Why North Carolina (as Retirement State)?

(Panoramic views abound reminiscent of New England topography. Photo CKMellor)

Many ask us: “Why the Tarheel state?” They think it was a quick decision but what they don’t realize is: We spent approximately 10 years searching and researching, in our quest to find our retirement state, with me pretty much thinking: “It’s never going to happen…I’ll not find a place where I feel comfortable enough to put down roots.” At 61 years of age, I’d never lived outside of Rhode Island, that tiny splotch on the Northeast coast that bears the moniker “The Ocean State.”

When one is a Rhode Islander, she gets used to getting anywhere fast (distance traveling from stem to stern is 45 minutes). It’s not like Pennsylvania or Virginia taking hours to traverse. In addition, Rhode Island is wonderfully-diverse and offers pretty much everything: gorgeous scenery; irrefutably-fine dining, a refurbished downtown (“Water-fire” is an internationally-acclaimed event in warmer weather); great universities, Newport and Block Island, and those beaches, etc. And if you can’t find what you want there, Boston and NYC are easily within reach.

But living there poses dilemmas: mounting tax problems, as well as a climate that offers too harsh—and long–a winter, especially for older folks.

We searched up and down the coastline from Maine to Key West, Florida, hoping to discover where we’d like to live as alternative. We visited most of the places touted as “Best Places to Retire to” but like “Little Red Riding Hood,” we kept dismissing them. They were “too flat,” “too hot,” “too congested.” None of them impressed.

In addition, we feared ongoing problems with coastline property in floods, insurance costs (hurricanes), and maintenance.

With that, we turned inland and struck out towards Asheville, NC, a hamlet nestled in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Coming into downtown Asheville, my first impression was: “What’s so great about this place?” Its commercial hub seemed stuck in time, with art deco facades on buildings harkening back to the 20’s. It was quiet and unassuming, lacking the frenetic pace of other retirement areas we visited, and that singular trait grew more appealing over the next several days.

The mountains charmed; the sky glowed fuscia at dusk, the laid-back atmosphere soothed. Musicians abound and play outside various shops; an abundance of green grocers vie for one’s business; massage therapists offer quick chair massages in those same markets; the health industry is alive and well (after all, the purifying mountain air of Asheville was the mecca for affluent Americans, treating their TB in the 20’s).

The topography of winding hillside roads, edged with forests is familiar. Asheville feels like the America I grew up in…50 years ago.

The University of North Carolina (Asheville campus) offers College for Seniors where we take courses at much-lowered rates without the homework requirement (like auditing—you take courses for simple enjoyment). We’ve sharpened our skills at some things and satisfied interest in others.

We’ve moved into a condo community (they call them townhouses, here) in the sleepy community of Weaverville, 7 miles north of downtown, a town whose attractions include the NYC-style coffee shop called Well-Bred Café and the unassuming Blue Mountain Pizza (where musicians jam on Wednesday nights).

What do we do? We hike the mountains (they’re called the ‘gentle mountains,’ for they’re negotiable, as opposed to the Rockies); we eat out a lot because it’s often cheaper than staying in; we volunteer services (I’ve taught at the jail; he’s ferried the blood supply to Charlotte for the Red Cross). We have a fabulous community who supported us wonderfully, following my husband’s recent auto disaster (people here become family, since almost everyone’s from “away.”)

We still keep a significant foot in Rhode Island, however. Is it counter-productive, tax-wise? Sure, but we can’t seem to vacate the region where I grew up, one my husband’s grown to love. There’ll come a time, I’m sure, when we’ll have to make that final decision, for how do we rationalize paying taxes in both states? For now, we justify it as helping keep those states’ economies afloat, and we do without other things.

Did we make a wise choice? We think so, for we’re happy, but reality may force a new decision soon. Click on link below to see the 5 best and worst states for retirees. One state’s bad news may force Biddy and her husband to make a very tough choice.

Of particular note: The choice for retirement state should never be made on the lone fact “there’s no state income tax,” (as is the case with Florida and Texas); this article appearing in Kiplinger crunched ALL the numbers and rated states, accordingly.


About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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