Gaston County has an easy, breezy commute to uptown Charlotte and the airport.It also offers more house for the money. You’ll also find small towns that still carry a touch of Southern charm, plenty of good schools, and A LOT less traffic. The only thing it’s lacking, really, is respect.As Charlotte gentrified into a financial and energy hub, Gaston has been saddled with a slightly redneck image that dates back to its days as a major textile hub. Growth has come slower than other surrounding counties, in part because the Catawba River dividing the two counties served as a moat of sorts. Still, it amazes me that this region – which offers quick big-city access and low-hassle lifestyle – continues to fly under the radar of so many people. But a lot has changed in the last 10 years. Judging by the finely calibrated Wilkerson Craft Beerometer, which takes one key factor into account for measuring the quality of life, things get better by the day. If you’re looking outside Charlotte for a place to live, add us to your list. The county seat is Gastonia, a town of about 72,000, just 25 miles west of Charlotte, that’s in the middle of a mighty transition. While the downtown area is trying to find its feet, don’t let it scare you off. A turnaround is finally under way with fresh development in the form of a few bars, restaurants and a conference center. And beyond downtown there are many attractive neighborhoods at a variety of price points. Heading east toward Charlotte, there are several small towns that offer affordable, comfortable living, including Cramerton, Mount Holly and Belmont, just 12 miles west of uptown Charlotte. Belmont, where I live, has probably evolved the most. When our family moved here in December 1999, liquor by the drink had just been voted in, and the little downtown had little to offer. Today, it boasts an eclectic mix of specialty stores, a decent steakhouse and a few pubs. Visitors find it downright enchanting. Nearby is Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, a regional attraction that’s matured in recent years and recently opened an orchid conservatory. One town over is Mount Holly, which is also coming along. Check out City Café, for starters. Full disclosure: You give up a few things living in Gaston. Depending on where you settle, the grocery stores aren’t as fancy as they are in Charlotte, and the specialty shopping options can be a little sparse. And we’re lacking some of the tree-shaded majesty of Charlotte’s nicer neighborhoods. Nightlife, high culture and concerts? Many people look to Charlotte. Play in Charlotte, live in Gaston. Some people might call that having it all. And by the way, downtown Gastonia has free public Wi-Fi. Maybe the hotshots in Charlotte will figure out a way to catch up someday.
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
Time slows down just a bit
‘Must’ list 1. Schiele Museum of Natural History (1500 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia) is a family favorite in the region and boasts great traveling exhibits, a planetarium and special events. 704-866-6900; www.schielemuseum.org. 2. Casual dining (try the grouper sandwich) and an eclectic beer list make Sammy’s Neighborhood Pub (25 S. Main St., Belmont) a favorite with both families and the late-night set. 704-825-4266; www.sammysbelmont.com. 3. Crowders Mountain pops up out of nowhere and is a premier hiking and mountain-climbing spot for these parts. It’s off I-85 in Gastonia. 704-853-5375; www.ncparks.gov. 4. Mt. Holly Farm Supply (1120 S. Main St., Mount Holly) represents how hardware stores are supposed to look and feel. 704-827-4431; www.mthollysupply.com.