, few of which I could get excited over even after four years getting to know every corner of the island. The biggest iconic restaurant on the island, the Salty Dog Cafe, had a near-ubiquitous market presence on souvenir T-shirts, stickers and the like. But the food, as Justin Paprocki’s mom once aptly phrased it, was largely “unremarkable.”
Frank Chapman, a former mayor who died last year, was despised by the local tourism industry for his “turning the welcome mat over” attitude toward the island. This quote in 1995 was his undoing:
At a meeting of the Hilton Head Hospitality Association, Chapman gave his opinion on island restaurants.
“They’re too expensive, and the food’s bad,” he said.
The comment caused an outcry and a swell of support for the more pro-tourism candidate who defeated Chapman in an election that year (and has been mayor ever since).
The problem the island faces today is one of obsolescence. Its strict development rules and laissez-faire attitude toward business development worked fine in the early years to keep away monster beachfront development. But now the buildings have begun to crack with age, the amenities have a warmed-over feel and people are clamoring for new options like a modern movie theater and shopping.
Those visitors are starting to look towards other fresher options in Myrtle Beach and Charleston instead. For a long time, island businesses and leaders took for granted that people would keep coming back to their sleepy resort town, even as mainland strip-mall sprawl and crippling traffic made the trip less and less attractive every year, transforming the drive to the island from a rural passageway into a speeding highway past the mattress suppliers, chain restaurants and payday advance storefronts of Anywhere, USA.
Chapman got the boot — maybe justifiably — because he told restaurants they weren’t trying hard enough to provide worthwhile and unique experience for the island. It created an unacceptable public image of a tourism town with an anti-tourist mayor.
But no one seemed to stop and wonder if maybe he had a point.