When we moved 1,000 miles, from Wisconsin to Connecticut, we really made two mistakes: The first was not moving to North Carolina instead and the second was buying a home too quickly. This was in the later Summer of 2006, things were still pretty good with the economy and we had just turned a tidy profit on the sale of our Elkhorn home. Given that the first few months in CT were trying, we really craved the comfort of OUR home, with OUR stuff and a place where we could truly lock in for our first New England winter. We ended up in a great neighborhood, in a nice enough town, but within several more months we really came to realize that we jumped too soon.
Within the past month, we sold our CT home and have once again moved nearly 1,000 miles south to Wilmington, North Carolina. Not Wilmington proper, mind you, but close enough so that most people outside NC are ignorant of where Wilmington is, so we can say we moved here and people nod unknowingly. And now, having learned our CT home lesson, we are taking our time to get familiar with the areas in an around Wilmington and the personalities of the people here.
But before I get too in-depth about the geography, let me address the “why” question you may be asking. “If you have your own businesses, and can live and work anywhere, why in the world would you choose Wilmington?” Glad you asked. Over the past 10 years, we’ve been visiting NC and hitting the major cities (Charlotte and Raleigh) and many minors ones too. We’ve spent time down in South Carolina and traveled through the eastern seaboard enough to establish the following:
Florida is not even an option – too much heat, too much age (I actually saw two cars collide in slow motion during a not-so-recent business trip).
Georgia has a bit of coast, but with the time spent in Savanna and Tybe Island, it seemed small, both mentally and physically.
South Carolina is just a bit too much “south” for my liking. People are still fighting mental wars there and keeping the rebel flag alive, along with all of it’s psychological misgivings.
While some parts of Virginia are “south” enough, it’s proximity to Washington DC (and especially New Jersey) make it a haven for the summer parade of minivans wrapped tight with bikes, boards and crying babies.
But each of our vacation trips to North Carolina never ceased to draw us in with it’s low cost of living, friendly people who are culturally diverse and weather conditions that make is possible to not own a window scraper for each car. Wilmington, NC itself is a very historical port town – meaning that it’s haunted as hell and still has some amazing homes and beautiful buildings from the civil war era. It’s a college town too (UNCW) – meaning that you have a wonderful mix of pubs, boutiques, art galleries, theaters (stage & film), book and music stores, cafes and amazing restaurants. And similar too San Antonio’s or Savanna’s riverwalks, many of these downtown establishments are either along and steps away from the Cape Fear river. Which is at its most scary when you can actually tides, waves and ripples all moving in opposite directions!
But beyond the Cape Fear running along the Western edge of Wilmington, a 15-20 minute drive east can put you into a variety of beach communities, including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach (pronounced “cur-ray” by the locals). And if there’s any prerequisite we have, for where we live long term, it has got to be near the water. Really not sure if it’s our astrological signs (I am an Aquarius so that makes immediate sense), but we’ve always migrated toward the water and have always been happiest when large bodies of water were close by.
So now that we have moved to our ideal state, living in our ideal area, where do we actually want to live? The good news is that we found an off-season rental here on Carolina Beach, allowing us another six months before tourist season starts up again and we need to vacate our 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 3 floor duplex on “stilts” that sleeps 17, and is just two blocks from a very beautiful public beach. While six months should be enough time to determine our future “living” location, already in our first four weeks we’ve done a lot of exploring and are already starting to form biases and opinions:
Downtown Wilmington: One important detail missed while describing Wilmington earlier is a vibrant television and film industry entrenched here, mostly thanks to a Screen Gems Studio getting started many years ago. While most notably the home for the current TV series One Tree Hill, this past week it was announced that most of Iron Man 3 will be shot within our local studios, which was exciting news for most people here. I add this in because the cast of characters within the downtown area is a strange mix of college students, retirees, tourists, artists, homeless, Hollywood actors and film types, as well as pretty normal folks who find the rest of the other folks intriguing and interesting. There are certainly some shady parts of the downtown, but for the most part it’s a pretty peaceful and pleasant place to be. Would I want to live there full-time? The jury’s still out.
Suburban Wilmington: While the “metro” area of outside of Wilmington is pretty average, the eastern suburbs (including areas such as Masonboro, Bayshore and Ogden) all feature the expected trappings of a suburban life: large strip centers (Mayfaire), McMansions and import car dealerships with the 2012’s in-stock now to one-up those damn Jones’ next door. Along with the increase in incomes, comes ever-expanding subdivisions of new homes. Follow Masonboro or Greenville Loop roads and you’ll find a wide range of subdivisions, with typically the lesser expensive area on the left (west) and the closer to the water options to your right. You can spend hours just driving each of these little pockets of homes, and we have, to determine which one suits you and your lifestyle. Or maybe the answer is none.
Carolina Beach: With just four weeks of residency on this island town, we’ve already gotten to know many locals by name, are being recognized at our favorite shops and restaurants and may have already planted the seeds for a friendship or two. Historically Carolina Beach (CB) has been referred to as “Redneck Beach” and it doesn’t take long to understand why. Amongst a few 10 story, Oceanside hotels, you’ll find $750,000 beach homes standing proudly next to $20,000 trailers dropped as “new” on lots back in 1972. Being in a small community like this (less than 6,000 permanent residents) we have the ability to ride our bikes in order to handle most of our day-to-day tasks. Riding by bike also allows us to see numerous empty lots for sale, spec homes going up and more new “tropical” neighborhoods being developed. At least they seem more tropical than what’s being established on the “loop” roads, but maybe its the preponderance of freshly planted palms. But as we slowly move out of the tourist season we are quickly being embraced by the local community. And community is truly the best word to describe the openness and happiness witnessed on a daily basis within CB. We’ve truly lost track of how many strangers, upon hearing of our recent relocation, have welcomed us to North Carolina and told us how much we will love living here. If this is redneck hospitality, I’m all for it. Just don’t ask me to hang a rebel flag from my Jeep at any point soon. Now a Jolly Rodger on the other hand…
Monkey Junction got its name back in the day as a bus-stop that had a make shift zoo to keep tourists and enlisted soldiers entertained (with Monkey’s as it turns out). Today, there are still many businesses and local references to Monkey Junction, but for the census department, map makers and other government officials mostly refer to this area as Myrtle Grove. This is basically the last designated area before crossing the Snows Cut bridge to get on to Pleasure Island (and into the city of Carolina Beach). This may be an ideal spot as it still presents easy bicycle access to Carolina Beach (though it would require a trip over the massive bridge (which might be dangerous given our widely fluctuating levels of sobriety)) as well as being a few minutes closer to downtown Wilmington. Just like many other areas outside of Wilmington, new subdivisions have started to regain momentum with very affordable new homes starting as low as $125,000.
As we continue our exploration and adventures over the remaining months, it’s likely that these opinions will shift and change, but our underlying happiness remains. We are where we want to be and whether we’re purchasing soon, building new or continuing to rent, our joy about being here certainly borders on bragging to our friends and family back in New England and the upper-Midwest. When asked “how are things going?” it’s very difficult not to share the excitement and happiness we have. We have really determined that no matter where you are, you will always worry about having a good job: If you have your own business, you will always worry about having enough customers/clients and what the competition might be doing. But if you’re living where you want to live, then those worries are lessened and you work that much harder in order to stay where you really want to be.