Call it love at first sight, but when resident Robert Stack and his wife retired to Aiken, they both had a knee-jerk reaction to the small town’s unique charm.
“It wasn’t very much an accident,” said Stack, who retired in international finance at IBM. “We had gotten tickets for a historic tour of Charleston and then we also had Master’s tickets for the practice round. We had some time to kill and my wife had grown up in a community similar to Aiken and people had all recommended we check it out.”
Both Stack and his wife found the downtown area to be quite charming, enjoying the local shops, and found the housing to be pretty affordable.
“When we first moved here people were quite surprised,” Stack said. “We had grown up in the North, went to Ivy League schools. And our friends said, ‘South Carolina, are you kidding me?’ But we’ve been here for almost 12 years, and we like it.”
The Stacks are not alone in retiring to small towns across the U.S. Moira McGarvey, founder of retirement planning website GangsAway!, wrote about the trend in a Huffington Post blog called “Booms Are Moving to These 50 Small Towns.”
A few weeks before her blog was posted, she wrote an article titled “Where Are All the Boomers Moving” on Huffington Post using GangsAway! property data and information from the U.S. Census Bureau to come up with a list of the top cities Baby Boomers were retiring to in each state.
She named Aiken as one of the top towns for retirees.
Home to a little more than 29,000 residents, with 45 as the median age, Aiken’s average summer temperature sits at 81 degrees while in winter it’s a mere 46 degrees on average. GangsAway! defines the cost of living in Aiken as “average” with a median household income about $52,000 and a median home value of approximately $170,000.
“Our climate is one thing that makes this area attractive,” said Will Williams, director of the Economic Development Partnership. “It’s not only great for our retirees, but Aiken is also in central proximity to many different places like Charlotte, Atlanta, the coast or the mountains.”
The mild climate is what put Aiken on the map with the Winter Colony wealthy, as families could escape the extreme temperatures up North, raise their horses and attend polo events.
“Obviously, Aiken having been named top seven locations in South Carolina to find a job,” Williams said. “I think that plays into people who may have been displaced in other parts of the country and now they are looking for a change of scenery and an opportunity with some of the manufacturing opportunities.”
The Savannah River Site used to be a major employer in the 1950s, but corporations such as Bridgestone Americas have gained more traction recently. The company is in the process of constructing a 1.5 million-square-foot off-road radial tire plant in Sage Mill Industrial Park, representing a $1.2 billion investment.
Stack said he is not surprised at all that Aiken has been recognized as one of the best small towns for Baby Boomers and President and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce David Jameson said the ranking is easily explained.
“When folks looking to relocate after they retire visit Aiken, they quickly feel at home,” Jameson said. “Our welcoming ways, our relaxed lifestyle and our sense of community radiate our community’s personality and heritage. The economics of life in Aiken also pushes us to the top of the ranking chart. Folks quickly learn what we already know – If you’re lucky enough to live in Aiken ... you’re lucky enough.”
For more information about GangsAway!, visit www.gangsaway.com.
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.