• Friday, May 17, 2013

The official branding of our town as the “Birthplace of Sweet Tea,” a recent tourism incentive of the Greater Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, has spawned added enticements for visitors. These include the already established Sweet Tea Trail and the hoped for Sweet Tea Trolley Tours as well as Sweet Tea Home Tours.
         The trail began with the Antiques Association which was looking for promotion help. Members told Chamber Tourism Coordinator, Tina Zimmerman, they needed a brochure. “Luckily,” said Tina, “DREAM and the Chamber work together wonderfully.” DREAM did a brochure and she advertised in a regional newspaper. In a brainstorming session, they discussed “over a million different ways” to get customers on a 2nd Sunday trail effort. “What name kept sticking,” said Tina, was “The Sweet Tea Trail.”
         Then Tina got a matching state Tourism Advertising Grant from which she was encouraged to do billboards which have since appeared along I-95 and I-26. The trail invites travelers to I-26’s Exit 199 to explore such places as Azalea Square with modern shopping, restaurants and hotels; Historic Downtown for quaint shops and restaurants; the Garden District for historic homes and Azalea Park; along with plantations and state parks, including Summerville’s own Colonial Dorchester, Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall, before continuing their journey. Middleton Place, is in Dorchester County and, by the way, is the area where the first tea plants were grown beginning in the 1770s, and later at Summerville’s Pinehurst Tea Plantation.
         The idea of course is to encourage people to do more than just “drive through.” A lot of tourists to Summerville come up from Charleston for a half day said Tina, “and I want to change that. “I want it to be that there’s enough to do here, that they want to spend the whole day – and the night – and then go on.”
The many phone calls and visits to the website wanting to know more specifics show there’s a lot of interest, Tina added, “which is why I’m pushing so hard for such things as the historic trolley tours and tour homes. And you know, that Sweet Tea Trail promotes all businesses from gas stations to gardens!”
         In addition to the billboards helped by the TAG, many other people and organizations have climbed aboard this effort. Perrin Conrad is helping with a plan to lure cruise travelers for a day or so side trip. Others involved include the Restaurant Association, which held a Sweet Tea Festival as well as a Tea Contest; Will Rizzo of Azalea Magazine, who has designed both the official “Tea” shirt as well as the logo; and CSU professor Fred Worthy, a man Tina called a “computer genius who has spent hours and hours with me.” Fred designed a valuable computer survey to help determine when and why people come to Summerville. He is now working on an iPad and screen to allow visitors to enter their own information. There are many other projects and products on the scene, such as a proposed golf tournament where players can “Tea Off,” and the new Summerville Sweet Tea Jelly from Rina’s Kitchen.
         With all this involvement it’s just too much of a temptation not to observe that like most things in Summerville, this initiative will surely be “Done to a Tea.”

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