CHARLESTON — The University of South Carolina opened a welcome center Wednesday in busy downtown Charleston, where visitors can learn about the state's flagship university, order athletic tickets or simply buy a Carolina sweat shirt.
The center, dubbed Carolina on King, is located on busy King Street in the heart of the city's shopping district. The area is visited by millions of tourists a year.
Luanne Lawrence, the school's vice president for communications, said university President Harris Pastides came up with the idea several years ago.
“It actually wasn't based on tourism. It was based on the fact we have 10,000 alumni living in the area, many of whom have not reconnected with their alma mater,” she said. “He wanted to have a central point that would reconnect alumni.”
But it also helps the center is located in the heart of a popular tourist destination.
“The tourism was a plus, but it wasn't the main focus,” Lawrence said.
On an overhead video screen Wednesday Athletic Director Ray Tanner, whose baseball teams won two national titles, was talking about the school. In another corner was a picture of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
Lawrence said the welcome center needed something to attract people. The sweat shirts, school mugs, golf balls with the USC logo and stuffed dolls of the university mascot Cocky are the draw.
“You have to give them a reason to feel comfortable to walk into the store so the retail component is because of that,” Lawrence said. “We believe the retail component will be a magnet for tourism and give us the opportunity to start a conversation.”
Alumni can sign up for the alumni association, order athletic tickets and get materials to help recruit prospective students. They can also find out about alumni events in the area.
One of the first visitors through the door on Wednesday was Geneva Sherota, a Columbia native with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the university. She now lives in the Washington, D.C., area and was back for a visit to South Carolina with her husband.
“I love the idea that they have this down here,” she said. “It's nice to have an actual Carolina store.”
Was she buying anything?
“We're looking for our daughter and so we may buy a little Cocky doll,” she laughed.