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Mande Wilkes | Myrtle Beach is in rapid decline

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Two and a half decades ago, I started kindergarten at a private school in Conway called Waccamaw Academy. The school ultimately closed for lack of money, but the point remains: In the 1970s and 1980s, a much smaller and much less populated Grand Strand supported a secular private school.

Today, the only local private-school options are parochial — several Christians academies, and one Orthodox Jewish school. With my little boy’s third birthday approaching, I’ve been feeling the need to be ambitious: can we come together as a community and open a vibrant school?

There’s some interest, in theory. But then the conversation comes around to cost, and many parents balk at the notion of spending thousands annually on a service which the government provides for “free.”

The Myrtle Beach area is unique in this regard. People here — and I have never lived elsewhere, so I know of which I speak — are limited in the scope of their planning, their visions, and their dreams. As a result, the Grand Strand as we know it is on a fast-track to nowhere.

As I said, I’ve lived here all of my life. Even when I went “away” to college and law school, that was just down yonder in Charleston — and I came home constantly. I love Myrtle Beach because it’s home.

But the town I’ve always known is becoming less recognizable by the year. Myrtle Beach is in free fall, and I’m not sure it can be reversed.

Can’t you feel it too? The general malaise, the retrograde mood of the city? It’s hard enough to live in a place that revolves around tourism: the long months of little income; the summer crowds and chaos; the quiet worry that we’re all one big hurricane away from ruin.

Those things have always been that way here, though, so they’re not really what’s got me feeling down today.

Actually, it’s hard to pinpoint why it is I’m feeling pessimistic about our city. A lot of it is certainly born of the lack of school options here, and born of the refusal to remedy it. But it’s deeper than that, too. Every moped and golf cart I see moseying down the highway is metaphorical: we in this town are moving slowe;, even as the world around us is moving ever faster.

The two biggest employers are Horry County government and Wal-Mart. This appears unlikely to change, as Walmart’s presence only gets bigger here and as the government only grows more bloated.

During the biggest holidays of the year, more hoodlums are coming into town than families. (And no I’m not referring only to Black Bike Week — the same is true for Labor Day and the Fourth of July.)

Fewer and fewer speak English. When looking at legal jobs during law school, I was passed over repeatedly because I speak no Spanish. Imagine how much more dire it will be for the upcoming generation, many of whom speak only English in an environment that’s becoming English-unfriendly.

In this town, “entrepreneurship” means that you’re a photographer or a real estate agent. Beyond those fields, there’s very little viable opportunity for a person looking to put out his own shingle.

I could go on, but space is limited and so is, I’m sure, your tolerance for my whining.

What I’ll say in closing is that the demise of our area is due almost entirely to missteps by the government. I’m talking about county and city zoning laws that hinder the little guy and promote big-box stores. I’m talking about our state’s failure to pass a voucher program, so that parents have a say in how their taxes are spent on their kids’ schooling. I’m talking about our country’s failure to enforce immigration laws.

Again, I could go on. The missteps are many, and the consequences are mounting. I’m writing this because it’s my belief that we’re at critical mass — it’s almost too late, but not just quite.

Contact Mande Wilkes, a local cultural commentator, at m@mandewilkes.com.

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