Keven Cohen: What sets Columbia apart - the people

11/21/2012 12:00 AM

11/20/2012 7:36 PM

Famously Hot! The Capital City. You can use any catch phrase you want. For me, after more than 18 years here, there’s one reason I refer to Columbia as my paradise: the people. It’s not geographical, although that’s a plus. It’s not the culture, although there’s plenty of it. It’s not the food, although anyone who knows me realizes I’ve enjoyed a few good meals. It’s the people of Columbia and the Midlands that make this place so special.

When I first went on the air as a radio host in Columbia, people weren’t sure about me. Many didn’t know if they could stand a graduate from a rival Southeastern Conference school; it didn’t help that that Spurrier guy was on the Gator sidelines terrorizing South Carolina. Others wondered how a Jewish guy born and raised in Detroit would fit in when he didn’t know a single soul upon his arrival. Answer: The people.

I used to remind all the people who called me “Gator Boy” or a Yankee that they were born here; I made a conscious choice to come and live here. Subsequently, when I’ve been called out on how I feel about our state capital, I’ve reminded them that after I fell in love with this city, I fell in love with a girl from this city, and we’re raising our children here. In fact, I loved Columbia so much that I talked my mother and my brother into moving here. I’ve been a virtual mini-Chamber of Commerce when bragging about this place. Why? The people.

Columbia is certainly not perfect. Despite all the great people, the underrated culture and the ability to drive to either the beach or mountains with ease, we have challenges that I don’t think we’ve faced very effectively.

I get mighty frustrated because people in our city let other S.C. cities walk over us. Greenville has one-upped us a few times during my stay here, as have our friends down in Charleston. Each city in the state has its own nuances and strengths; I get that. I don’t like losing though. I didn’t like losing minor league baseball to Greenville. I don’t like the Greenville airport taunting us with billboards in our own city because it keeps getting discount airlines and, despite our best efforts, we don’t.

We should never take a back seat to anyone in areas where we can legitimately compete. I know we don’t have the Atlantic Ocean in our backyard; I know we’re not sandwiched between Atlanta and Charlotte. Like I said, every city has its strengths. Columbia has grown, though. No doubt.

The Vista has exploded since my arrival in the summer of 1994. Five Points, Devine Street and a rebirth of Main Street all show our growth. In just the past 10 years, I’ve seen everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Prince to Taylor Swift at a new arena built downtown, along with a new college baseball stadium hosting a two-time national championship squad. There are other new and proud landmarks.

You know what’s really cool, though? Even with the population growing to almost 800,000 people in the metro area, we still have a capital city where you can run into someone you know each time you go out.

Some in Columbia are afraid of growth; they shouldn’t be. Growth is not bad if it’s done responsibly. No matter how much we grow, one thing remains a constant: the people.

I’ve seen it so up close. I’ve experienced it so personally. Columbia lifted my family up when my son needed heart surgery and most recently with me losing my job at the radio station.

Think of it this way: Columbia is like your little brother. You can say what you want about it not being perfect and even punch it in the arm sometimes, but when anyone from outside our paradise picks on us, I hope you’ll stand up and remind them what makes us so very special: the people.

Mr. Cohen worked at WVOC for 18 years; contact him at,

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