THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Georgetown fire: Donors and bloggers pitch in to help with recovery
By Jason Lesley
Al Joseph, president of the Georgetown Business Association, said he’s not really surprised at the outpouring of support and sympathy for victims of last week’s fire on Front Street.
“That’s this community,” Joseph said.
The Front Street Fire Relief Fund has topped $50,000, and some of the businesses closed by the fire are making arrangements to reopen in temporary quarters while the investigation into the blaze continues and cleanup begins to organize. Fundraisers and benefits are filling a calendar at the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, including a concert at Francis Marion Park at Front and Broad streets today from 5:30 to 9 p.m. The Foreclosures band has agreed to play without charge for the Georgetown Business Association’s biweekly concert, Music in the Park. Chamber president Brian Tucker moved his organization’s monthly Business After Hours event from Murrells Inlet in order to piggyback with the GBA at the fundraiser.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley visited the fire scene on Front Street last week and asked South Carolinians to support Georgetown.
“This is the time,” Haley said, “where I’m going to ask South Carolina to step up like they’ve never stepped up before. Our neighbors in Georgetown need us. Our neighbors in Georgetown have gone through a crisis, and their neighbors across the state need to come through.”
The Georgetown Fire Relief Fund was up and running at First Citizens Bank before Haley made her plea. Joseph said Matt Wesolowski, First Citizens branch manager in Georgetown, had the fund organized before the fire stopped burning. Within a few days, Larry Mercado of the Pawleys Island computer company Mercom had set up an online donation website, georgetownfirerelief.com, and linked it to Pay Pal for the fund. It began receiving donations from out of state almost immediately.
Trevor Day, manager of the Front Street restaurant Wildfish Grill, organized a fundraiser Saturday that took in over $10,000. By Tuesday afternoon, Wildfish Grill’s collection total had topped $13,000, Day said.
Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church raised over $8,000 with a dinner on Friday night. Alfresco Bistro on Front Street is planning a buffet Sunday afternoon to benefit the relief fund.
The Georgetown Times made a $25,000 donation. Walking Shadows Ghost Tours is offering a benefit tour Oct. 12 at 9 p.m.
The Swamp Fox Players will donate part of the proceeds from the box office for its next play, “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns,” opening Friday at the Strand Theater. Sweeties Sweets owners Skip Yeager and his wife, Cindy Hedrick, said they will donate $15 from each sale of a box of a dozen pecan pralines until a thousand boxes are sold.
Augustus and Carolina, a furnishings and antique store on Front Street, will donate 5 percent of its sales through Oct. 10. Sally Hogan, at the Chamber of Commerce, is continually updating a list of events as they are made public.
“Everybody wants to help,” said Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville. “The attitude has been wonderful, but that’s the kind of people who live here. Visitors tell me all the time that the people here are welcoming and friendly. It’s an ideal small town.”
More than 130 displaced employees were offered $100 gift cards Wednesday as they registered for jobless benefits at the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments office on Highmarket Street in Georgetown. Joseph said the idea was to get some money into the hands of people who need it as quickly as possible. If all the workers come forward, he said, the fund would pay out around $14,000.
Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, visited Georgetown Monday and reiterated the governor’s promise of assistance. “Gov. Haley wants people to continue visiting Georgetown,” he said. “She wants them to see the treasure and history you have in this community, and she wants us to help share the message that you’re open for business.”
Parish said the state will use its tourism marketing resources, which provide travel information daily, to assist the tourism business recovery of Georgetown. It will post notices on its Facebook page about the Georgetown Bridge2Bridge Half Marathon and 5K scheduled Oct. 12 and the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show scheduled Oct. 19.
He will also dispatch bloggers who write for the agency’s tourism website, DiscoverSouthCarolina.com, to visit Georgetown and prepare postings on food, golf, arts and culture, the great outdoors, traditional family travel and off-the-beaten path highlights.
Additionally, the State Park Service collected more than $1,200 to support Georgetown at the Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival at Huntington Beach State Park. Parrish presented the money to the Front Street Fire Relief Fund at First Citizens Bank in Georgetown.
Jeanette Ard said she’s hoping to reopen Colonial Floral Fascinations in the 900 block of Front Street next to a relocated Zest Restaurant. Ard said the temporary relocation of businesses from the burned 700 block could revive a lagging 900 block. “That might be the good thing that comes out of it,” she said. “The energy from this block will go down there, and when we come back up here, it will stay down there.”
Georgetown City Councilman Paige Sawyer, who discovered the fire and called 911, said he worries about the city’s businesses in the short term. “We’ll have people coming to see the fire disrupting normal business,” he said. “We’ve lost all the parking in the 700 block. We’ve got to come up with some kind of plan for those businesses to handle the people who come to see the ruins.”
Thankfully, Sawyer said, the city’s Harborwalk suffered little damage from the fire. He said the decision to replace the boardwalk’s planks with hard Brazilian Ipe decking probably saved it. “Some pilings and gates are burned,” he said, “but the Harborwalk itself held up nicely.”
To donate to the Front Street Fire Relief Fund call 843-546-8591, go online to georgetownfirerelief.com or visit a branch of First Citizens Bank, First Federal Bank or Georgetown Kraft Credit Union.