Smalltown Aynor -- multi-generational, rural and quiet -- may seem a world away from the bustle of the Grand Strand, but for the past year or so the two have shared more than Horry County borders.
The town recorded 11 home mortgage closings in 2014, Aynor Mayor Keb Johnson said, and could double that number this year.
“That’s a boom out here,” he said.
Just a few days earlier, the U.S. Census Bureau had declared the Myrtle Beach metro area as the second-fastest growing in the U.S., taking in 12,000 more residents from mid-2013 to mid-2014.
Most of them moved as close to the beach as they could afford, adding to the mobile scenery on area roads and spurring the construction of new businesses where they can spend their money. Most don’t think much farther west than Conway, but the growth in Aynor shows there are people who still like to live where they grew up or who want the conveniences of a metro area but not the bothers of daily contact with it.
Aynor’s part of the buyer boom is split about 50-50 between locals and newcomers, said builder Tray Andrew, who started construction in a new subdivision, The Brickyard, last year and expects to at least double its size to 10 homes this year.
An Aynor native himself, Andrew said out-of-towners who are buying in Aynor frequently come from similar exurb areas in the Northeast and elsewhere and like the space and quiet they get from being on the fringe of a large metro area.
About 40 percent of his new buyers also think Aynor High School and its feeder schools will give their kids a top-notch education, a drawing point that Realtor Marcia McGahan said she’s heard as well.
Andrew recalled one buyer from Illinois who chose to move his family to Aynor and commute to his job in Florence.
“They were obsessed with being in a good school district,” he said.
Taken as a group, the cluster of schools included in the Aynor attendance area score about as good on federal accountability ratings as any cluster in Horry County.
Aynor High School is one of just two in the county with an A accountability rating. Socastee High School is the other, and the two are also the only in Horry with an International Baccalaureate degree program, among the most academically-challenging high school curricula.
“I do think the IB program is a draw,” said Cindy Ambrose, Horry County Schools chief academic officer and an Aynor resident. “They have a good solid record.”
Ambrose, however, was not willing to say that any Horry school cluster -- a high school and its feeder elementary and middle schools -- was better than any other.
Indeed, she said that she thinks most new Aynor residents choose it for its small townness.
That carries over to the schools, though, Ambrose said. Residents, students and school staff have a town-gown kind of closeness that living and working together engenders.
“You know most of the teachers,” Ambrose said. “You know most of the people.”
There’s also the physical closeness, said McGahan, who is the point person for Coldwell Banker Chicora Real Estate’s effort to sell homes in Greenfield Estates, on the other side of U.S. 501 from The Brickyard.
McGahan said she was transferred to the model home in the development a month ago, after the hubbub-area subdivision she was working sold out.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh gosh, nobody’ll ever come in here,’” she recalled her reaction to the assignment.
But the reality has been pleasantly different.
At least one family a day tours the model home, and two or three families a day isn’t that unusual. She sold two homes in her first 30 days.
None of the lookers have mentioned the quality of Aynor’s schools as their reason for buying, but McGahan‘s sure they like the physical closeness of the town’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Greenfield Estates adjoins Aynor Middle School, and McGahan said some buyers have told her they’re glad their kids can walk to school.
Johnson, the mayor, said that development in Aynor slowed down like everywhere else beginning in 2007. Andrew said his focus changed from home sales to land sales in the downturn.
And while better times are definitely back, the pace of home sales still hasn’t reached the pre-downturn level, when Andrew said there were even more out-of-towners wanting a piece of Aynor’s good life.
It’s not just builders and Realtors who have benefited from the pick-up, either.
Cindy Wilson and her husband took over what used to be the Hagood House in August 2013 and transformed it into the Aynor Inn, which is one of the town’s new lunch and weekend dinner spots.
“The desire to have some good country food led to this restaurant,” she said.
The lunch business has been steady since they opened, Wilson said, and weekends are picking up.
A Georgia native whose husband grew up in Aynor, Wilson said the growth has been good for the town and its businesses.
But it’s change, too, and that will have its moments.
“There’s a dirt road near our house and they’re about to pave it,” she said. “It’s a sweet sorrow.”
She won’t miss the dust from the road, but a paved road just doesn’t say country like an unpaved one.
The new Aynor, though, could be the best of both worlds, Andrew said.
“It’s almost like a melting pot,” he said. “It’s just a blend.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_SteveJones.