20 Tips for fitting into Fairhope

April 17, 2017


Baldwin County is the fastest growing county in Alabama, and Fairhope is the fastest growing city in the county. Suddenly, our schools, restaurants and grocery stores are crowded and there’s actually traffic on the four lane. There’s a tiny hint of tension in the air and the City Council has recently enacted a moratorium on any new construction until they can figure out what to do. Mercy!

A prophetic article, approximately 10 years old, from Mobile Bay Monthly Magazine, written by Cathy Donelson.

Anyway, I’ve been here 19 years, but I was born in South Alabama and grew up only about 40 miles from here, so I kind of slid over into Fairhope, and have been able to fit in without too much trouble. After talking it over with long time residents, they agreed the turning point and flood of people really started around 2012, so if you’ve moved here since then, you are experiencing a new kind of Fairhope we’ve never seen before. Although, one long-time resident blamed the changes on a 1994 story in Money Magazine that named Fairhope as the #2 place in the nation to retire. “That brought all the old-geezers here,” said the spry 84 year old.

Newcomers, who are both young and old, and are coming from close by towns as well as far away places — really can bring wonderful energy and ideas, but like most cities, Fairhope has its own characteristics and unspoken guidelines. So, here are a few helpful tips for fitting in, gathered from from the people who have been here for, “a good bit,” which translates into, “longer than you.” And don’t worry, I heard it too. Live and learn, I say, and welcome to town.

From an old story (year unknown) in Mobile Bay Monthly Magazine by Cathy Donelson.

20 tips for fitting in to Fairhope  

1.Jump in and help. You moved here because you love our parades, festivals, art shows, library and community   theatre, so don’t sit back and make us do all the work. We want to get to know you and if we’re going to keep having these fun events, we need your help. The no-kill dog shelter doesn’t just run by itself, and the more residents we have, the more help we need to raise money for kibble

2. Don’t complain about the line at the post office. It’s a sure sign you’re not from around here and it actually hurts our feelings because we consider it a social place, and if you don’t chat with us just a little bit while we’re waiting in line, we think you don’t like us. Fun fact: I was given the perfect recipe for pimento cheese while standing in the post office line.

3.Get ready to have someone invite you to visit their church. It isn’t an attack on your spirituality, it’s just what we do when we like you. Our churches are important parts of our community, and we just want to share the joy. (But don’t sit in our pew).

4.If you are absolutely set on building a new house, please hire a local architect. Just because you tore out that house plan from Southwestern Magazine 20 years ago, and kept it in your sock drawer, doesn’t mean it’s going to fit into your new community. We have neighborhoods with all kinds of houses, brick, European, stucco, ranch and bungalows — but if you build your modern, dark grey 6,000 square foot house between two 1,500 square foot historic coastal cottages, people will talk, and believe me, in Fairhope, you don’t want to be discussed.

5. Shop local. Seriously.

6.Fairhope is a happy place, but don’t think just because we smile at you, it means we’re flirting. It just means, “hello.”

7.When it comes to phone numbers, “928” is the gold standard and will open doors for you. It’s rumored that someone lost a past mayor’s election because his number started with “990.”  (A little known secret I’ll share, you can transfer your 928 number to your cell phone!).

8.“Fruit and Nut” is not a commentary on personality.

9.When we beep the car horn, it means, “hey there, buddy!” If someone cuts us off in traffic, we don’t think of touching the horn, but instead think, “Bless his heart. I hope he’s not rushing to the hospital.” Then, we say a little prayer for him.

10.At some point, you will feel the urge to start painting, sculpting, singing, writing, playing an instrument or acting. We’re a creative town (a little heavy on the dulcimer players), and everyone eventually gets the bug. Even if you’re bad at it, give your creative side a chance to shine. It’s fun.

11.Satsumas. Know them, grow them, eat them, share them.

12. Although Fairhope is a bit more liberal than the rest of the state, pay attention, because at the end of the day, you’re still falling asleep in God-fearing-Bible-believing-gun-toting-Ala-freaking-bama. If you are going to have a problem with that, you may want to consider moving to our Bizarro – World cousin, beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. Otherwise, hush-up.

13.Long debated, is the question of whether we are, “Fairhopers” or, “Fairhopians.”  Each version is printed different places, and it will be fiercely debated for years to come.

14.You’re not really a Fairhoper until Donnie Barrett knows who you are.

15.Those, “in the know,” always keep an old box or bag in the back of their car in case they catch the Flower Fairies, who will share the pruned blossoms and discarded bulbs with you.

16.At some point, you’ll need to get a bow for your mailbox. We put bows on everything, including our children, doors, trees and little dogs. A fluffy bow is the way to go.

17.We like to match the flowers, so try wearing bright colors (even the gentlemen). All black is usually saved for evening, or days where there’s a stiff body in the room. (Seersucker and white shoes are only allowed from Easter to Labor Day).

18.It’s considered bad form to knock little children down for Mardi Gras beads. (And along those same lines, remember, we don’t push in Fairhope).

19.Even though you’ve found paradise, keep a lid on it. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere. If Fairhope is ever in the running for a “best of” contest, all the locals secretly vote against it (oh, give me a break, you know it’s true!).

20.Most importantly, no matter how much it kills you, don’t ever, ever, under any circumstance, begin a sentence with, “We did it better back in . . .”

Now, welcome to town. We’re glad y’all are here.

Leave a Reply

  1. We just built a home in Fairhope and our goal is to move there permanently within the next year – yes we are from the North, and to be more specific NE Ohio. While my husband and I have lived here all our lives, and we have family and dear friends here that we love… our hearts belong in Fairhope. We fell in love with this beautiful town from day one and promise to adhere to the 20 tips, although I do need some guidance and I do not mean to offend anyone by asking, but how or where do I find Mr. Donnie Barrett to that I can introduce myself (#14).


  2. Moved away to be closer to children and grandchildren. REALLY miss our sweet friends made there in just 4.5 short years. Loved the ESAC classes and friends made there, too. Always felt welcome. Will always remember our “little honeymoon” in utopia! Say hello to Sharon and Lewey Stephens, Debbie and David Ellis, Don and Melinda Hicks, Clara Jackson and Diane Gravat…to name a few.❤️❤️❤️?⛵️???????????????

  3. This is so good. My parents moved to Fairhope the day before Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast. They slept through the entire storm. They moved to Fairhope realizing the beauty and charm of the community. (moved here from PA and LA.)

    Friends had told them Fairhope (not Florida) was the place to move to for their retirement years. They came in with a “bang” and never looked back. They knew this was their HOME. They saw many, many changes, as we still do. Some good and some– well not so good…… but they would love Fairhope and the growth but not all the disagreements. We have been blessed with this beautiful community.

    1. I think many of the disagreements come from people panicking that we’ll do the wrong thing and mess it all up. The temporary moratorium is a good place to start. Your parents did the right thing by making it their home and not a temporary stop on the way to retirement. I’ve met several people who have moved here, built houses, and then told the neighbors they will only live here part time. The neighbors are so upset, because these people don’t vote for long term improvements or school funding because they aren’t really part of the community.

  4. My family has been here for 90 years an I have seen a lot in my 55 years here, I’m glad the council has put a halt on the New subdivisions here until they put new roads in , it used to take about 10 minutes to get to Spanish fort now if your lucky you can get there in 30 minutes.

  5. This is one of your best articles Leslie Anne! I’ve been going on Donnie’s walking tours of Fairhope for the last 3 Saturdays and recommend them highly for all newbies!
    There’s only one Donnie and he’s really urging us to spread the word about establishing historical districts.
    He said that nothing is preventing a Starbucks or any other chain from coming in downtown.
    We must get historical homes put on the National Register and not continue to tear them down.
    Please suggest specific ways that the citizens of Fairhope can help. I will e-mail the mayor and city council also.

    1. You (and Donnie) are so right, but in the past, people are afraid to vote for zoning because we Southerners have a long streak of, “don’t tell me what to do with my land.” Well . . . I think there’s got to be a compromise, so I hope the city government will think fast, and think smart!

      And yes, the walking tours are a treasure!

  6. I think we started looking at Fairhope about 25 years ago almost, and thought it was the charming place in Alabama. Too bad the timing didn’t work out when we were selling our house, because I don’t think the husband will ever move again unless it is “feet first. ” I will always love to visit, though.

  7. I love Fairhope and come every opportunity. I sure would support the local economy by shopping local. It is a charming town, what’s not to love.

  8. Love all 20 recommendations (or rules)? Number 10 soars to the top for me. What IS IT about this place? I’ve even sharpened color pencils abandoned by my kids because I’m getting a hankering to draw!

    1. I think it’s the way people are open to trying, and failing new things, which makes the rest of us not so afraid to jump in and give it a try too! (Kind of like when my friend Karyn wrote a book, I was inspired to try . . .)!

  9. Southern hospitality at it’s best is what you are Leslie Anne! I love Ala-freaking-bama! I have heard that Fairhope is experiencing serious growing pains, and I actually had to park 3 blocks away from where I was going last week! OB is bursting too, and the traffic! I do long for the quieter times a few years ago, but I am inspired by your spirit!

  10. I am 54 yrs old, born in Thomas hospital, raised and still live in F’hope and I have never met Donnie Barrett. What does that make me?

    1. I totally agree! I never met him in lol the years I lived there. I guess I never was one of the “in” crowd! I personally think that point could be left out! Unless, of course, you want certain residents to feel they don’t belong.

      1. If you pick up any newspaper, go to a parade, attend the Satsuma Blossom Festival or visit the Fairhope Museum of History, you’d know Donnie. Sorry you missed him. He’s a wonderful treasure.

  11. CAN’T wait to get back to the Eastern Shore… having first moved there in 1999 whole my husband was a active duty Army recruiter. We’ve been back almost annually since leaving in 2002 for vacations and reminiscing & visiting all our favorite stomping grounds!! We retire at the end of the year and the search for our “Forever Fairhope Home” has begun!!! I may not of been born in Alabama ( although I believe I was a Southern Belle in my prior life) LoL … but it will always be Home to me!!! When we crest the hill atop 98 at the visitor center and we catch the view of the Bay ours hearts ? know ; There’s no place like HOME ? ❤️ If you don’t sharing …. I would Love that perfect Pimento Cheese Spread recipe if sharing ??

    1. I’ll have to post it soon! You find out the best things by talking with people. I don’t know why anyone would want to move to a small Southern town if they don’t like “visiting.” Take care and we’ll hope there’s a spot left for you!

  12. Love your articles. I loved your ” We don’t push in Fairhope “. Because the same words came out of my mouth a few times (maybe more than a few times) this past Mardi Gras. My friends and I were just discussing this the other day. Three generations of boys got their hair cut at Ken and Vern’s in this family. Shop locally seriously!

  13. Hey Leslie Ann, thanks for doing a spot on my home town. I do love the “new” Fairhope. But my daddy did always regret the building of the I-10 bridge!

  14. Leslie Anne, I haven’t been down to visit y’all in a couple of years! My hubby used to come down for business, but not much anymore. But, I do loved the artsy vibe that y’all have going on in Alabama, of all places!

  15. My family has lived here for 65 years and I think the most common essential characteristic of Fairhopians is that they want to tell you what makes Fairhope Fairhope. We only ever describe like 1% of the pie, and it’s usually a high-middle to wealthy slice that lives somewhere on the west side of Fairhope Ave between Laurel and North.

  16. This is a special community and I do love where I live. Originally from New Orleans but I “got here” as quick as I could! I enjoy your blog and spin on things.

  17. The beauty is in the town of Fairhope but not in the people we have encountered. Unfortunately our experiences have not been positive. I prefer the “real” community of Foley, Al.

    1. First of all, I’m so sorry you had that experience with the people. Secondly, how funny you should mention Foley because I just now got home from a meeting in Gulf Shores and on the way home, I stopped at a few places in Foley and thought how beautiful it really is. Once you get away from the busy shopping area on the highway, there are gorgeous rolling hills of farmland. Magnolia Springs is also pretty. But here’s a warning. Be careful of telling too many people about it, or you’ll have the same problems as Fairhope.

  18. My daughter from Kansas was here recently ( western Kans.) where is nothing. No
    Trees, no water a real small school, big farms but they have none, wind in abundance
    No grocery store a tiny cafe,a post office, and a grain elevator. She loves Fairhope and so do I.She wants to move closer to her children but one is at Kansas University
    But he once had his heart set on Alabama. I send him Alabama Univ. Clothes and he
    Loves them.says, he stands out that way , and by them he met a girl whose grand
    Father I think he said, is President over Alabama University.To get him back here
    Would help his mom and dad come. She will be here last of May and our time will
    Be spent at Fairhope. We’d both like to live there. I live west of Mobile now.

  19. Leslie Anne, you are always so sweet hilighting business in Downtown Fairhope. Most are 2nd and 3rd generation businesses. All contribute to this fun eclectic place we call Fairhope Thanks, Ginger ( Fanntasy Island Toys )

    1. Thank you Ginger! I love Fantasy Island. I think it was where we spent our first dollars in downtown Fairhope buying a Thomas the Tank Engine train for Harrison (who turns 21 today!!! Agghhh!!!!)

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