For most folks who live in this ocean-front resort, it’s the hometown feel of Main Street and the old family beach community they knew in their youth that continues to thrive more than a half-century later that ground them here on the northern strip of the Grand Strand.
Plus, it’s not Myrtle Beach, they say.
It’s quiet and it’s quaint, and they don’t have the big-city problems like crime and homelessness they say plagues the south strand area.
“When I’m in Myrtle Beach, I feel like I’m in a big city — there’s just so much stuff,” says Angela Ragsdale, who has lived here for 40 years.
But this small town is about to get bigger.
New stores by the score have announced they will open this year, and several new housing developments in the works will soon bring thousands of new neighbors to North Myrtle Beach.
The reason for the surge in economic development is the same reason why people of all ages choose to live here, city officials say.
“It really is the atmosphere in North Myrtle Beach that attracts people to it,” said Pat Dowling, city spokesman. “They want something that is not as urban. They want something closer to the that old familiar beach community, with great amenities like restaurants and shopping.”
North Myrtle Beach also has land, lots of undeveloped land that allows for businesses to build from the ground up, without having to clear out property that has outlived its use.
“The land is there, the people and purchasing power is there and the offseason is growing,” Dowling said. “All of those things combined with city leadership encourages business growth, but not at the expense of the quality of life for residents.
“Where some cities along the Grand Strand have already grown up, we are now growing up and getting more contemporary things that appeal to people because we have the space.”
A new ALDI grocery store opened last month on U.S. 17, and city officials expect it will draw customers from the northern end of the county as well as from North Carolina.
The Coastal North Town Center shopping center where Publix is located is in its final phase of construction, and features a popular restaurant along the Grand Strand, Panera Bread.
Stores to open there by August include a HomeGoods, West Marine, Burlington Coat Factory and Burkes.
At the former location of the Antique Mart on U.S. 17, a developer plans to retrofit the existing building for a new shopping center, but the new stores that will inhabit the space have not been announced.
West of the Intracoastal Waterway, two expansive housing developments are in the works.
Grand Dunes North sits on 60 acres where nearly 900 new residences will be constructed. The new community of Waterside nearby will feature 112 new homes.
But the new focus is on the Town Centre on Main, a development that city officials are calling the Market Common of North Myrtle Beach.
The project has been in the works for nearly a year, and the city council is expected to approve the downtown development this month.
The six-acre development on lake-front property will feature 29 townhouses, plus two-story condominiums above the stores on Main Street.
The developer, JM Main Street, says its project located next to Barefoot Church will be an extension of Main Street and will encourage shopping and recreation along that central corridor.
The original plans called for a restaurant behind Main Street on the lake, but was scrapped following complaints by residents that it would be too noisy near established homes.
“The developer did not give us an explicit explanation why they decided to pull it, but it was entirely their decision,” said James Wood, city planning director.
North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley says Main Street has become more about restaurants and nightlife, so the Town Centre with new shops will complement the area.
“It’s a totally different type of atmosphere on Main Street, and this gives everyone plenty of choices,” Hatley said.
Main Street isn’t just about tourists, it’s a draw for residents from all over the city, Hatley said.
“In North Myrtle Beach, we’re not divided by the north end and the south end. We socialize and we do business from one end of the city to the other — there’s no division,” Hatley said.
Some Myrtle Beach residents say they prefer to spend their time in North Myrtle Beach, where the atmosphere is more relaxed, like Davee Marlow of Briarcliffe Acres, who was shopping here on Main Street on Thursday.
“North Myrtle Beach is very eclectic, and there are still a lot of things to do for us seasoned folks. It’s always the same thing, but you never get tired of it,” Marlow said.
Jannie Treadway spent the past 20 years living in Myrtle Beach, but moved north in November to be closer to the beach and use a golf cart for most of her transportation needs.
“This seems more like family,” Treadway said of her new home.
And she also admits that she came for the shag dancing.